Top Picks for Road trip cars. 2013 Chicago Auto Show Review.

Best Family Haulers under $40K

Chicago Auto Show McCormick Place

Chicago Auto Show McCormick Place

At our February 2012 #MomInspirations twitter party, most moms listed room, comfort, mileage and entertainment options as the key features of a family friendly car, especially the one you would take on the road. So, visiting the 2013 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place, I was naturally drawn to larger, more option-laden vehicles, focusing on minivans and 3-row SUVs. And it does seem that a lot of the somewhat newer options – tire pressure monitor, lane departure warning, blind spot warning and, especially, the rear view back-up camera – are more often standard for many car manufacturers. After all, the larger the vehicle, the more you are going to need those features. Of course, your needs will differ based on how many people are traveling in the car, and what your destination is. I think this list of my top picks of family-friendly road trip cars will help you make a good choice in your next car purchase. Plus, they are all budget friendly, all under $40K. I listed these cars from the 2013 Chicago Auto Show in order of my preference.

Ford Flex

Starts at $31K

Ford Flex 2013

Ford Flex 2013

Ford has been one of the most on trend brands that also understands the consumer. Ford Flex is, in my opinion, the most smartly designed SUV out there. It’s versatile with roomy 2nd and 3rd row and easy access to each, with incredibly smart use of space without sacrificing substantial trunk space. Trunk is easy to open and responsive to light touch. Along with a few other cars this size, Flex is now offering the blind spot feature as standard, which adds points to its safety. Finally, the electric plug in the back is nice for camping and tailgating. Having used this car around town and on long driving trips, I think Ford Flex should be on top of your list for a family trip car. And let’s not forget its unique, retro styling. The grooves along its body evoke the classic woodies (see below). A different color roof reflects that lost era of two tone color schemes. There’s nothing else like it on the road. Speaking of color schemes, there are new colors added for 2013, including the stunning deep impact blue. Models include the SE, SEL and top of the line Limited. The 3.5 liter V6 is standard with 287 horsepower. Get the the optional twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 (Limited only) and your horsepower jumps to 365 horses and 350 ft-lbs of torque. All wheel drive comes paired with the EcoBoost, but optional with the standard motor.

Ford Woody 1948

Ford Woody 1948

Honda Odyssey

Starts at $29K

Honday Odyssey 2013

Honday Odyssey 2013

I am typically not a minivan mom but this one is simply perfect for larger families and such a great value! In addition to easy-sliding doors, the seats fold easily, so you can maneuver your room for any family needs. The space in the back and the trunk is simply amazing – the 3rd row can hold up to 3 baby seats, and you know how much space they take! All this room is commendable, especially since Honda Odyssey offers a powerful V-6 engine. There are a lot of features that now come standard (very impressive for a vehicle of this size and price), including bluetooth and, new for 2013 on all trim levels, back-up camera. Finally, the entertainment system features split screens, so kids can watch two different features at once.

Buick Enclave

Starts at $39K

Buick Enclave 2013

Buick Enclave 2013

This 3-row SUV has a lot of the features that top vehicles in this class offer, but what truly differentiates Buick Enclave for me are these three advantages. First, it’s very quiet on the road, so eliminating the road noise makes for a more comfortable ride. Second, it’s not only roomy but also allows for easy entry to the 3rd row with no center console. The 3rd row, incidentally, is spacious enough for adults. Finally, the fuel economy is impressive for its size (17/24 in all wheel drive). And let’s not forget the signature Buick sleek airline-like interior design. The dashboard in the Enclave is reminiscent of an airline cockpit, the aerodynamic shape of the vehicle complements this as well. Buick Enclave is very capable on longer trips, and it has the towing capacity at 4500 lbs, handy if you’ve got a little extra cargo to tow.

Chevy Traverse

Starts at $30K

Chevy Traverse 2013

Chevy Traverse 2013

This 3-row SUV was on my list last year but I think it still belongs on the list of top family drivers, thanks to the decent trunk space (largest in class at 116 cubic feet), room for 8 (enough room in 3rd row for smaller kids), easy maneuvering with no console, decent fuel efficiency (17/24, plus V6 with direct injection helps!), and overall good value. The controls are simple which I think is a positive – no headache trying to figure out what each knob stands for. 2013 Chevy Traverse sports an improved trim and nicer new interior, plus a nice variety of colors, including my favorite, crystal red tintcoat. Rear back-up camera is now standard, and Bose stereo and new for 2013 adjustable headrests add to the comfort of your drive. I’ve always enjoyed ambient lighting on my husband’s Flex, so I’m happy to see this on the Traverse, along with the addition of more chrome accents, making Chevy Traverse more stylish.

Toyota Sienna

Starts at $27K

Toyota Sienna 2013

Toyota Sienna 2013

When I asked Toyota representatives at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show about their best family hauler, their first choice was Toyota Sienna. Understandably so, this popular minivan is spacious, offers modern entertainment and navigation (with Pandora stream), and plenty of popular features now standard. Take blind-spot monitor, now standard on the Limited models. It’s actually fun to drive with a sturdy 3.5-liter V-6, and offers all-wheel drive, still unique for minivans. 2nd and 3rd row screens offer dual entertainment, so, as in the Odyssey, kids can watch different programming without a fight. Toyota Sienna is a spacious minivan with a lot of layout options inside, but it doesn’t take away from the sleeker contours outside. Though Sienna is not as fuel-efficient as some counterparts, it does have a little bit of an edge in its more modern design. I also have to mention the footrest on the available reclining 2nd row seats – now that’s comfort!

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Starts at $28K

Jeep Grand Cherokee 2013

Jeep Grand Cherokee 2013

This truck works on virtually every surface, so if what you have in mind is a state park or a cross-country trip, Jeep Cherokee is the best one for the job. It also has a huge trunk great for lots of luggage on long-range trips and all the “necessary” extras we tend to bring for the kids. I especially loved the new Jeep Trailhawk (pictured above) – great on all terrains thanks to numerous off-road equipment options. But Jeep Grand Cherokee is so much more than a trailblazer. It’s luxurious inside and new features for 2013 certainly add to that – standard keyless ignition and optional heated steering wheel and panoramic moonroof. Jeep Grand Cherokee offers a very comfortable, smooth ride, and the Hemi V-8 on the SRT8 model would be a nice choice if you’re looking to add extra pep. This SUV has two rows, so may not be a fit for a larger family, but the rear seats certainly offer a lot of legroom.

Chrysler Town & Country

Starts at $30K

Chrysler Town & Country 2013

Chrysler Town & Country 2013

As you can see from the model shown at the 2013 Chicago Auto Show, Chrysler Town & Country is proud of its capabilities for a family trip. Just pack in a few bikes and you are ready for an adventure! This minivan has a quick V6. As with other vans, Town & Country offers a lot of seating flexibility, with easily maneuverable 2nd row seats. Dual entertainment is nice for picky kids, and Chrysler is now one of the first to offer blu-ray player. I especially loved the snazzy controls and the signature Chrysler clock.

Town & Country seating

Town & Country seating

Chevy Tahoe

Starts at $40K

Chevy Tahoe 2013

Chevy Tahoe 2013

If you are thinking about towing a camper, a trailer or other cargo, Chevy Tahoe is a perfect choice for your trip. With towing capacity up to 8400 pounds, it’s a powerful alternative to a similar vehicle, a bigger and more expensive Suburban. While I’m disappointed by fuel economy, the hybrid model offers much improved city mileage. The reason you’d buy this truck would be for the roomy interior and rugged exterior. While not much is new for 2013 (new power-train is a nice addition), I liked the nice new blue ray metallic shade option.

Mazda CX9 at $37K

Starts at $31K

Mazda CX-9 2013

Mazda CX-9 2013

This stylish 3-row SUV is a nice option for a family trip. There is not a lot of room in the back but it’s easy to enter back, with an easy slide and pull row. CX-9 has a nice sleek look and offers lots of nice features as standard – standard heated seats, which we truly appreciate here in Chicago winters.

Chicago Auto Show 2013

Chicago Auto Show 2013

Held at McCormick Place February 9-18th, the 2013 Chicago Auto Show is the largest in the country. This is its 105th year and the show is produced by the Chicago Automobile Trade Association.

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