12 Great Family Cars for the Recession

April 28, 2009

America’s in the midst of a deep recession--and no industry's suffered like the auto industry. Even so, the need for a new family car is still pressing on folks who may be readying for a new arrival, or ready to move out of a smaller car into one that’s more teen-friendly.

Which family car is the best for you? Most likely, you’re thinking of safety first—five-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a full complement of safety features. You might also be thinking beyond that box and beyond the typical family hauler. Maybe you want better styling than you’d typically get from a minivan—or a little more performance flair than you might find in one. A reliable history is important. And in financial times like these, your new vehicle has to be an outstanding deal.

TheCarConnection.com's uncovered 12 great choices for families among new 2009 models--vehicles that carry more than four adults economically while earning great safety ratings. There's not a minivan among them, either. These vehicles also deliver the flair that makes you forget responsibility, if only for a moment:

2009 Buick Enclave

2009 Buick Enclave

2009 Buick Enclave

What is it? A seven-seat crossover vehicle introduced by GM in 2007.
Family values: Five-star safety ratings; powerful V-6 engine; usable third-row seat; high-quality interior with many entertainment and convenience features.
Price range: $32,000 - $37,000

The 2009 Buick Enclave continues a winning streak for GM’s premium family-car lineup. The big crossover vehicle is beautifully curved and looks decidedly upscale inside, while sporting a big V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is available, and the Enclave seats seven, though adults will have some difficulty clambering into the way-back bench. TheCarConnection.com rates the Enclave at an overall score of 8.2 out of 10.

Likes:
* Elegant exterior
* Luxurious, roomy interior
* Easier to live with than a full-size SUV
* Lots of standard features
* Clever options, liek heated windshield washers

Dislikes:
* Disappointing fuel mileage
* Transmission “hunts”
* Hefty, at 5,100 pounds

2010 Volvo XC60

2010 Volvo XC60

2010 Volvo XC60

What is it? Volvo’s new mid-size crossover, based on its recent S80 sedan
Family values: Tons of safety equipment including the cutting-edge City Safety feature; sophisticated styling inside and out; standard all-wheel drive
Price range: $38,000-$45,000

The 2010 Volvo XC60 gives fans of the Swedish brand a great way to step down from the more expensive seven-seat XC90 sport-ute. The XC60 crossover seats five and is stylish inside and out, with a classic Scandinavian theme inside. Safety technology abounds, including a City Safety system that helps brake the car under 20 mph if an accident looms. A turbo in-line six is standard for now; less expensive, non-turbo versions are in the works, as is a front-drive version. TheCarConnection.com rates the XC60 at 8.2 out of 10, with high marks in safety and features.

Likes:
* Attractive styling
* Well-trimmed interior
* Good handling and acceleration

Dislikes
* Poor fuel economy
* Lots of technobuttons

2009 Ford Flex SE

2009 Ford Flex SE

2009 Ford Flex

What is it? A big, bold seven-passenger crossover with a MINI Cooper-ish flair.
Family values: Big safety scores, big headroom, tons of entertainment features and available all-wheel drive.
Price range: $28,000-$36,000

The 2009 Ford Flex is one of the highest-rated family cars at TheCarConnection.com, rating 9 out of 10 with exceptionally high marks in safety and features. With V-6 power and available all-wheel drive, the Flex is a tall, roomy family wagon with three rows of seating in most versions. Seating even in the third row is adult-sized, and the Flex makes long trips a snap with features like an in-car refrigerator, a panoramic sunroof, and Sirius Travel Link, which feeds traffic, weather and even movie times into the car’s navigation/entertainment system. Even better, slow sales have forced Ford into heavy discounts; base versions normally priced at $26,000 can be had for far less.

Likes:
*  Against-the-grain styling
* Wealth of features
* First- and second-row seating comfort

Dislikes:
*  Tight headroom in third-row seat
* Uncomfortable headrests
* No telescoping steering wheel

2009 GMC Acadia

2009 GMC Acadia

2009 GMC Acadia

What is it? A seven-seat crossover that shares the Buick Enclave’s architecture but sports its own rugged style
Family values: Roomy seating; strong safety package; available all-wheel drive
Price range: $32,000-$41,000

The 2009 GMC Acadia’s a kissing cousin of the Buick Enclave—but the two couldn’t look less alike, the Acadia trading soft curves for straight lines and a more rugged style. The masculine shape carries over inside, where five adults and a couple of kids can ride comfortably for long distances. The Acadia receives good crash-test scores, and TheCarConnection.com’s experts give it an overall rating of 8.2 out of 10.

Likes:
*  Very roomy
* Easier to live with than a full-size SUV
* Luxurious interior
* Lots of standard features
* Clever options (heated windshield washers!)

Dislikes:
*  Transmission "hunts"
* Weighs almost 5,000 pounds and feels it
* Price is high for a non-luxury-brand vehicle

2009 Hyundai Genesis

2009 Hyundai Genesis

2009 Hyundai Genesis

What is it? A surprisingly sophisticated four-door sedan with V-6 or V-8 power
Family values: Exceptional rear-seat legroom; luxurious interior and quality feel; great safety features
Price range: $32,000-$38,000 base

The 2009 Hyundai Genesis is a major surprise from an automaker bent on breaking into the major leagues. It’s a big four-door with Benz S-Class-sized rear-seat room—and the quality construction of its Japanese kin, the Infiniti M and Lexus GS. The Genesis’ ultimate weapon is a big V-8 with nearly 400 horsepower, though the more economical V-6 edition is quick in its own right. A strong warranty helps build the case that the $32,000 Genesis is a reasonable substitute for cars costing half as much. The Genesis earned a rating of 8.2 out of 10 from TheCarConnection.com’s review experts.

Likes:
* Straight-line acceleration
* Elegant, stylish interior design
* Quiet, refined cabin
* Vast backseat space

Dislikes:
* Overly conservative exterior
* Doesn’t handle like a sport sedan
* Some details are lacking

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

What is it? The third generation hybrid hatchback from the world’s biggest hybrid automaker
Family values: Five-passenger seating; 51-mpg city fuel economy; enviable Toyota reputation for reliability
Price range: $21,500 and up (est.)

The 2010 Toyota Prius is a complete makeover of the world’s most popular hybrid car. The new version stands by its five-passenger hatchback shape, which has become a touch more stylish, and now has an interior quality that’s more appropriate to its price point. A new 1.8-liter four-cylinder and electric drivetrain gives the Prius more power but higher fuel economy—51/48 mpg. A special Eco driving mode helps drivers pilot it more efficiently, and an EV mode gives about a mile of electric-only propulsion. Though base prices have stayed about $21,500, smart shoppers will also consider the 2009 model, which still earns 48/45 mpg fuel economy ratings. In all, the 2010 Prius rates 8.2 out of 10 on TheCarConnection.com.

 

Likes:
*Exceptional fuel economy
*Tall, airy cabin
*Hatchback utility
*Improved driving feel
*More upscale effort in general

Dislikes:
*Likely more expensive
*Still drives like a hybrid
*Console design means less knee room in front

2010 Kia Soul

2010 Kia Soul

2010 Kia Soul

What is it? Compact urban wagon with seating for five
Family values: Tall roof for growing teen passengers; full complement of safety features standard; entertainment includes standard satellite radio
Price range: $13,300-$16,950 base

The 2010 Kia Soul is a brand-new wagon in the cute urban wheels niche that includes the Scion xB and the new Nissan Cube. The Soul trumps them both, and for city families with a need for flexibility, its compact body and flip-folding rear seats will make errands and carpools easy. The Soul’s most stirring feature is its angular, youthful body—but standard Sirius satellite radio and available Bluetooth are uncommon in this class, too. Six airbags and stability control are standard, and Kia expects the Soul to score top crash-test ratings. TheCarConnection.com’s team of auto experts rank the Soul at 8.2 out of 10.

Likes:
*  Adorable, angular shape
* Fun and spacious interior
* Standard safety equipment
* Well-equipped, even in base trim

Dislikes:
*  Manual shifter has long travel
* Drivetrain thrum at highway speed
* Not quick

2009 Subaru Forester

2009 Subaru Forester

2009 Subaru Forester

What is it? A perennial all-weather favorite, with five-passenger seating and all-wheel drive
Family values: Frugal choice in its class; great safety equipment; more refined interior and more comfortable seats
Price range: $20,000 - $30,000

The 2009 Subaru Forester is a familiar face in the crossover class—only this time around, it’s grown up with a nice new cabin and more supportive seating for five adults. It’s smaller than some mid-size crossovers, and it lacks some cutting-edge features, but the Forester specializes in dependability and simplicity, and its all-wheel-drive system with four-cylinder or turbo four engines makes for good fuel economy. You’ll feel more in control of the Forester’s nimble handling than in most crossovers—and secure in the knowledge that six airbags and anti-lock brakes will keep you safe. TheCarConnection.com’s expert reviewers ranked the Forester 8 out of 10.

Likes:
* Improved styling
* Reduced interior noise
* All-wheel drive
* Carlike handling

Dislikes:
* Still not a great-looking machine
* No manual gearbox on turbo models
* Only four speeds on automatic
* Lots of silver plastic in the cabin

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan Hybrid

What is it? The gas-electric version of Ford’s mid-size sedans, newly restyled this year
Family values: Gas-saving hybrid powertrain comes with tax breaks; nicer interior with room for five; secure front-drive handling; good reliability history
Price range: $27,000 base

The 2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrid sedans are new for this model year, and were worth the wait; Ford says the duo earns 41-mpg city fuel economy ratings, the highest in the mid-size sedan class (Toyota’s Prius rates 51/48 mpg for the 2010 model year). The new twins have revamped exteriors and refreshed interiors with Ford’s SYNC entertainment controller and navigation systems available. Since they’re new, the Hybrid sedans also come with a tax break for this model year; the pair has also amassed a good reputation for durability as measured by major consumer magazines. TheCarConnection.com rates the standard Fusion sedan at 8.8 out of 10.

Likes:
* More powerful AND more fuel-efficient
* SYNC audio/calling interface
* Improved interior quality and quietness
* Solid build quality

Dislikes:
* Rear seat-back release only in trunk
* Somewhat tight backseat

2009 Toyota Venza

2009 Toyota Venza

2009 Toyota Venza

What is it? A crossover that shares some pieces with the Camry sedan
Family values: Tall-wagon shape; lots of head and leg room; reputation for reliability; available all-wheel drive and four-cylinder engine
Price range: $25,000 - $29,000 base

The 2009 Toyota Venza is the station wagon for Camry lovers—and those who don’t want to drive an actual “wagon.” A tall-roof crossover built from Toyota’s parts bin, the Venza looks intriguing and offers a pair of drivetrains that have proven to be reliable through the years. There’s no magic here—but the Venza works well enough as a family-transportation piece, and has options for all-wheel drive and a fuel-saving four-cylinder engine, too. The seats can feel flat, and the Venza’s no sportwagen, but it does offer a wide array of safety features and entertainment options like Bluetooth and satellite radio. The Venza is rated at 7.8 out of 10 by TheCarConnection.com.

Likes:
* Intriguing styling
* Tall-wagon versatility
* Available four-cylinder engine
* Available all-wheel drive

Dislikes:
* Cabin textures and trims
* Steering feel
* Road noise

2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid

2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid

2009 Saturn Aura Hybrid

What is it? Saturn’s mid-size four-door—now with hybrid power
Family values: Easy access to the cabin; nicely styled cabin; smart handling; steep discounts
Price range: $26,200 - $24,000 base

By now you’ve heard: GM intends to shut down or spin off the Saturn brand this year. What this means right now are huge discounts on the entire Saturn lineup—and among its cars and crossovers, the Aura Hybrid sedan is a standout. The mileage benefits aren’t as sharp as some hybrids, but the Aura’s smart handling and clean styling come with a federal clean-car $1,550 tax break—on top of the deal you’ll strike with the dealer trying to empty lots of the new four-doors. There’s nothing to worry about for repairs in the medium term, as GM will honor all warranties even after Saturn leaves its orbit in three years. The 2009 Aura rates a 7.8 on TheCarConnection.com's scale of 10.

Likes:
* Clean styling
* Handsome interior
* Tax breaks for purchase

Dislikes:
* Minor interior quality quibbles
* Rear-seat bottom cushion

2009 Honda Accord

2009 Honda Accord

2009 Honda Accord

What is it? The latest version of the best family car, ever
Family values: Roomy, high-quality cabin; better than average handling; V-6 power; resale value
Price range: $20,000 - $30,000 base

The Honda Accord is TheCarConnection.com’s highest-rated sedan, scoring 9 out of 10 on our scale—and it’s the fallback recommendation for any family looking for a four-door that fits all sorts of bills. The Accord’s reputation for reliability precedes it—and Accords fetch top dollar on the used-car market as a result. A two-door coupe is available, as is a powerful V-6. Handling is better than most vehicles in its class, and though the styling’s gone a little spacey, the Accord still feels richer and more highly finished than its competition.

Likes:
* Very quiet and well-isolated cabin
* Tight-as-a-drum build quality
* Big-sedan poise and good roadholding
* Wide price/equipment range to fit all budgets
* Long-standing reputation for reliability and high resale value

Dislikes:
* Exterior styling looks derivative
* Rear headroom limited by swooping roofline
* Fuel efficiency is good, but not improved

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