Base price: $16,200 The boxy Soul features a cool look that's aimed at Generation Y drivers -- but hip moms will like the model too. That's because the five-passenger wagon combines a low price with a surprisingly large cabin (126 cubic feet) and cutting-edge electronics such as Bluetooth, iPod and satellite-radio connectivity. The Soul also offers good estimated fuel economy of 25 mph/city and 30 mpg/highway, as well as Kia's industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Base price: $21,350 This midsized sedan combines room for five people with an unusually upscale design for a car that starts at just over $20,000. The Optima also boasts a respectable 24 mpg/city and 35 mpg/highway, as well as a perfect five-star NHTSA safety ranking and a "Good" IIHS rating on three of four crash tests. (The model scored "Acceptable" on the IIHS small-overlap frontal crash test -- one notch below "Good" but still enough for the group to name the Optima a "Top Safety Pick Plus.") Add in a sporty road feel, impressive standard features such as iPod connectivity and Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and you've got a great vehicle for moms who hate minivans. "The Optima is a really attractive, really fun-to-drive car," Clarke says. "It's a great, great value."
Base price: $22,470 Redesigned completely by Ford ( F) for 2013, the Escape crossover sport utility vehicle features tons of mom-friendly features. For instance, the vehicle's MyKey system allows you to limit how fast the compact SUV will go and how loud its audio system will play if you loan your car to your teenager. There's also an optional hands-free liftgate that lets you open the Escape's rear hatch easily when your hands are full. Simply sweep your foot under the rear bumper and motion detectors will prompt the hatch to pop open on its own. The base Escape also gets a decent 22 mpg/city and 31 mpg/highway, while the model enjoys a four-star NHTSA rating (one star below perfect) for crash tests. The IIHS likewise considers the Escape a "Top Safety Pick" even though the vehicle scored poorly on front small-overlap crash tests.
Base price: $24,495 Clarke recommends this five-passenger wagon from Subaru ( FUJHY) for moms who live in snowy climates or enjoy off-road activities, as the car comes standard with all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. "The Outback is a really great car for people who like an outdoorsy lifestyle," he says. "It's good for off-roading or rough weather, and it has all of the other stuff that moms with kids need -- a spacious cabin and lots of cargo space." Updates to the 2013 base automatic Outback include an improved four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission that jointly produce 173 horsepower and 24 mpg/city and 30 mpg/highway. As for safety, the Outback gets top NHTSA and IIHS safety ratings, although the model ranked only "Acceptable" (one notch below "Good") on the IIHS small front-impact crash test.
Base price: $26,650 This wagon from Toyota ( TM) augments the popular Prius hatchback's great fuel efficiency with the extra cargo space many families need. The Prius V boasts 67.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear and front-passenger seats folded flat -- 70% more than a Prius hatchback provides. The wagon's back seat also slides fore and aft to give you your choice of maximum cargo space or improved rear-seat leg room. "The Prius V has got tons and tons of interior space -- and as far as fuel economy goes, it's hard to beat," Clarke says. The hybrid's 134-horsepower gas-engine/electric-motor combination provides great fuel efficiency of 44 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway. NHTSA and the IIHS also give the Prius V top safety marks despite the fact the model did poorly on the IIHS small front-impact crash test.