By: Dottie Tiejun Li
Summer usually means travel, and that means family travel for many of us. With that in mind, I thought we'd take a look at a couple of the current crop of cars on the market to see which ones hold up well under family-style conditions. On our list are an SUV, a station wagon, and a sedan. Which might light up the sky like Fourth of July firecrackers, and which might fizzle out?
IMPREZA 20i LIMITED
We start with the sedan, assuming many families find the relatively modest price of this Subaru more attractive than the higher priced SUV or station wagon models available.
At a Glance:
- -All-new, fourth-generation with 4-door sedan and 5-door designs.
- -All-new Subaru Boxer engine
- -New Lineartronic® Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).
- -27/36 mpg city/highway fuel economy
- -Double-wishbone rear suspension
- -Two different versions of standard Symmetrical AWD
- -A base 2.0i with the manual transmission starts at $18,245. The 2.0i Limited with mandatory CVT: $22,345 and $23,645 for a CVT-equipped 2.0i Sport Limited PZEV.
With its gleaming black exterior and streamlined styling, the Impreza has good curb appeal. Once I settled into the driver's seat, however, the interior colors and materials screamed "economy car" at me. The seating is comfortable, with what seems to be extra leg room in the rear. Subaru touts the fact that the new model is built on a longer wheelbase, but with shorter overhangs, managing a roomier interior at the same overall size as older models. That, plus pushing the windshield father forward, creates a feeling of roominess that is unexpected. Visibility is good, and I noticed right away that the rear view mirrors are over-sized, a good feature in both city and highway driving.
The peppy start surprised me at first as I blasted away from the curb, as Subaru has long been noted for unimpressive performance. But that initial pep doesn't hold up at highwat acceleration speeds, where Impreza's newly re-designed engine lacks some of the muscle I'd like. On the plus side, the disc brakes grab solidly and the car stops without lurching, something of importance when there are toddlers in the back seat. At highway speeds, especially, there is a slight tendency for the model to understeer, but as this is a basically a souped-up compact car and not a performance vehicle, it's not really out of line. Plus, the all-wheel-drive adds a layer or stability that makes acceleration comfortable.
Subaru has been touting increases in fuel efficiency for the current model year, and I was getting 26.4 miles-per-gallon in city mileage. That's certainly respectable, even as there has been a slight reduction in engine power and total car weight from previous models. The new Boxer engine must be more efficient than the old power plants, as published tests show the Impreza 2.0i Limited racking up 0-60 mph in 9.4 seconds and the quarter mile in 17.2 seconds at 81.9 mph. (Again, it's that peppy start.) Those numbers either match or exceed the 0 – 60 tests for older Imprezas.
The double-wishbone rear suspension boosts driving dynamics as promised, giving the Impreza impressive responsiveness (some steering conditions excepted) and a fairly smooth ride. It's especially nice as it allows you to handle curves with confidence. Subaru says the suspension is also supposed to make the ride quieter, but it seemed as noisy to me as any other modestly priced compact.
Bottom Line: I enjoyed the car. For the price, this is a decent buy for the budget-conscious driver. Your kids will be safe in the rear seats and it's comfortable enough for city and highway travel. Subaru is boasting a wide range of performance and interior options to push the Impreza closer to premium car status, but you will have to decide for yourself if it makes sense for you to add the cost of bells and whistles to what is essentially a modest basic platform.
VOLKSWAGEN Tourages TDI Lux
My first thought upon seeing the white VW SUV in my driveway was, "Wow, VW has come a long way from the days of the old box-like vans."
At a Glance:
- - Three powertrains and the world's first supercharged hybrid powertrain available
- -Eight-speed automatic transmission standard on all models
- -3.0L V6 TDI Clean Diesel offers 28 highway mpg and 728-mile range
- - Sport, Lux and Executive trim levels with VR6 or TDI Clean Diesel power
- - starting MSRP of $43,375. The model reviewed is priced at $52,895,
The Tourages TDI Lux was a bit imposing in our driveway, at first sight, boasting what seems to be a wide carriage, slung low. VW says they've added a few inches to both length and wheelbase, and it shows. The overall look is more aerodynamic than older models, though, so there's none of that lumbering look VW used to be known for. A closer look showed plenty of luxury touches inside, with walnut wood accents, "Vienna" leather, and a ten-speaker sound system. The fit and finish of the interior materials are excellent, adding to the sense of luxury.
It's certainly a spacious SUV, comfortably carrying five passengers and with room for lots of luggage. The rear seatback is split 40/20/40, and each section folds to handle a variety of carrying capacities. The driver's seat has up to 12-way power adjustment, and there's substantial headroom in both the front and the rear (not to mention an oversized tilt/slide roof). Unfortunately, that driver's seat really needs a memory so it would not have to require constant readjustment between trips.
Volkswagen didn't send me the hybrid to try out, but the diesel TDI Lux still offered some adventures in driving. I took the SUV on a road trip to test VW's claims of impressive gas mileage efficiency, and while it didn't seem we were heading toward the 728 mile range VW promises, we did come in at around the 28 miles per gallon figure listed in the manufacturer's claims. And that's notably good mileage for a vehicle this size.
Handling is middling, although it is comfortable. The 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine works hard to pull the almost 5-thousand pound vehicle around, but it offers smooth highway driving. Handling is generally solid, but one has to remind herself that this is a sizable piece of metal before taking corners, and that reminder usually comes with a just enough feeling of drift to make you put some more force on the brake pedal. The brakes, by the way, are plenty authoritative when stomped on, but perhaps a bit soft in normal use.
For a big car, the Touareg is more sprightly and responsive than I expected, and the overall driving experience is fine. It came in handy for throwing a couple of bikes in the back (as opposed to spending 20-minutes lashing a rack to the family sedan) and the back seats and luxury components (with many more available) meant kids are safe and entertained.
Still, you'll have to decide for yourself if a VW SUV is worth well over 50-K to get a few extra diesel-fueled miles per gallon. The parent in you might like some of the safety features VW is pitching, including an advanced Rollover Sensor System which deploys side curtain airbags if it senses rollover coming, or Brake Disc Wiping to help keep the pads dry for the best braking during rain.
Bottom line: Expensive for family SUV use, but with impressive features.
VOLVO XC70 T6 AWD
At a Glance:
- -upgraded five-cylinder D5 and D3 turbo diesels
- -0 to 60 acceleration: 5.7 seconds
- - mpg 17/23
- -Two model designations -- 3.2 or T6. The 3.2 is the 3.2-liter engine; T6 stands is turbocharged six-cylinder. The 3.2 is available with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, while the T6 is AWD only. -MSRP $39,100 for reviewed model
Note the underwhelming sales pitch. Volvo doesn't seem to know how to market this car. It's hard to find a concise definition of what makes this car special in their materials. And that's too bad, because of the three vehicles reviewed here, this station wagon seems have the best combination of elements, from handling to efficiency to styling and safety and to price.
For a family car, this is the winner. I call it a station wagon because it certainly looks like a station wagon to me. Volvo, however, doesn't brandish that description much, preferring the term "cross-over" or "cross-country" (hence the XC in the name.) Tomato, tomahto. Whatever they call it, what they have here is a vehicle which has the potential to win back some of that family car money which has been going mostly to SUVs the last two decades. It has won me over.
This is not your father's station wagon. The boxiness in this Swedish import is gone, replaced with sleek curves which minimize the wagon lineage. It handles like a car, yet has enough room for the aforementioned couple of bikes in the back. It's much less expensive than a big SUV, but still has many safety and luxury features to make it appealing. There's off-road dexterity, if needed, but it's comfortable and fun to drive.
Detractors will point to its less than stellar mileage, complaining that its turbocharged inline-6 engine is only expected to get about the same mileage as the much larger, and more spacious crossovers. OK. Point taken. But it is more economical to buy and unless you plan to travel around with more than a couple of kids, or with an extra big load of luggage and other things, this may work out quite well in the long run.
The car handles superbly, with a slightly raised suspension and more ground clearance than some of the other station wag….I mean crossovers. As this may compel you to take the car off-road for fun, Volvo has added dent-resisting protection features in the body and skid plates, front and back. The suspension has been tweaked for bumpy terrain to articulate over rough terrain a little better. That may cause a bit of looseness in normal conditions, so take note. Detractors may also complain that luxury cars targeting people who might like this car will handle better, but they are also more expensive.
The XC70 I drove had a well-equipped interior, although I was not thrilled with the exterior color (chocolate…but there are other colors) or the design of the "infotainment system." (I never did figure out how to turn the radio off, except for turning the entire vehicle off.)
But as a mom, I appreciate all of Volvo's safety measures built into the tech package. A working mother can really use, for instance, a feature which helps you diminish distractions and fatigue, thus reducing the chance of an accident, or the standard antilock disc brakes and the standard City Safety feature that helps you avoid collisions with vehicles in front of you. An optional blind spot warning system is something you quickly come to rely on, and the options include warnings for lane departure and pedestrian detection, and some of the safety features allow the car to brake automatically if necessary,
I enjoyed using the front and rear parking sensors. I enjoyed the rearview camera, leather upholstery, the sunroof, and the power passenger seat. I also like the fact that our seven year old son could easily manage rearranging the rear seat configuration so we could fill the car up with cargo. He also liked the built in rear booster seats.
So, good handling, good looks, great safety features, and decent mileage…all in an affordable package. That XC70 TC AWD sure looked good in our driveway…..