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  • July 22, 2014

Test Drive: Family Cars - Ladue News: Special Features

Test Drive: Family Cars

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Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 12:00 pm | Updated: 11:27 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

Parents make lots of sacrifices for their kids: soccer games, dance recitals, braces and the family truckster. Fortunately, family vehicles have progressed a lot since Chevy Chase took his infamous Vacation in a blinged-out Ford station wagon.

Today, family vehicles take on many forms, and one of the most popular is the sport utility vehicle, or SUV. Most modern SUVs are ‘cross-overs,’ or SUV bodies placed on sedan chassis. Still providing seating for five and a cargo area in back, the SUV is the 21st century answer to yesteryear’s station wagon. The good news is, since most manufacturers make them, you can get an SUV as fancy or plain as you like.

One of the more popular family SUVs is the Volvo XC60, a mid-sized vehicle with all the comfort, luxury, and especially safety, for which Volvos are known. Since safety usually is a primary concern when choosing a family vehicle, a Volvo makes a lot of sense (I wonder why they never made a minivan).

With an unmistakable Volvo front end and grill, and high-mounted rear taillights, the XC60 is not a bad-looking SUV. The Scandinavian interior is clean and functional, with firm, heated front seats. Room in the heated rear seats is adequate for most adults and those in the cheap seats get their own air vents. Behind the rear seats is a generous cargo area below a power hatch that expands to huge when the 40/20/40 split folding rear seats are folded. Dual automatic climate control and a huge sunroof ensure passenger comfort. The ubiquitous video screen is touch-screen, so it’s fairly easy to use, and traditional knobs for radio volume and tuning are appreciated.

The XC60 T6 boasts a 3.0 liter, turbocharged 6-cylinder engine good for 300 horsepower that is fed to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. Gas mileage is 17 city, 23 highway. Active safety features include rear park assist, collision warning and pedestrian detection that can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle senses that it is going to crash into something. Pretty amazing. Acceleration with the turbo is pretty good, as are the brakes. The handling is good for an SUV; it doesn’t feel too top-heavy, but the power steering is over-boosted. The ride is comfortable and the whole driving experience gives the impression of driving a true premium vehicle, which is nice, considering its mid-range price.

Stephen Lynch, sales manager at Suntrup West County Volvo, brags, “The XC60 has a good, solid-build quality, with up-to-date electronics, and of course, all the latest safety features.”

The XC60 starts at about $35,000 or $41,000 for the turbocharged model. Fully loaded, prices can creep north of $50,000.

Another interesting family vehicle is the Subaru Outback, which is sort of a station wagon on steroids. It has a station wagon base with slightly raised ride height and plastic cladding to make it look tough.

The Outback is deceiving; from the outside, it looks no bigger than a mid-size sedan, but there’s a ton of room inside. In upper-level trims, the interior is quite nice, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, heated leather seats, dual automatic climate control and a touch-screen for radio display, back-up camera and navigation functions. Most radio functions use knobs and buttons, which are easy to use. The only miss was the fake wood trim that looked and felt really fake.

An available safety system senses objects in front of the car and automatically applies the brakes if it thinks you’re about to hit something. It’s a good safety device, but I’m afraid it may make drivers complacent and inattentive. Come on people, put down the cell phones and coffee cups, and pay attention to your driving! Rear-seat room is huge and passengers get their own air vents. It has an unbelievable amount of leg room for a car this size. Cargo room also is very generous, and becomes cavernous with the rear seats folded.

The Outback offers two engines, a flat four-cylinder and a flat six-cylinder. The 2.5-liter, 173-horsepower four is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that saps power, so power with the four is adequate for most people, but the trade-off is good gas mileage of 24 city, 30 highway. Thankfully, you also can get the four with a 6-speed manual transmission. The 256-horsepower, 3.6-liter, six-cylinder engine is mated to a 5-speed automatic (no manual unfortunately) and has lots of power, which makes the Outback even more fun to drive. Power is transmitted to all four wheels, of course. Gas mileage with the six is 18 city, 25 highway. Because the Outback is shorter than an SUV, and because its boxer engine sits low in the chassis, the center of gravity is fairly low, which means that handling and sportiness are high. Though no sports car, the Outback is a nice driving car with good handling; good, but slightly mushy brakes; and a comfortable ride.

According to Chris Johnson, sales manager at Lou Fusz Subaru in Creve Coeur, “The Outback is extremely versatile. It rides like a bigger car and offers a choice between the power of the 6-cylinder and economy of the 4-cylinder. Its best features are its engineering, safety features and all-wheel-drive.”

Prices for the 4-cylinder Outback start at about $24,000; for the 6-cylinder, prices start at approximately $30,000.

Update: It has come to our attention that certain models of the Subaru Outback and Legacy have been recalled, according to safecar.gov. We apologize for any inconvenience.

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