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 SUV for road trips | 2013 Ford Flex
MSRP: $30,885 – $39,230
FUEL ECONOMY: 18/25 mpg
The 2013 Flex is a refreshing take on the old station wagons your parents used to drive. But most people have either a love or hate reaction to the Flex’s boxy body and contrasting white roof. It’s been called a “breadbox on wheels” more than once, and some liken its shape to a hearse. But your typical crossover it is not.
Powering this family hauler is a new 3.5-liter engine, which at 287-horsepower offers 25 more horsepower than the outgoing model year and yet manages slightly better fuel economy: 18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. Active families can opt for the 3.5-liter, 365-horsepower EcoBoost V6 engine, which is ideal for towing campers or watercraft, but may be more power than needed for a daily driver considering the 16 mpg fuel economy in the city and 23 on the highway.
A redesigned, less-boxy front end kicks off the changes for the six- or seven-seater 2013 Ford Flex. Gone is the “blue oval” Ford logo on the front end, and in its place remains only the nameplate “Flex” in chrome above the grill. Buyers can choose from six new wheel styles to add a little bling to the family hauler.
On the inside, you’ll find a sleeker dashboard, updated instrument cluster, and will appreciate that the MyFord Touch infotainment system is now a standard feature for all 2013 models. Plus, we love that Ford made practically every safety and technology in its repertoire available in the 2013 Ford Flex, including inflatable rear seatbelts, the Blind Spot Information System, rain-sensing wipers, and adaptive cruise control with the collision warning system. Also new is the SelectShift transmission, which lets the driver shift between manual and automatic gear selection.
SEATING + STORAGE
The Flex is available with either a six- or seven-seat configuration. Large doors and expansive legroom will help parents load babies into car seats, and its relatively low platform makes it easy for kids to get in and out of the car on their own. If you skip the optional two captain’s chairs in the second row and go with the standard three-seater bench instead, 55” of hip room will make it easy to fit three car seats across. The downside is that the second row bench doesn’t slide forward if you want your kids within arms reach. (But that also means they can’t kick the back of your seat.)
The Flex is also available with powerfold third row seats, which means you don’t have to do much more than lift a finger to get more cargo space. And if you fold all three rows flat on the flex, you’ll have enough room to fit an inflated, full-size air mattress.
While there are lots of crossovers that offer ample cargo space (and some offer more than the Flex) this crossover has a few great features that make it perfect for long road trips, like heated second-row seats and a large “Vista Roof” that covers all three rows to give everyone a dose of daylight (or moonlight). Unlike most vehicles that offer simple air-conditioned compartments, the Flex is the only crossover to offer a full-functioning refrigerator with a freeze mode to keep bottles and snacks extra cool in the summer.
ENTERTAINMENT + NAVIGATION
The dual-seat back entertainment system doesn’t impede on the driver’s rear visibility, and kids old enough to handle their own electronics can load videos into the DVD players by themselves.
IIHS Top Safety Pick
Consumer Reports rated the Flex 69 points out of 100, and 78 percent of owners would buy the car again.