For some dads, any old truckster that can perform the triple duties of commuting, travelling and everyday kid hauling will do the trick. But some dads want something more - a vehicle that can tackle those necessary tasks, but also possesses those less tangible attributes that make a car special.
Here are five cars for a wide range of budgets that after a few hundred miles makes us say, "I love my family car!"
2011 Kia Optima
The Optima is Kia's offering in the highly competitive midsize sedan segment. Dads will love it for its value - you can get a nicely equipped car for thousands less than the competition from more prestigious brands, like Honda and Toyota. But you aren't sacrificing on quality or style: Kia also backs the Optima with an industry-leading warranty, and the Optima looks positively high-end. The forward-thinking designers at Kia penned a car that has the lines of a Lexus, but Kia sells the Optima at a price closer to a Toyota Corolla than a Lexus ES 350.
For V6 performance, choose the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. You'll get the performance you'd expect from a bigger engine while achieving better fuel economy. The "Kia" badge on the front may not hold the cachet of the Japanese midsize leaders, but dads will find that preconceptions about the brand are eclipsed by the beautiful sheetmetal that surrounds that badge.
2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Dads love technology. The slick systems that propel hybrid automobiles are no exception. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is the perfect car for the dad who's itching to adopt this growing automotive trend. Dads also know that, in the long term, gas prices aren't trending down. Each year, it will cost more to gas up for your commute or road trip. So choosing a fuel-efficient family car will have benefits for years to come.
Ford's hybrid system can operate solely on electric power, solely on gasoline power or on a combination of the two. Ford packages this technology in its Fusion sedan, which is also available in non-hybrid form. For dad, this means you can enjoy the benefits of a hybrid without driving a vehicle with the odd looks of a Prius or Insight. Also, Ford deftly added hybrid gear without sacrificing a fun driving experience.
The Fusion Hybrid is the total package, proving to dads that a car can be efficient and compelling to drive, economical and spacious, well engineered and nicely priced.
2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon
The "Wagon" part means it's a family car; the "Sport" part means you'll love the way this wagon drives. Typical for an Acura, the TSX Sport Wagon has a ride that's firm but comfortable, with excellent handling. Good fuel economy and a big tank means you'll likely be pulling over for potty breaks before refueling stops.
Also typical for Acura, the TSX Sport Wagon offers few options but includes a long list of standard features. This means easy decision making at the dealership. The wagon provides abundant cargo space; fold the rear seats down and it more than doubles. This slick new Acura is a great choice for the dad that likes the practicality of a wagon mated to a sporty driving experience.
2011 BMW M3 Sedan
Speaking of sporty, very few sedans compare to the BMW M3 in this measure. Many critics regularly cite the M3 as the world's best sports sedan. But at nearly 60 grand, this rocket Bimmer isn't cheap. And while big enough to be comfortable for two adults and two kids, it's not huge.
But driving the M3 is wholly spectacular. And that kind of thing seldom comes cheaply or without sacrifice. Stunning performance is what dads will love most about the M3. It has power and handling that is rivaled by only a few other manufacturers. Rivaled, but seldom bested. Put four car guys behind the wheel of the M3 and its very capable competition, and chances are three of them will choose the M3 as their favorite. It's that good.
This is all well and fine, but we're talking about family cars here. The beauty of the M3 is that, even with its high-performance prowess, dads can appreciate that it's still an excellent choice for the mundane everyday chores of the family sedan. Whether or not these chores are performed at breakneck speeds is up to dad.
2011 Porsche Panamera
First things first - the Panamera is a love it or hate it kind of car. Styling aside, just the idea of a Porsche sedan is offensive to some. But to overcome the sedan exterior, you must climb in and immerse yourself in one of the automotive world's most handsome interiors. Once in, hitting the "start" button will help doubters quickly transcend the idea that Porsche shouldn't be building sedans.
Dads can choose from three engine options - from a V-6 that's adequate for the big Porsche to a turbocharged V-8 with power you'd expect from a Ferrari or Lamborghini. All-wheel drive is available, too. While some sports sedans squeeze rear seat occupants to keep weight down, the Panamera has supportive, divided rear seats that can accommodate adults and children alike.
This Porsche has the feeling of quality dads expect from a luxury European brand. The performance, however, is beyond expectations. This is a sports car. And a luxury car. Whether or not you make it a family car, too, depends on whether or not you can stomach the idea of stray Cheerios being lost in the folds of its rich leather.
If dads could have it all, we'd drive cars that are spacious, powerful and luxurious yet also efficient and economical. While this perfect family car remains elusive, never have there been so many models that, for dads, are so close to perfection. The lowest priced car on this list is arguably better than most of the cars our dads ever drove. The hybrid represents a class of vehicles that was not even available to our dads. And the premium models would shame even the supercars of their day. Take advantage of this unprecedented moment and consider one of these exceptional vehicles as your next family car. And love it.