There are possibilities beyond the usual vanilla sedans and mainstream minivans for dads looking for a little cool in their next car.

Even the least cool of automobiles can seem hip if the driver himself is "cool." Surfers buy old station wagons, throw a couple of boards on top, and suddenly a beat up grocery-getter becomes a beach-ready surf mobile.

But rare is the cool dad.

So if we want to look like we're not stuck in the 70s, 80s or even 90s, we must find hip cars that mask the fact that we don't know how to dress right, use slang or appreciate the music all the kids are listening to these days.

Here are five cool cars that may not make dad cool, but can at least significantly mitigate his inherent uncoolness.

Ford Mustang2011 Ford Mustang GT

If you were born any time between 1964 and the present, you likely know that Mustangs are cool. Today's Ford Mustang GT coupe is no exception. Unlike some of its predecessors, though, it's a well-built, refined automobile, benefiting from nearly half a century of steady revisions and improvements.

With a brawny V8, the Mustang GT is truly fast. And this motor even sounds cool. Fastback styling gives it a decidedly sporty look, but the Mustang has a backseat suitable for the kids, so it works for dads' practical requirements. Inside is Ford's Sync infotainment system, so you'll have slick technology to prove to the youngsters that you're not totally analog.

Should the GT be too much car for you, the standard Mustang's V6 gets better mileage and still tops 300 horsepower, which bests most stock V8 pony cars from this dad's day.

2011 Mini Cooper Clubman S

For dads (and perhaps men in general) bigger is typically better. Notable exceptions include mobile phones and automobiles. A Porsche Cayman is cooler than a Porsche Cayenne. A Mini Cooper is cooler than a minivan.

It should follow then, that the Mini Clubman S is slightly less cool than the smaller Cooper. But the longer Clubman is actually a little cooler. It maintains the distinctive look of the Mini Cooper as well as the smaller Mini's nimble reflexes, but the longer wheelbase provides a usable backseat, easily accessed from the passenger-side third door. And how cool are the side-hinged rear doors, each with its own wiper, that replace the Mini Cooper's rear hatch?

Inside, the Clubman features Mini's retro styling, complete with center-mounted speedometer and toggle switch controls. The S model has a turbocharged 4-cylinder with ample power for this small car. Like the Mustang, the Clubman is a better, more modern version of a car that's managed to stay cool for half a century.

2011 Infiniti M37

Coolness and youthfulness are often correlated. The Infiniti M37, however, presents a more adult kind of cool. More Bond than Bieber, it's cool in a suit and tie. Redesigned for 2011, the M's bold new body is athletic while tasteful. The new interior design is elegantly executed in rich leather and wood, a unique swooping design not seen in its European competitors' more staid cabins.

True to its luxury brand, the Infiniti M includes a broad list of standard amenities. If these aren't enough, dads can chill out with indulgent options like cooled seats. Although Infiniti offers its V8 in the form of the M56, the M37's 300 horsepower V6 yields plenty of power, with much better fuel economy.

The M may appear to be conservative among cool cars. It simply represents a more sophisticated coolness than most. It's a coolness that dads can appreciate - not too immature yet totally chic.

2011 Cadillac CTS

We know what you're thinking - it's been a long time since Cadillacs were cool, right? Well, while SUVs were hot and dads weren't paying attention, the Escalade recaptured cool credentials for Cadillac. Since then, Cadillac has been consistently building back its reputation as the makers of trendsetting, luxurious, even high-performance automobiles.

The CTS is Cadillac's sport sedan. In that class, it may be the best America has ever created, a worthy competitor to Europe's finest offerings. The look is that of a stealth fighter - aggressive and angular. The CTS has the moves to match the look, too, with an excellent chassis and precise handling.

Inside, Cadillac sets new expectations for materials and finish among domestic automobiles. Quality clears the high bar set by marques like BMW and Audi. Plus, the CTS is more spacious than most in its class. Should even more space be necessary to move your family, try the CTS Sport Wagon, Cadillac's 5-door version. Or, if you can squeeze the family through only two doors, get the newest addition to the lineup, the ice-cold CTS Coupe.

2011 Volkswagen GTI

Volkswagen has long enjoyed a special kind of global coolness. Since the 1960s the VW badge has been the automotive symbol of youthful nonconformity. In the '80s it launched another kind of revolution with the sporty GTI. The little souped up Rabbit spawned not just a continuous line of GTIs since, but also the whole "hot hatch" phenomenon, with a slew of competitors from many manufacturers. The GTI remains one of the best.

While it places an emphasis on performance, the GTI is a decidedly practical car. Excellent fuel economy and the versatility of a hatchback and folding rear seats make it a cool car that dads can live with. Dads will like the value, too. The GTI offers a high level of refinement all around, from the high-quality interior materials and switchgear to the well-balanced driving dynamics you expect from more expensive German cars.

For an added level of high-tech coolness, select Volkswagen's DSG transmission, a six-speed automated manual. You'll get to shift with the paddles when you want to be cool, or let the electronics do the work when you're too busy being dad.

The five cars here are not exotics that drop jaws when they roll past a busy sidewalk. But all five are stylish, quick and exciting to drive. They achieve cool status while being practical and relatively affordable. Driving a hip car won't mean that you suddenly "get it," or that you're "down," but at least it will show that you still know cool when you see it.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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