Driving in Style: Car Shopping Tips for Cool Moms
Moms aren't exactly known for driving cool family cars. Take, for instance, the "woody" wagons from the 1970s and 1980s, which were about as far away from a sports car as you could get. They were largely replaced by the minivan -- a highly practical choice, but hardly the most exciting way to shuttle kids from school to soccer practice to music lessons.
So is it possible for moms to drive something cool and practical, without spending a fortune? We think so -- and we think it's easier than you may realize.
In today's tech-obsessed world, one of the biggest things that make a car "cool" is a litany of cutting-edge gadgets. Years ago, such features were only available on top-line luxury cars -- and they rarely worked properly. Think back to the days of car phones.
But now, drivers don't have to break the bank to get the latest gadgets. Reversing cameras, for instance, still earn "oohs" and "aahs" from passengers. Yet they're included on dozens of new cars, from the Honda CR-V -- which starts under $24,000 -- to most trim levels of midsize sedans like the Toyota Camry and Nissan Altima. And many modern cars that don't include a standard reversing camera usually offer it as an inexpensive option.
Infotainment is also quickly gaining popularity in many modern cars. While the array of choices can be daunting, don't worry: It makes your life easier and, most importantly, your car cooler. Toyota's Entune system lets you make dinner reservations or buy movie tickets. Chrysler's navigation system uses Google Maps to show you an image of the exact place you're driving. And most modern infotainment systems can provide traffic updates, online radio and weather information. With all that power, it's easy to feel like you're in an airplane cockpit rather than behind the wheel of a new car.
Other gadgets can also provide "mom cars" with an air of cool. In the newly redesigned Honda Accord, a Lane Watch system turns on a blind-spot camera whenever drivers change lanes to the right. The Ford Fusion's option list includes a system that will automatically parallel park the sedan. (We've tried it, and it works!) Many modern Nissan models will honk the horn and flash the lights once you've filled the tires to the correct pressure. And the Ford Escape offers a system that opens the tailgate when you swing your foot under its bumper -- helpful when your hands are full. Each of those features transforms a "mom car" into something just a little cooler.
The Importance of Style
But we recognize "cool" isn't all about gadgets. Style plays a role, too. And for moms bored with traditional SUVs and minivans, we have a few suggestions. The Ford Flex is among our top choices, since it combines a bold look with 3-row seating and family-friendly features. It's also surprisingly inexpensive compared to rivals, with a starting price around $32,000.
The Honda Crosstour also offers striking styling in a family car package. Like the Flex, many drivers won't fall in love with its unusual look. But for those who want to break out of the mold of the typical "mom car," the Crosstour straddles a line somewhere between sedan, station wagon and SUV. The same is true of the Toyota Venza, which is based on the Camry, but offers a taller driving position and crossover styling. Both the Crosstour and the Venza start around $28,000.
Moms who want to improve their "cool factor" should also consider their needs before making a purchase. A well-equipped Chevrolet Suburban, for example, starts above $50,000. But for the same money, drivers can get a luxurious new BMW 528i or Infiniti M37. Of course, many moms need the Suburban's capabilities -- but many don't. For those in the latter group, the sedans boast exciting gadgets, a sporty driving experience and more than enough room for most families and their gear.
Choosing the right car can be difficult -- especially if you're trying to balance "practical" and "cool." But we think today's family cars and gadgets give moms a chance to be both.