Your Next Family Vehicle

Take the Time to Find It

by Julie Bookman
When busy parents finally take the plunge to shop for a new family car, they often need to hire a babysitter for the better part of a weekend just to get from one showroom to the next and give full attention to their search.
That’s one reason Atlanta Parent said yes when we were recently invited to participate in the first-ever Family Choice Challenge organized by the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association (GAAMA). The idea of having 21 new “family” models all in one spot and at our disposal seemed too good to pass up. Bonus: The 20-minute course for test-driving was at Lake Lanier Islands Resort – on a beautiful day.
Our mission: to drive and rank 2013 and 2014 family cars brought by 15 different auto makers. The vehicles that we media members tested were slotted into five categories: value; technology; “green”; adventure; and luxury. In addition to “winners” named in each of those categories, the 2014 Mazda CX-5, with a base price of $21,195, was named “overall” winner based on its top score. Besides its price, testers liked this compact crossover for its sporty style, excellent driving dynamics, fine comfort and fuel economy. I drove seven “adventure” vehicles, ranging from the Nissan Pathfinder ($28,650 base price), with desirable “latch and glide” seating in the middle row (winner in the “adventure” category), to the Hyundai Santa Fe with a fantastic panoramic sunroof and a dreamy amount of luggage space ($28,350 base price). For the full list of winners in the Family Choice Challenge, go to gaama.org.
In a family car, I want a smooth ride for long road trips, good gas mileage and sturdy cup holders for all (as opposed to flimsy plastic ones that swing out in back rows and have quickly broken beyond repair in previous cars we’ve owned). I want a place to store my purse and phone. I want leg room for all passengers. While I want comfort for a journey, I also don’t want something that feels like I’m handling a tank for quick dashes to the grocery store.
“As much as I love cars that are luxurious, fast and beautiful,” says Nick Palermo, president of GAAMA and an Atlanta dad to 4-year-old twins, “they’re not always the best choices for families. We’d rather have something that’s comfortable and practical to get ourselves and our kids around this busy city and beyond.”
What I learned at the Family Choice Challenge is the benefit of testing as many cars as possible. It’s a big-decision purchase, a commitment that could be part of your family for a whole decade.