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Back to School: Family Friendly Cars with Style

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2011 Chrysler Town & Country

author photo by Brian Moody August 2011

Despite every 10 year old kid's best effort, the calendar keeps clicking off days, unstoppably headed toward colorful leaves and back to school specials. And your days are numbered too. You've signed up for the neighborhood car pool or maybe suddenly find yourself with a handful of your own school age kids. Don't worry, though. Just because you have to haul little people around everyday, doesn't mean you have to give up on style or class when it comes to a new set of wheels.

The general assumption is that you have to get a minivan if you need to haul kids. Minivans work well for sure but some offer a little something extra.

If you want luxury mixed in with your family friendly features, check out the latest Chrysler Town and Country. In 2011, the minivan received a significant make over and it now looks and feels more like the luxury van Chrysler always intended. The quality of the interior materials is very good, and the 3.6 liter V6 engine is smooth and powerful.

The Honda Odyssey also feels upscale in its upper trim levels, almost as if it could don an Acura logo instead. The Toyota Sienna Limited is also fairly plush and has a remarkably responsive V6. With 266 hp on tap, the Sienna Limited is a great combination of power and comfort.

Don't like minivans? You're not alone, many people refuse to drive a minivan no matter how useful, stylish or comfortable they are.

The Ford Flex has seating for 7 and doesn't look anything like a minivan. The slightly retro surf wagon look means you can roll up to the elementary school curb with pride, and your kids might even think it's cool. The turbocharged EcoBoost version delivers V8 power with V6 fuel economy, but even the non-turbo V6 powered Flex has plenty of ponies under the hood. Cool Flex options include a rear seat entertainment system, built-in ‘fridge, Sony audio system and two tone paint.

If you don't need the third row seat, the Toyota Venza is a great choice, too. With a distinctly upscale interior and a curvaceous exterior, the Toyota Venza looks a little sleeker than other family cars. Optional 20 inch wheels, power liftgate and 13-speaker JBL audio system mean the Venza is clearly not a typical mom-mobile.

If you need lots of interior space and have a little extra cash to spend, the Infiniti QX56 is an amazing piece of craftsmanship. The leather is soft, seats are super comfortable, there's plenty of room in the second and third row seats, the Bose audio system sounds great and there's a lengthy list of high-tech options such as lane departure warning and lane departure control that, in some cases, will actually put your car back in the proper lane without input from the driver. It's all powered by an eerily silent 5.6 liter, 400 hp V8. It's not cheap, though, at nearly $60,000. One look inside and you'll immediately see why.

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Don't have $60,000 to spend? For less than half that you can get a very nicely equipped Kia Sorento. Recently redesigned, the Sorento has three rows of seats and fresh, hip exterior look. There's nothing about the Sorento that looks or feels like a family car. The handling is crisp, acceleration from the available V6 is more than adequate and even with every option you can think of the price barely crack's the $30,000 mark.

Lugging three kids and their backpacks around doesn't have to mean taking a bit hit when it's time to fuel up. The VW Jetta TDI sips diesel fuel to the tune of 42 miles per gallon on the highway. Its modest price (around $24,000) and spunky attitude mean it's still fun even when you're alone. It's a similar story with the 2012 Toyota Prius V. Think of the V as a sort of Prius wagon and you'll get the idea pretty quickly. The Prius V is expected to get about 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined.

For those on a very tight budget, you can still have the cool factor and get plenty of space without breaking the bank. Vehicles like the Dodge Journey Express have an intentionally aggressive look but starts at under $24,000. The interior is attractive and it has a third row seat. Same story with the Mitsubishi Outlander, it doesn't look like you gave up on being cool and moved to the suburbs but functions much like a suburban family hauler.

Granted, a Ford Flex or Toyota Venza won't replace your desire for a sports car, but that prized coupe won't work for the carpool either. Pick one of these vehicles and you might be able to have the best of both worlds: kid-friendly features and a little style, too.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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