Audi allroad: You Can Have it All


by The Car Family


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First, don’t leave the dealership without a complete explanation of all the electronics on this handsome station wagon. There is so much technology built into the $40,000 bank vault on wheels that you sometimes question whether it can drive itself. Although we dearly love the Audi Q5 SUV, this station wagon is much more sleek and clearly intended for a different buyer. It is the perfect ski car and always a treat to look at and drive. The ride is uneventful. The only downside was that the option packages are dear so take the time to do your homework before you shop. For example, the allroad Prestige package adds $9000 to the tab. However, you do get a plethora of very important features such as lights that illuminate corners as you turn, an elaborate audio and information system, and a powerlift gate, just to name a few.




Audi selected the allroad name based on the vehicles slightly raised stance and four wheel drive, (quattro) system that enables the wagon to take on inclement weather and mild off-highway excursions with ease. There is little competition for this unique vehicle and one look at the glamorous interior makes those with the need and wherewith not to look elsewhere. It is a classy, family friendly, and sophisticated package that offers the opportunity for buyers to show that they are marching to a different drummer, one who performs in an orchestra and not a band.



Mom’s view: Taking the roads in inclement weather or even the high Sierras in winter has never been easier. What is most unexpected is that at altitude the turbocharged four-cylinder engine never feels oxygen deprived and the eight-speed automatic transmission is so seamless that the canyons and passes just melt away. Very reassuring. But the real pleasure is the interior with a more is more approach. Nappa leather, and a choice of walnut, ash, oak or aluminum trim, are eye candy, but the way the dash lights up at night is the real treat. From a practical viewpoint, there are 17 cubic feet behind the second-row seats and 51with the rear seats folded. The liftover isn’t too high despite the Audi’s seven inch raised suspension. The motorized rear hatch is a must have as it easy to operate and so useful when you have your hands full. Safety wise there are antilock brakes, traction and stability control, airbags most everywhere, and a blind-spot warning system. The handling and braking were fine, but not sporty. My opinion; one sharp mall mobile.





Dad’s view: I didn’t think I would enjoy this vehicle with its turbocharged, 2.0L 4-cylinder engine and mild ratings of 220 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, but the exceptional transmission kept the engine on task in impressive fashion. Indeed, this was the perfect package for high terrain driving and the 20/27 gas mileage was a plus. We registered 24 in mixed driving. The higher center of gravity does promote some lean that the lower to the ground A4 Avant doesn’t exhibit, but the higher stance does improve visibility. The steering is well weighted and the brake are confidence  builders. A good alternative to the Audi SUVs, but it is much more responsive and draws attention from fashion minded folks.



Young working male’s view:


The MMI infotainment system is complex and the myriad of control systems enables you to custom tailor this five passenger wagon to your own needs. When you use the Prestige’s Drive Select system you can adjust the steering, accelerator, and transmission settings. If you want to pay a monthly fee you can have Audi’s connect feature that has a navigation system tied in with the Internet and Google, and that means you can achieve a Street View of your destination. Impressive, and you can even communicate with your car from your computer as well as use a number of Wi-Fi devices at the same time. And, you can use voice activation. That is what I am talking about. For a few more shillings, make that Euros, you can let your ears feast on the Bang and Olufsen Audio option audio system. Too rich for my demographics, but it has a certain elan.




Young working woman’s view: You can order the allroad in three version Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. Even the base model Premium, a term really not appropriate for any Audi, provides 18-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, cruise control, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power front seats with lumbar, 10-speaker system with CD player and satellite radio. The top of the line Prestige comes with adaptive headlamps, a blind-spot warning system, a more sophisticated sound system and you can opt for adaptive cruise control, and rear sunshades. You get the idea. This is one vehicle you need to do your homework on before you shop. Now for the important part, it is wonderful to look at, drive, and feels sure footed in all types of weather and I loved it, but the MSRP requires reflection. Pricing starts at $40,495 for the Premium, $43,795 Premium Plus and $57,170 for the Prestige model loaded. The warranty is four years/50,000 miles. Sharp looking, easy to love and a car that makes you feel good inside and out.



Family conference: There is no doubt that the vast price range of this Audi and its high value option packages are going to challenge potential buyers, but one drive in the allroad as it is unique, fun to drive, gets good fuel mileage, and its outstanding looks make this a first choice for those wanting the versatility of a station wagon with the utility of all wheel drive.


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Golden Doodle and LabraDoodle: Could these be the Perfect Family Pet?

by The Car Family

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We can’t help but be amazed at Man’s creativity when it comes to canines. Dogs were the first animals domesticated and with that came the ability for Man to control cattle, goats, sheep, as well as being warned of potential dangers. Since all dogs come from the much maligned wolf, one has to wonder how this transformation from wild animal started. Research done in Russia on foxes showed that there were some that showed more inclination to interact with humans. These were bred and the result was a less dominant animal that wagged its tail and showed changes in its smell among other things. It was an amazing study, especially when it is known that nearly all domesticated animals have drooping ears a trait not shared by wild foxes and wolves.

With a life span of about ten years for some breeds there was the possibility to experiment with various traits and come up with canines for various purposes. Some were breed to hunt rodents, others to protect livestock and lapdogs were even used to attract fleas away from humans.

Today, the world’s largest dogs weigh over 300 pounds and the smallest just a few pounds and yet they are from the same wolf stock. Indeed, Man is still at it and within the last couple of decades a new breed has emerged that combines the traits of three of the most popular and intelligent dogs. The new breed can be called a Labradoodle or a Goldendoodle, depending on whether a Labrador Retriever or a Golden Retriever was bred with a poodle. Making this pet even more unique is the fact they come in three sizes; Miniature, Small Standard, and Large Standard. The smaller versions weigh up to 35 pounds and the larger ones can exceed 100 pounds, but are usually weigh around 50 pounds. In other words, there is one size Doodle for nearly every household. No other breed has this range of sizes.

They are very affectionate and gentle dog and are usually highly social and get along well with everyone. They can be good good watchdogs, but usually are into tail wagging rather than barking. Another valuable aspect if the fact the Goldendoodle is a non-to light shedders and thus may do well with families that have allergies as they have less dander.


The Doodles are called designer dogs or hybrids because you never know which characteristics from the two parent dogs will be exhibited. Those variables includes coat color, type of hair, and size. The two traits they appear to all have is that of an exceptional intelligence and being family friendly. They also need exercise and are very light on their paws. The Goldendoodle are easily to train and respond well to positive reinforcement. They usually love to swim, and they are good retrievers to the point that you may end up with a dead gopher or bird on your doorstep. Good dog.

The Goldendoodle coat can be wavy or curly or both and they need to be have their hair trimmed regularly. Cost collars can be caramel, white, red, black or a combination and they need to be brushed often. The cost of trimming and maintenance can average over $50, but if you aren’t fussy, you can do it yourself once the dog has been gotten used to the process and doesn’t mind being laughed at on visits to the dog park.

So why consider a Doodle? Well there are a great many dogs at shelters and we have rescued five of them. However, the non-allergenic hair, intelligence, cheerful nature, and their ability to get along with other animals, including young children, and availability in various sizes make it attractive. However, this is a breed-in-progress and, as such every dog in every litter may be different. It is not like buying a pure breed dog that have been created over the the centuries for certain traits. As such, it is best to buy from a reputation breeder or institution.

Here are some other facts that might bring this place this breed on your radar: There are backcross puppies that means that the dog can be 1/4 Golden Retriever and 3/4 Poodle, for example. A F2 is the result of a Goldendoodle bred to a Goldendoodle. Before you consider a Doodle, do your homework. The Doodle has a tremendous number of positives going for it, but it all depends on its parents and the reliability of the breeder.

Doodle Rescues

Doodle website

Golden Doodle Video on Animal Planet

Battle of the Family Sedans: Avalon vs. Taurus

by The Car Family

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The new large Ford sedan shouldn’t really be called a Taurus because it is so totally different in every way. The fact that is is a much better looking, handling, and performing than the previous model also adds weight to our recommendation. To top off this dramatic change, the five passenger Taurus delivers excellent fuel economy and significant safety ratings while undercutting the price of some of the competition. In other words, forget the past, this is the Ford of the future as the company has left behind its legacy of stodgy vehicles. Indeed, only the slightly more fuel efficient Toyota Avalon can challenge it in the full size affordable family sedan field. And, we use the word affordability with caution because the Avalon breaches the $30,000 mark while the Ford can be nicely equipped for five grand less while offering more electronic options from communications to music.

Not to that the Avalon is a slouch. It is a great highway cruiser and holds the the edge in real world performance and utility. The Toyota comes in essentially one flavor with a 268 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Toyota’s fuel economy ratings is at the top of its class with 20/29 mpg. The Ford is nearly as powerful, but gets about a mile per gallon less. If you are feeling deprived the Taurus SHO model is turbocharged and produces 365 horsepower. We tested the standard model and averaged nearly 25 mpg in mixed driving. But what was more impressive with the Ford were the standard features. The base Taurus SE come with a six speaker stereo and CD player with MP3 playback and an auxiliary audio port, a fully adjustable steering wheel, alloy rims, and power locks, windows and mirrors. If you want more the SEL offers leather and satellite radio and a more sophisticated climate control system. You can also get a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, and the Sync electronics interface system with Bluetooth and an iPod interface.

In real world driving the Taurus is more eager to be frisky off the line, but the Avalon is more powerful when passing. Both vehicles have large fuel tanks that can easily make 400 mile trips without refueling.


The Ford design team gave the driver a high seating position and added a large trunk and also offered available all wheel drive. In other words, this sedan is as close in feeling to driving a SUV as they could make it. This is a trend for most larger sedans, however, it does create some headroom issues for those who are long waisted and drive these four doors equipped with a sun or moon roof.

In terms of interior room the Toyota does not sacrifice as much as the Ford do its exterior styling limitations. The Taurus rear passenger space has more restricted head and leg room. You can also order the Avalon with seating for six by offering a bench front seat.

On the road the Avalon is a bit noisier than we expected and the handling was set for comfort whereas the Taurus was quite impressive for a large sedan. The electronic steering provides good feedback and the suspension does not have the floaty feel of the previous generation. Brake pedal feel is still a bit to soft compared to the Avalon. For long hauls the Toyota wins.

The front seats of both cars are spacious and provide sofa like comfort. The Ford is a little more cramped as its new dash layout and center console are quite wide. The Avalon looks more dated. Both cars have an abundance of readouts and displays, and buttons, and switches, and stalks. In other words, don’t leave the dealership without a thorough walk-through.

We always recommend you order any new car with every safety option. That said, the Taurus has good safety crash-test scores and you can order a collision warning system and adaptive cruise control, the highly desirable Blind Spot Information and Cross Traffic Alert systems, and air bags just about everywhere. The Avalon offers the more traditional options, although the rear view camera mounted in the rear view mirror on cars with navigation is interesting.

Mom’s view: Believe it or not I found the Avalon a tad old in styling, interior, and driving manners. When we tested the previous generation it very much reminded us of a Lexus and was one of our favorite vehicles for long trips. This time it reminded me more of a large Camry, which essentially. Make that a very large Camry as it is nearly eight inches longer. I thoroughly enjoyed the engine’s performance. When you nudged the accelerator pedal is was like waking a sleeping giant. Eager to please and the transmission was world class. I liked the Ford better, but its rear view mirrors were too small and the view to the sides and back were limited by the high trunk. Nevertheless, this is the best Ford Taurus ever.

Dad’s view: These aren’t spirited drivers, although the SHO version might be well worth the price if you need a little fun doing your daily chores. The Avalon was typical Toyota and that manufacture has remained consistent with its design, quality build, and frugal strategies. However, there are some excellent alternatives in this market segment now including new models from Chevrolet and Chrysler clawing at the buyer’s wallets as well as Ford, Kia, Hyundai, and, of course, the Honda Accord. I liked the Ford, but I wouldn’t kick the Avalon out of my garage for long distance traveling.

Young working woman’s view: Both of these are far more nimble than their size would indicate. However, the Avalon appealed to me more. The Taurus was more interesting to look at, but the Toyota felt more comfortable.

Young working male’s view: Since I work daily with technology at building American made open source computes and servers I favor the Taurus because it is loaded with electronic features that place it at the forefront of the industry with a plethora of options that the Toyota did not offer. I also liked the large trunk and the Ford styling was more intriguing.

Family conference: In reality, the Toyota Avalon has stayed remarkably consistent as a larger version of the Camry. Today, the performance, handling, and interior room are still the same high quality, but the completion from Ford, Buick, Kia, Hyundai, Chrysler, and Chevrolet have been nipping at its heels. The result is that the Avalon is a superior family sedan that can hold six in comfort and offer a sedate ride with admirable fuel mileage. The Ford is more modern in looks and has more updated options. It is not as roomy inside, but the trunk is huge. It does have restricted vision to the back and sides, but offers drivers a more involving feel. Both are at the top of the large family sedan class.

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Dodge Grand Caravan SXT: Family Friendly and TV Too

by The Car Family

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It isn’t difficult to find reviewers who want to cast stones at the Dodge minivan, but we didn’t find any from families. Here are the facts. The Dodge has the most family-friendly interior of all vans. Secondly, it has good crash scores. Finally, these vans are built with kids in mind even to a built in child’s seat.

The Dodge Grand Caravan comes in three trims of which only the SE and SXT are for a family and we highly recommend the latter. The smaller, 3.3 engine has flex-fuel capability and can run on E85 if you can find it. We don’t recommend this engine as it does not have enough power for a family traveling in the mountains or even pulling a small trailer. There is word that the 2011 version is going to have a sharper interior and more potent engines and with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, it might pay to look into the new model. Of course, that also means there are going to be some bargains on the 2010 model.

Mom’s view: As soon as you drive this Dodge it gets smaller. It is fairly nimble, has good visibility in all directions except the rear, and the optional 4.0-liter V6 engine and a six speed automatic can get about 22 mpg in mixed driving. The Caravan has active front-seat headrests, antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, full-length side curtain airbags and you can order an integrated child booster seats with Swivel ‘n Go, rear parking sensors, a blind-spot monitoring system and Rear Cross Path. The latter is a must. When you are backing up it warns you of traffic coming. Great for crowded malls when you are parked beside gas hoggish, large SUVs that block your view. You also need to always consider the optional rearview camera when ordering any family vehicle. The crash test scores were excellent.

The interior is a bit drab, but with the stereo controls mounted high and the sliding door buttons also within reach. It is easy to get used to driving this Dodge. I especially like the optional seating choices. The standard Stow ‘n Go setup has two second row captain’s chairs that fold into the floor. The bench third row seat also folds flat into the floor. That leaves a very large, flat cargo bay. The optional Swivel ‘n Go seats turn so you can face the other passengers. A pole-mounted table can be moved between each row of seats, although I found it a bit wobbly. The center console has a hole near the bottom that makes a good place to place a purse, which is always nice. But make sure it is won’t roll into the pedal area. By the way, some models have adjustable pedals.

The interior is rugged, but really needs some upgrading in materials. However, this isn’t a show vehicle and so durability is my concern. The van we tested had 10,000 rough miles on it and there was no sign of wear on the seats or anywhere for that matter. A few rattles, but nothing that a screaming child can’t drown out.

The standard three-zone manual climate control works well, but has its fans full when the outside temperature gets into triple digits. Do get darkened windows. The optional Swivel ‘n Go rear captain’s chairs allow passengers to face each, which is fun for playing games, and there is a table available on some models to facilitate this. A rear entertainment center is available as well as Sirius Satellite TV. Yep, you can get television delivered to the back seaters.

The less expensive SE comes standard with 16-inch steel wheels, full power accessories, three-zone climate control, cruise control, a tilt steering column, Stow ‘n Go second-row seats, a flip-down kiddie mirror and stereo/CD. The SXT model adds a larger engine, a power driver seat and remote-operated sliding side doors, and third-row power vent-style windows among other items. The optional SXT model features a4.0-liter V6, the SXT and a sport-tuned suspension. This is the van to order as it makes the Dodge more playful to drive and still retains its practicality.

Dad’s view: The optional 4.0-liter V6 option and six speed transmission are as good as anyone’s. Don’t get any other version if you travel or tow as the 251 horsepower and 259 lb-ft of torque makes this one quick minivan. Driving the Grand Caravan was relaxing with good seats and a quiet ride. It is, dare I say, fast and the handling is okay, but not up to that of the more expensive models from Honda. The steering is light and the brakes feel overboosted, The handling was a surprise because it does corner well considering its mass. I liked this rig and wouldn’t mind owning one even for commuting.

Young working man’s view: Not yet. The upgraded sound package is worthwhile, but not first rate. The high-mounted audio controls are easy to reach and the television reception is fairly good in metropolitan areas even though you are limited to children stations. Driving a minivan is always interesting at first. You keep thinking someone is following you, but this Dodge is fairly responsive and easy to park. The low liftover makes loading simple and the interior lighting is adequate. The headlights are barely average. Overall, this is too much vehicle for my needs. I also felt that the interior needed to be refreshed and the option packages appealed to those kid prone. By the way, I am now engaged and am off the market, so to speak, in case you were interesting. So maybe in the coming years this Dodge may move up my desirability list.

Young working woman’s view: As usual with Dodge, the option packages are numerous and a buyer needs to spend time researching the packages before shopping. For example, you can order a 30GB hard drive for digital music storage, touchscreen controls, satellite radio and a rearview parking camera. Or you can opt for a rear DVD entertainment system with a nine-inch flip-down screen, remote control, two headphones and a 115-volt outlet. There are also a flashlight and a driver-side umbrella holder.

All of these are nice touches, but unless you have children or/and dogs, a minivan isn’t the best choice. A good sedan can do most things just as well and get better fuel mileage. But they don’t offer the variety of options that this Dodge does, especially for youngsters. For example, the Family Value Group adds second- and third-row sunshades, a sliding center console and remote engine start that help heat or cool the vehicle before you get enter. You can also get GPS, heated seats for the front and second row, and real time traffic. The Premium Group adds rain-sensing wipers, automatic climate control, a power-folding third-row seat, Bluetooth with an iPod interface, and nine speakers.

Buying this minivan reminds me of buying a house before it is built. You can have it anyway you want, but almost everything is an upgrade and adds to the cost. Keep it simple and you still have a house, but nothing to show-off to the family. The same goes for the Dodge. In basic form it is transportation, but with a few packages it can be an entertainment center or fun driver. And, Dodge is dealing.

Family conference: Quality statistics on the Dodge are a consideration, but we feel with the long warranty and the fact that Dodge has to do its best to keep every customer for leaving the fold well result in better ratings in 2011. The Volkswagen Routan is nearly identical to the Dodge, but has a better interior design and superior handling.

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New Odyssey Raises the Bar

by The Car Family

The 2011 Honda Odyssey minivan  price (MSRP) ranges from $27,800 for the value-oriented Odyssey LX to $43,250 for the ultra-premium Odyssey Touring Elite, plus a destination and handling charge1 of $780 per model, according to American Honda Motor Company.

The interior includes a new “3-mode” second-row seat design with a total of five LATCH attachment points  and a one-motion, 60/40 split 3rd-row seat.

Honda states that the EPA highway fuel-economy rating of 28 miles-per-gallon (mpg) on Odyssey Touring, which is class leading especially since the 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 engine features Variable Cylinder Management  produces 248 horsepower. City mileage is at 19. The more expensive models get a six-speed automatic transmission and a five-speed automatic transmission.

New technology available on certain models includes a rear entertainment system with a 16.2-inch ultrawide split-screen display and an auxiliary High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) video input, an “intelligent” Multi-Information Display (i-MID) with customizable wallpaper, integration of FM traffic data on navigation models and much more. Thoughtful features have been added throughout like the available cool box, front bag hook, available flip-up trash bag ring and more. Available back-up camera and available conversation mirror continue to be offered.

An extensive list of safety equipment on every Odyssey includes a better body structure  that enhances occupant protection and crash compatibility in frontal collisions. Additional standard safety equipment includes  electronic stability control; anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist; three-row side-curtain airbags with a rollover sensor; driver’s and front passenger’s side airbags with passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS); dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags; and active front seat head restraints.

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Sunblock vs. Sunscreen: Best Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

by Alan Haskvitz

Americans spend well over $500 million each year on sunscreen products that may not be the proper type or be used properly. Sadly, the result is that there are about 69,000 new cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, every year and a reported 8,650 deaths. Especially at risk are those under 30 where melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in this age bracket.

The causes of the continued rise in skin cancer cases is especially worrisome since it can be avoided with some commonsense strategies. For example, knowing what sunscreen and sunblock do and the need for it to be applied and reapplied even on overcast days as well as wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and wide brimmed hats. A tee shirt only provides the equivalent of a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 5 rating and if it is wet even less. Higher SPF numbers indicate more protection.

The main differences between sunscreen and sunblock is that the former acts as a filter that allows a limited range of ultraviolet (UV) light to be absorbed into the skin depending on the SPF number, while the latter reflects UVA and UVB rays and, as its name implies, blocks them from the skin. Sunblocks are frequently thick, opaque, and usually white in color. It is crucial to note that many lotions contain both a sunblock and a sunscreen so read the label carefully. It is also very important to check the expiration date of the lotion. Regardless of what protection you select it is essential that it is used on a regular basis and this is equally significant for young children. Since ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin they can alter the structure of the skin cells and cause malignancy. There are three types of UV rays; A, B, and C. UVA is said to cause connective tissue damage and increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. UVB rays are normally absorbed into the ozone layer, and the very harmful UVC rays are absorbed by the stratospheric ozone layer.

Always check with your doctor before for a recommendation as to the type of sunblock or sunscreen that you and your family need. A trip to the dermatologist is recommended to check any black, irregular mole for cancer and to get advise as to the latest sunblock and sunscreen ratings.

Frequently, the media offers as UV Index rating that was developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency as a way to warn individuals as to the severity of ultraviolet rays on a daily basis with 0 being the least harmful and a10 rating carrying the most danger. However, you need to know your skin type and there are six of them. A type 1 always burns and is very sensitive to the sun. Type 2 burns easily with a minimum tan. Type 3 burns moderately and tans gradually. Type 4 burns minimally, but tans to a moderate brown color. Type 5 rarely burns, and tans darkly. Type 6 doesn’t burn, is deeply pigmented, and is the least sensitive to UV rays.

Two other areas that are sensitive to the sun and deserve attention are the lips and the eyes where it is imperative that sunglasses that reflect all UV rays be worn as they may cause cataracts.

Consumer Search reports that a good sunblock for children is Neutrogena Sunblock Lotion Sensitive Skin SPF 30. For products with both a sunblock and sunscreen they recommend Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 45, Banana Boat Sport Ultra Sweatproof UVA & UVB Sunblock Lotion SPF 30, and Bull Frog SuperBlock Sunblock Lotion with SPF 45. Highly rated sunscreens for those with sensitive skin and babies are Blue Lizard Sensitive and Blue Lizard Baby.

Sunscreen reviews indicate Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock I is good, especially with the SPF 55 formula. No-Ad Sunblock offers similar security.

Good information links

What do UV ratings mean?

Are you at risk of melanoma?

Free booklet on skin cancer and what you need to know

Unique Family Vehicles for Every Pocketbook

By The Car Family

Good fuel economy, room for five, fun to drive, and plenty of safety features are what makes a great family vehicle. What makes these six unique is that they are often overlooked and that results in these being exceptional buys as dealers are often very willing to make some dramatic deals on them. For example, two of them have diesel engines and they are quiet, clean, and remarkably efficient. Two are priced under $20,000, and one cost over $50,000

There are six that instantly meet that criteria. First, the Volkswagen Routan. This is essentially a Dodge minivan with a sharper interior, better handling, and the same spacious interior. Except for the dreadful headlights, this is a better driver than the Chrysler products. However, with a price significantly more expensive than the Dodge look for the Volkswagen dealer to be eager to meet the competition’s price. Gas mileage seldom exceeds 20 mpg and the engine and transmission don’t always agree, but it you want room and an abundance of useful storage features the Routan is worth a look and they offer a Carefree Maintenance program, too.


Volkswagen’s Jetta Sports Wagon is terrific. For a base price under $20,000 you are going to house the family in a vehicle capable of getting over 35 mpg and with much less maintenance than a gas powered wagon. Get the optional six-speed automatic with Tiptronic over the manual transmission mainly because the clutch on the stick shift has such a high take up point that it makes it more difficult to shift if you have shorter legs. Besides, there is virtually nothing to favor the standard transmission in terms of gas mileage and resale will be less with the manual. The rear hatch is very easy to open, but someone didn’t ask the ladies about where to put the opening latch. The designers decided that the dirtiest place on a wagon would be best, right above the rear bumper. I can’t imagine any women living in the snow belt who is going to appreciate that location.

Safety wise the Volkswagen Jetta wagon has ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, front side airbags, and rear side airbags. The car feels heavier then it is and you aren’t going to find a better handling wagon outside of the BMW and that costs at least ten thousand dollars more.


Mercedes’ R-Class Bluetec is a vast, heavy, unflappable Mercedes wagon that is surprisingly nimble on its feet, fairly frugal at the diesel pump, and has awesome passing acceleration. What’s not right is the overly complicated stereo and temperature controls, the placement of the turn signal, cruise control, and shift lever, and the lack of some features that should be standard on a vehicle that costs nearly $50,000 in base form.


This is a very enjoyable alternative to a minivan and much more fun to drive. The handling is pretty good considering the 5000 plus pounds it is touting and the visibility is quite good. Options on our test vehicle were the rear entertainment center, which has two screens mounted in back of the front row seats, and separate head phones as well. The system works, but is even better is the fact that those in the rear seats have a good view of the road and the advantage of being able to get in and out easily. Although we prefer the sliding doors of most minivans, the more traditional swing out doors on the R-Class are much easier to use, and during inclement weather, can be closed much faster.

But the real story is under the hood. Mercedes makes the best diesel engines for luxury cars and has for years. In Europe they are common, but elsewhere there has been some reluctance to accept these models. In the past they have been noisy and prone to smelly exhaust fumes. That is no longer the case. They are nearly as quiet as a gasoline powered vehicle, get at least 20 percent better fuel mileage, have higher resale, and require less maintenance. What’s not to like. Indeed with a listed 18 mpg, city/24 mpg, highway, it as economical as most minivans and the Mercedes as all wheel drive. However, we found it very easy to get well over 28 mpg on the highway and 24 in town. Add to that the 25 gallon tank and you 500 plus miles before refueling isn’t that difficult to obtain. If you want more mileage try the fabulous E-Class sedan with the Bluetec engine and 30 mpg is common for this luxury sedan.

The R-Class safety features include an interesting Pre-Safe program that uses the brakes, accelerator, and steering inputs to detect if a crash/rollover is imminent. Once the computers sense this danger they tighten the seatbelts and, this is nearly impossible to believe, the passenger seat is moved into the optimum position for the airbag to deploy, and the windows and sunroof are closed. Other safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front and rear side airbags. I would also consider the optional park-assist system.


The Mitsubishi Lancer is priced around $18,000 with a lot of features for those willing to take a chance on an “off-brand” sedans. The Lancer got high crash scores, and has dual-stage front, side and head curtain air bags with some models getting anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution. Always get as many safety options as you can on any vehicle. The 2.0-liter, 152-horsepower four-cylinder engine delivers well over 26 mpg in mixed driving. It look sporty and drives sporty while still offering room for a family and it has an exceptional warranty with five years/60,000 on the car and 10 years / 100,000 miles on the drivetrain as well as five years of roadside assistance.

One of our favorites doesn’t have a pretty face, but it is a beauty with a price tag of $10,000 and room for five. The Nissan Versa is probably the best small family car you can buy for the money. It has a huge interior, enough pep to make it fun to drive, especially with the manual transmission, and it is easy to get over 30 mpg. Good crash safety ratings. However, the 1.6 engine and the bare bones interior, even air conditioning is an option, is really not what most families would want. Thus consider adding a few extras and you can still have a family friendly vehicle for well under $12,000 and that includes six standard airbags. We also recommend better tires and the optional safety equipment. Be aware that if you load the 1.6 with too much you are going to make it more expensive than the much better equipped 1.8 model. The Versa isn’t the quietest or the best looking, but it is frugal and roomy.

Hyundai’s Genesis 3.8 is well equipped at $38,000 and a breath of fresh air for those looking for a family vehicle with plenty of luxury and still gives you 24 mpg in mixed driving and a terrific warranty that Hyundai calls “America’s Best.” Plenty of room inside for five, a list of standard features that makes other manufacturers blush, and a pleasant, if not sporty, ride. It was our family car of the year and deserving, but the difficult part is explaining to everyone that you didn’t pay over $50,000 for the Genesis.

High-tech equipment features you can order include electronic stability control, XM NavTraffic, adaptive headlights, radar-based active cruise control, a 500-watt 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, and electronic active head restraints. The Genesis also has heated and cooled seats and ultrasonic sensors located on the front and rear bumpers to help park in tight spaces. Safety wise the Hyundai has dual front airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side-impact airbags, and roof-mounted side curtain airbags.

Family conference: These vehicles are the perfect remedy for the family that needs good transportation, exceptional fuel mileage, and cargo space without surrendering to the thought you have to buy a tipsy, gas swilling SUV. Pick your price range and one of these unique vehicles could save you plenty.

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