If you're looking for a family car, but you're tired of the same old SUVs, minivans and sedans, you've come to the right place. We've rounded up six alternative family-car choices. These six offer unique styling and features but the same level of practicality, equipment and interior room as their vanilla counterparts. Best of all, we've given ourselves a budget of $35,000, meaning our choices will be affordable for many of today's families searching for a brand-new vehicle.
While most of your fellow parents are likely buying front-wheel-drive sedans with 4-cylinder engines, we suggest breaking with the norm and considering Chrysler's recently restyled 300. In addition to including extravagant design with luxury-car details in its base price of $28,500, the updated 300 offers a rear-wheel-drive layout that can be a hoot behind the wheel. The latest incarnation of the sedan also features an all-new interior with massively improved controls and high-quality surfaces. The Hemi V8 model would certainly be nice to test drive, even the least expensive trim levels featuring the muscular engine can break the bank thanks to starting prices of around $40,000 and fuel economy figures of around 16 mpg in city driving. Instead, we recommend the sedan's technologically advanced new Pentastar V6, which transmits nearly 300 horsepower to the ground through an available eight-speed automatic transmission.
Ford's highly unique Flex is a great choice for car shoppers looking to deviate from the norm. It has many attributes of a traditional crossover, including a car-based chassis, a powerful V6, three-row seating and available all-wheel drive, but the Flex's standout styling gives it a unique image. Featuring a 262-hp 6-cylinder with a 355-hp turbocharged V6 on the options list, the Flex also provides considerable grunt for buyers looking to haul around the kids-and the 2013 model starts at $30,210. But if the Flex's styling and powertrain aren't enough to convince you of its alternative status, we suggest you check out Ford's updates to the crossover for 2013. Such eye-grabbing revisions include a distinctive single-bar chrome grille spanning the entire front fascia, large Flex emblems across the front and back and an optional aluminum finish on its tailgate.
Opinions are split as to whether Honda's distinctive Crosstour is a sedan with a tailgate or a station wagon with a sloped roof, but nearly everyone agrees it's far from the norm. Despite riding on the same platform as the Accord, the Crosstour offers distinctive styling. It also has optional all-wheel drive, making it useful for buyers in nearly any climate. Plus, the Crosstour lets shoppers choose between a standard 4-cylinder capable of nearly 30 mpg on the highway and a muscular V6 that produces 271 hp. Families will also appreciate the Crosstour's long list of standard features, which includes curtain side airbags, a power sunroof, remote keyless entry, an in-dash six-disc CD changer and a rear-view camera-all for a starting price of $27,755 for the 4-cylinder and $30,440 for the V6.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
It used to be that when a Wrangler owner was ready to settle down and have children, he or she had to sell that beloved Jeep because of its impracticality and perceived lack of safety. But thanks to the four-door Wrangler Unlimited-as well as steadily improving convenience and safety features-that's no longer the case. Priced starting at $25,545, the Wrangler Unlimited can be afforded by many families on a budget. And with a long list of available features that includes a navigation system, Bluetooth, heated front seats and a remote starter, buyers no longer have to sacrifice luxury to enjoy the go-anywhere capabilities of a Wrangler or the excitement of an open-top SUV. We can also imagine that many kids would be excited to be picked up from school in a Wrangler, as the SUV still retains much of the appearance of army jeeps from years past.
While some families will find Nissan's compact Juke SUV too small for their needs, those who can fit into the wildly styled crossover will certainly agree that it's one of the most amusing new vehicles on the road. On the outside, the Juke lures in buyers with bizarre yet charming exterior styling that hardly includes a single conventional line. But the fun doesn't stop when climbing into the driver's seat, thanks to a torquey turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder that produces 188 hp and goads drivers into enthusiastic acceleration at every opportunity. Of course, it also helps that the Juke offers a novel g-force meter along with an available Rockford Fosgate sound system. The Juke has a reasonable starting price of $19,990 for the base model or just $26,080 for the well-equipped Juke SL.
Volkswagen's highly competent Passat may be the automaker's volume seller, but the recently updated CC offers a more exciting experience in nearly every way. On the outside, the CC sheds the Passat's traditional styling for the kidn of sleek, aerodynamic lines normally reserved for cars costing far more. The CC then carries its sophisticated appearance into its cabin, where it rewards drivers and passengers with comfortable seats and exceptional fit and finish. And while the Passat offers a relatively predictable driving experience, the CC touts sporty handling and tremendous acceleration thanks to a standard 200- horsepower four-cylinder or an optional V6 that produces a whopping 280 horsepower. Best of all, Volkswagen's improvements to the CC for 2013 have given the sedan a much-needed rear bench seat, meaning five passengers can now enjoy the sedan when necessary. The 2013 CC starts at $30,610.
What it means to you: If you're looking to break free of the traditional family-car mold, there are many great choices available on a reasonable budget.