6. Kia Soul
It's billed as an "urban crossover" and has its own iPad app. So how did it go from commercials featuring beat-bumping hamsters to life as the family grocery getter? Well, it just turned out to be more practical than its youthful exterior implied. Last year, Kia gave the Soul an overdue overhaul that streamlined its front and rear body, kicked its output up to 138 horsepower and improved its efficiency to a combined 31 miles per gallon. The nine-color palate, mix-and-match accent plates and audio and sunroof upgrades remain, but it's the Soul's versatile 60/40 rear seating and 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space (53.4 with the rear seats down) that make it just as likely to head to the family beach vacation as it is to go on a solo surf weekend.
5. Kia Optima
We're still not sure how a family sedan is any cooler or less utilitarian than a minivan, but it's certainly a whole lot smaller, shorter and less versatile. Kia's Optima, for example, has only about 15 cubic feet of trunk space and a combined 30 miles per gallon of efficiency. Still, for image-conscious parents, the available turbo package, panoramic sunroof and vented front seats mesh with LED running lights and chrome wheels that look like they'd be more at home at a car show than at a piano recital. It's a whole lot of compromise, but that's what it takes to look cool and still have a reasonable amount of space for the kids.
The Acadia has touchscreen navigation and radio as well as rearview cameras, but its single most important feature is space and lots of it. There's room for seven to eight passengers, fold-flat third-row seats that give it 68.9 cubic feet behind the second row and underfloor storage beneath the third row. The second row of seats even slides to let passengers out the side or through the middle. It's minivan size with a crossover look that doesn't scream "youth soccer coach taking a Sunday off."
The giant, boxy Mini Cooper clone continues to get no love from consumers who favor less funky looking utility vehicles. Its sales dropped by nearly a quarter after Ford revamped the Explorer SUV, but the Flex's room for seven, 44 inches of legroom in the second row and a power folding mechanisms for getting into the third row make it easy to transport a large crew or throw some gear in the back and take a long trip. Options such as sliding second-row captain's seats, Microsoft Sync phone, entertainment and navigation systems in its MyFord Touchscreen, DVD entertainment center for the back, a multipanel sunroof and second-row fridge console for road sodas compensate somewhat for its roughly 22 combined miles per gallon. Consumers are passing on the Flex because it looks weird, but that standout frame and spacious 80 cubic feet of cargo room may be the only vehicle more family-friendly than a minivan.
Ford brought in a redesigned Escape for 2013 with a 1.6-liter engine with 28-miles-per-gallon mileage similar to the 2012's hybrid version and the MyFord Touch entertainment and communications system. Combined with 34 cubic feet of space in the back, 68 cubic feet with the seats down, available intelligent four-wheel drive and tech throw-ins including a foot-activated lift gate, parking assist, blind-spot sensors and other perks, the Escape offers a lot of peace of mind before families hit the open road.
1. BMW X3
Because nobody's buying a BMW for seating or cargo capacity, let's get right down to it: This is a comfortable, connected rolling office with child seating. The trunk has a 12-volt power outlet. The navigation system is cloud-connected so you can plot out a trip before you even get into the car. A 9-inch touchscreen controls the navigation and music once you're inside, while a Mobile Office function enables text-to-speech readings of email, calendar entries and notes. Throw in 240 horsepower under the hood, 80 gigabytes of hard drive space for family entertainment and brakes that charge the battery when you pump them and you have one of the best features a working parent can ask for: The ability to work from wherever.