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10 Family-Friendly Features Moms Love

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author photo by Autotrader April 2011

Between road trips and the daily commute to school, work and home again, families spend a lot of time in their cars. Fortunately, today’s new cars offer a variety of entertainment, convenience and safety options that make life a little easier on the road.

In no particular order, here are our 10 favorite family-oriented features that can help keep you sane and your kids pacified and safe in the car.

Rear-Seat DVD Entertainment System

Admittedly, this mom of twins was one of those people who, before having kids, used to say, “I’ll never let my kids watch TV in the car.” Now I know better. An entertainment system keeps kids occupied – and provides hours of blissful silence for parents – on long road trips.

Today’s in-car entertainment systems typically come with a fold-down screen, pair of headphones and auxiliary input jacks that can accommodate video-game systems. The 2011 Toyota Sienna ups the ante by offering a dual DVD player and split-screen system. A few manufacturers now offer screens in the back of each headrest. Either of these features can help eliminate fights over what to watch.

All-Wheel Drive

Life goes on, even in bad weather. More manufacturers are now offering all-wheel drive on their family vehicles – Subaru even provides it as standard equipment across their entire product line – and it’s totally worth it if you live in wet or cold conditions. Subaru’s full-time system can deliver power to all four wheels for maximum traction, handling and stability in slippery conditions. That means you can safely get home from work or pick up kids from practice even after it starts snowing.

Integrated sunshades

Say goodbye to those ill fitting, tacky and mostly worthless aftermarket sunshades. Rear retractable window shades keep the sun out of your napping child’s eyes and prevent other backseat passengers from baking in the sun. It’s healthy, too: the 2011 Acura RL comes with sunshades made from UV-fighting mesh.

Flexible Second Row

As your family grows, it becomes more important to look for those versatile seating features that fit your family and your lifestyle.

For example, imagine having two toddlers and an infant. Honda did. In all but the base model, the 2011 Odyssey’s second-row seats can be moved together to form a bench seat for three child safety-seats. The middle seat can be shifted to the front for easy access from the first row, making it an especially great fit for an infant carrier.

And for total camper-style convenience, the 2011 Chrysler Town & Country has captain’s seats that swivel backward 180 degrees. A stow-away table fits between the second- and third-row seats, so kids can play board games, color, eat lunch and more. Check out the 2011 Toyota Highlander or Acura MDX if you want a similar feature in a SUV.

Hassle-Free Third Row

For some, the convenience of a third row is a nice option to have. For larger families and carpool moms, third-row seats are a necessity. They’re available in all minivans, most large and midsize SUVs and even some compact crossovers. However, the challenge is finding a third row that’s easy to access (SUVs and crossovers, we’re looking at you) and easy to fold away for extra storage.

Second-row seats that move all the way forward at the touch of a button offer easy access to the third row, as in the 2011 Ford Flex. The 2011 Honda Odyssey has third-row split bench seats that easily fold into the floor completely or partially to accommodate cargo and people. And if you really want ease, the 2011 Toyota Sienna offers an absolutely effortless power-folding third row seat.

Rearview Camera

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year because of drivers backing over people. With today’s behemoth SUVs and vans, blind zones are a reality, and having a backup camera can literally save a life. It also saves you from backing over the kids’ bikes in the driveway.

Infotainment Systems

Generally speaking, an infotainment system is an in-dash command center that combines entertainment, navigation and telecommunications into one easy-to-use interface. Bluetooth connectivity, iPod interface, satellite radio and navigation are typically all part of the package.

Many systems are voice-activated, so you can call home, tune in to kid-friendly music and navigate your way to the store with fewer distractions. Plus, Ford’s Sync offers MyKey technology that allows parents to limit top speed and maximum radio volume for teen drivers.

Power Sliding Doors/Power Lift Gate

Minivans win out with the power sliding doors. Even when your hands are full, kids can get in and out of the car with the push of a button. Another bonus is you don’t have to worry about kids slamming their fingers in car doors – most power doors stop automatically when they come into contact with something. Similarly, power tailgates on many SUVs and crossovers make it easy to load and unload groceries, sports equipment and suitcases without having to put everything down and wrestle with a heavy rear door. It’s an option on the all-new 2011 TSX Sport Wagon.

Built-In Booster Seats

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends – and many states require – booster seats for kids age 4 to at least 8, or less than 4’9” tall. Built-in booster seats easily flip up to position kids high enough so that the seat belt fits properly across the child’s shoulders and lap. Kids can happily peer out the window and feel more adult without the “kiddie seat,” and you can be assured they’re buckled in safely. It’s a win-win. Plus, you’ll always have two on hand without having to remove and store them when you take a couple of coworkers to lunch. Both Volvo and Chrysler offer this kid-friendly feature.

In-Floor Storage Space

From road-trip cargo to the daily accumulation of kid stuff, families require a lot of storage space. Smartly designed modular in-floor storage, as featured in the 2011 Cadillac SRX, keeps clutter to a minimum and cargo hidden from the sun and passersby.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find every single feature you want all in one vehicle, whether it’s a crossover, sedan, wagon or minivan. But as long as you choose a vehicle with amenities that work for your family’s needs, you’re likely to drive away with a vehicle that pleases everyone.

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.
10 Family-Friendly Features Moms Love - Autotrader