Maybe you’re adding a new member to your family, or perhaps you’re tired of cramming your jogging stroller into a trunk already brimming with kid gear, but let’s face it — you’ve reached the crossover tipping point.
The crossover tipping point is the phenomena where your lifestyle no longer fits inside the sleek sedan or sexy sports car you used to drive before you had children, pets, and the unspeakable amount of injection molded plastics to haul around. You know you’ve reached it when the number of carseats you need outnumbers the adults, you’d seriously consider transporting the dog in the trunk if it weren’t full of sports equipment, and other parents give you the cold shoulder because you can never carpool. The prognosis: You need a bigger vehicle.
Purchasing a new vehicle is one of the most important — and expensive — decisions a family will make. To help simplify the buying process, Babble waded through the crowded crossover segment to find the best CUV for any driving need. We examined new and best-selling vehicles on the market, but limited our budget to $35,000. That price ceiling quickly eliminated many vehicles from our shopping list, but the selection of economical crossovers is still considerable. To help narrow the list even further, we focused on fuel economy, safety, and parent-friendly features. When crossovers were fairly evenly matched, we gave preference to vehicles that had better fuel economy, price, or were a previous Babble favorite. — Liane Yvkoff
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Top midsize SUV | 2013 Ford Explorer
MSRP: $29,135 – $40,720
FUEL ECONOMY: 17/24 mpg
The 2011 Ford Explorer product team was led by two working moms who co-shared their responsibilities, so it’s no surprise that, two years later, it remains one of the best designed SUVs, er, crossovers, on the market. If you’re aware of the drama about the Explorer switching from truck to car platform, you can safely ignore it; it’s really not that big of a deal for the majority of buyers and drivers. The change may have cost the Explorer some of its off-roading cred, but it really just means that the new model handles better with improved fuel economy.
Powering the vehicle is your choice of three engines. The 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 achieves 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, and the fuel-efficient 2-liter EcoBoost produces 240-horsepower and earns 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. For drivers who want the power and towing capacity of a V8 with the fuel economy of a V6, buyers can opt for the new 3.5-liter EcoBoost, which fetches 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
Ford prides itself on designing vehicles for both small and large drivers and included thoughtful touches in this car, like the height-adjustable tailgate that you can set to stop at a lower height so kids and shorter occupants can easily close it. While Consumer Reports points out that the front windshield is a little high for smaller drivers and could affect visibility, that’s nothing a little seat adjustment won’t fix.
For an extra fee, the 2013 Explorer offers plenty of extra tech features, like active park assist, which helps you identify spaces that are big enough — and then literally parks the car for you. The optional Lane Keep Assist will help keep drowsy and distracted drivers alert by vibrating the steering wheel when the car drifts outside the lane.
Other offers include an optional heated steering wheel, which is a nice touch for cold-weather climates, and front-seat passenger knee airbags for added side-impact crash protection. As an added safety measure, this latest model also features smart headlights that automatically dim for oncoming traffic to make the roads safer for all vehicles on it.
SEATING + STORAGE
One of the best things about this 7-seater is its ample legroom, even in the third row, which is among the roomiest in its class.
The Explorer also has a deep but short cargo well. To get more floor space and cargo capacity, the third-row seats fold flat in a variety of configurations. Optional “power fold” makes it even easier to maximize cargo space without breaking a nail.
ENTERTAINMENT + NAVIGATION
Several 7-seater crossovers have similar power, size, and convenience offerings, but what sets apart the 2013 Explorer from others on the market is its industry-leading MyFord Touch system. The new infotainment system offers the best voice-activated control of a vehicle’s navigation, entertainment, and climate control systems. Consumer Reports wasn’t a fan of the interface, which does require a steep learning curve to master, but MyFord Touch is still leaps ahead of its competitors’ clunkier navigation systems.
IIHS Top Safety Pick.
Consumer Reports gave the 2013 Ford Explorer a score of 65 out of 100 points, and 67 percent of vehicle owners would purchase this model again.