The definition of the family car has evolved tremendously over the years. Family cars actually used to be cars. Families chugged along without the urge to carry everything they owned wherever they went.
We have Lee Iacocca to thank for the slow and steady vehicular castration of the American family car.
Good old Lee was a savvy businessman who brought Chrysler back from the brink with a slew of crappy cars for Americans who had given up on the enjoyment of driving.
The most influential of Iacocca’s offspring was the Plymouth Voyager / Dodge Caravan. Chrysler thought they could sell a bunch more cars if they just put different labels on the exact same vehicles since we’re stupid consumers. They were so right. They were the same van with two different badges. They were terrible by any measure, but American families flocked to Chrysler / Plymouth dealerships to snatch up the latest must-have family accessory.
The minivan is still a staple of many families, but what if you’re the sort of person that cares about what you drive? What if you understand what makes a good car is not cargo capacity, infotainment systems, or chilled upholders? For decades families drove station wagons and sedans, and we were content.
Here are 10 “family” cars both new and used for those of you who know how to change a tire and can capably drive a manual transmission. Sure, some of these might not be considered the most practical or reliable vehicles you could buy, but if you’re looking for reliable and practical, just go buy a beige on beige Toyota Sienna Value Edition and stick with missionary position. It’s cool. Nobody is judging you.
E90 M3 Sedan
The 2007-2011 BMW M3 sedan is an absolute animal. I know… I owned one and then I had to buy a house, so I sold it. I wish I never had… I have had over 40 cars and It was the only one I really regret selling. It’s a 4 door sedan with all of the modern safety devices you need and the latch system for your kids carseats. With 420hp, you can safely merge into traffic and outrun the cops. You will also be the coolest parent in your elementary school drop-off line. It’s a BMW, so it’s not cheap to fix or maintain, but with regular maintenance they’re quite reliable. It’s also a bit under the radar. To the layman, it looks pretty much like any other BMW sedan except you know what it feels like to rip 0-60 in a hair under 4 seconds, and it feels good.
Three Volkswagen Offerings
VW is making some pretty sweet rides that are fun to drive, but also really practical. The latest generation of VWs are packed with enough tech goodies to make anyone born after 1970 pretty happy and the interior quality is almost better than their more expensive Audi cousins. The ones to buy are the 5 door hatchback GTI, Golf R, the Jetta GLI, and the Golf SportWagen.
All of these cars can be had with a manual transmission which just makes any car more fun to drive. The Golfs and the SportWagen are cavernous when you flip the seats down. You really can’t go wrong with much of what VW is currently putting out, but if the budget allows, go for more options and leather. Sure, VW has been marred of late with the TDI scandal, but now is the time to get a great deal on a VW while they’re not selling as quickly as they once did. Well optioned cars will hold their value more than the base models if you plan to sell them on.
We’re making some pretty decent cars stateside these days and Chevrolet has been stepping it up in the performance arena with the new Stingray. Even the most staunch critics have been praising the latest Corvette. However for the family there’s the SS. It’s a midsize sedan with a 6.2Litre v8 and can be ordered with a manual transmission. The interior is really well appointed while the exterior is very much under the radar. The only options are a sunroof and a manual transmission and I’d suggest signing up for both.
Ford Flex Limited
Ford has recently been building the best vehicles it ever has. Our family has a 2015 Explorer, but sometimes I wish we had gone for the Flex. Like the Explorer, you can get it with AWD and a 330hp Ecoboost motor which is Ford’s way of saying it’s a turbo, but unlike the Explorer, it looks cool as hell. You get all of the benefits of an SUV, but you’re not driving something that every other bloak on the road is. Go for the limited model with the 20” alloy wheels and the appearance package to get a black painted roof.
Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat
If you give zero f*cks about what some people may think about you, but you have a family and want something fast as hell, the Hellcat is for you. It’s packing a 6.2Litre v8 putting out an amazing 707hp and can burn dead dinosaurs quickly enough to do the quarter mile in around 11 seconds. That’s just what you need if your kid is super late for t-ball. Chrysler Corp has also come a long way with it’s interior quality as demonstrated by the latest Cherokee, but the Hellcat is a little over the top with the stitching and logos. Buy this if you’re making six figures, but also love NASCAR.
Subaru WRX Hatchback
The new Subaru WRX doesn’t come in hatchback form anymore and that’s a shame. The WRX is an all-time great hot hatch with AWD, cargo space, and a turbocharged motor that will get you and the kids up to the mountain in a hurry. The WRX hatch looks awesome with a roof rack and a cargo box. If you The interior on these cars is a bit dated and has more hard plastic than most will like, but if you’re going to spill gogurt all over it, who cares. It’s a super fun car to drive and has the practicality for the family to match.
Tesla Model S
The Tesla is “expensive”, but so is filling up a full-size SUV. If you’re a two car family and can afford the up-front cost of buying one, they seem like a really great option. They are fast! I’ve driven one and the experience of regenerative braking coupled with a silky throttle response is sublime. The interior room in a Model S is really astounding. The story is that when Elon Musk was working with designers for the Model S, he insisted he could bring his whole family with him and that meant three carseats in the back seat. The Tesla can run three Gracos wide in the rear seat and there is a “rumble seat” in the back for two more little ones. Remove the rear seat and there is endless cargo space. Remember, there is no gas tank to take up space. The battery is located underneath the passenger compartment which creates a low center of gravity and extraordinary handling in the curves.