Chicago—June 18, 2009—With Father's Day coming this Sunday, Cars.com senior editor and father of two David Thomas took a look at the cars he's test-driven over the past year to offer some recommendations that will appease both practical fathers and dads who need some performance out of their kid-carrier.
"As an automotive journalist, the criteria for what makes a car good dramatically changes once children are thrown into the equation," Thomas said. "I went through this metamorphosis last year, and I've been casually detailing how my children fit into what I drive every week."
Below are some recommendations in a variety of body styles and price ranges:
Best Budget Car: Hyundai Elantra Touring
Runner Up: Honda Fit
The biggest surprise in terms of cars this year had to be the Hyundai Elantra Touring. It's really a great package of standard features and lots of room for a good price. The backseat seemed as big as the one in my 2008 Subaru Outback--which, granted, isn't saying much, but the Elantra costs much less. The cargo area is also decent.
The Honda Fit's rear headroom is fantastic. It remains one of the easiest cars I've tested to get in and out of without bonking my--or my child's--head.
Best Crossover: Toyota Venza
Runner Up: Tie -- Buick Enclave and Subaru Forester
Let me just say that I'm not a fan of the driving experience in the Venza, but everything else about it screams "terrific daily driver for dads." The backseat is positively huge, and the cargo area swallows golf bag after golf bag, for those times when dad foursomes get a day off to hit the links--like on Father's Day. Some dads might even like the standard 19- or 20-inch wheels.
The Buick Enclave and its GMC Acadia and Chevy Traverse siblings are also impressive. They're very easy to get in and out of when holding a baby, despite their height. I'd say the Ford Flex is a little easier, but not much, and you don't have to give up the high riding position and SUV looks.
The smaller Subaru Forester has a very usable cargo space, and it costs less and comes with standard all-wheel drive.
Best Wagon: BMW 535xi
Runner Up: Hyundai Elantra Touring
As far as wagons go, nothing beat the BMW 535xi. Not only was there plenty of room for parents and child seats in back, but the cargo area was nice and big, with a nifty lift-up cover. It might have cost near $70,000 as-tested, but it was well-enough equipped around $66,000 for this to be the über daddy-mobile.
Best Performance Car: BMW M3
Runner Up: Dodge Challenger SRT8
The BMW M3 is a dad's dream car, and the fact that the sedan gives up so little in the usability department makes it the winner here. That said, I couldn't believe how well a baby seat fit in the center position of the Dodge Challenger.
Best Sports Car/Coupe: Infiniti G37
Runner Up: Mercedes-Benz CL550
The G37 was terrific in the day-to-day-use department. It has electronic controls to slide the front passenger seat forward on both the door side of the seat and the side near the driver. That meant that when it was raining I could shut the door with the seat all the way forward after plopping my child into his seat, then when I was safely sheltered from the rain in the driver's seat I could hit that side's button to slide the seat back. It's really well-thought-out.
I wouldn't typically pick a $100,000-plus coupe for family errand-running, but the CL550 sure did come in handy one weekend when we had to hit the big-box baby store. My son was so comfy in it he took a nap, which he rarely does in the car anymore. I was so comfy in it I wanted to move in full-time -- and with how much it costs, that might be the price I'd have to pay to get one.
Best Sedan: 2010 Ford Fusion
I was impressed with the Fusion more for its great mileage--I had the four-cylinder version--and quiet ride than its child-carrying capacity. It did have easy-to-reach Latch connectors, though, and a big trunk.
For more information about cars recommended for dads, visit http://blogs.cars.com/kickingtires/
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