I’ve never been much of a “car guy.” In general, when I’ve thought about getting a car, my thoughts have been for me mostly about practical necessity and price, and way less about engine specs, or any sort of brand loyalty.
That said, I do have opinions! I like what I like, especially now that I’m a busy dad hauling a family (and all of our stuff) around town. Often that means what works best for the family’s needs and budget is the priority, not the top speed, flashy color, or if it looks like James Bond might step out of it at any time.
So when I was asked by Kelley Blue Book and Life of Dad to join a bunch of other dads at KBB HQ, to test drive five of their “16 Best Family Cars of 2016” you can bet I jumped at the chance. And not only because it meant a trip to Southern California for a few days!
Joining me on this trip was a who’s who of my fellow dad bloggers: Christopher Lewis (Dad of Divas), John Willey (Daddy’s In Charge), Brent Almond (Designer Daddy), Andrew Bennet (BenSpark), Colby Shipwash (Days of a Domestic Dad), Don Jackson (Daddy Newbie), Eric Bennion (Diary Dad), Mike Julianelle (Dad and Buried), Nick Dawson (DadLabs), and James Zahn (The Rockfather). Tommy, Davis, and Patrick from Life of Dad also joined us. I think the KBB team was pleasantly surprised when as we all arrived to see that not only did most of us know one another already, but that many of us passed out bear-hugs. I love my dad blogger community!
Kelley Blue Book has been a staple of my car buying and selling experiences for many years, because they’ve long been the most trusted resource for finding out the value of a used vehicle. But it turns out they do a lot more than that. Their website is full of extremely helpful tools for car buyers, such as calculations to help you know the expected real-world ownership costs of a vehicle — fuel and maintenance — in addition to the cost of the vehicle itself. They also feature thoughtful reviews of almost every car released each year, that focus less on confusing technical specs and more on whether it’s a good choice for your needs. Their new tagline lets you know they’re about more than pricing, get “New Car Smart.”
I was interested to find out more about their process in valuating and reviewing new cars, and thankfully, the KBB team had planned an extensive crash course for us in how to do just that. On our first day, we heard from members of the KBB team who filled us in with tons of information about the history of the company, why they are so trusted, and how they do things differently. We then joined some of their reviewers on a quick ride-along to see how they put vehicles through their paces in real-world situations.
We also got to sit in as the audience for a fascinating live video interview with some of the editors of Kelley Blue Book to answer questions about the best cars for families:
On day two, it was time for us to take the wheel. From their 16 Best Family Cars list, the KBB team had selected five for us to test, on a (gorgeous) route all around the area, from Irvine through places like Laguna Beach, Dana Point, Laguna Nigel, Newport Beach, Trabuco Canyon, and Mission Viejo . We were split into driving groups, given route maps (with predetermined stopping points to swap vehicles), and sent off on our way. Joining me for the day were Brent and Eric.
First up was the 2016 Chevy Tahoe, which ended up being the most surprising ride for me.
It’s big — really big — which I knew meant it has a lot to offer a family in terms of both seating and storage capacity (that third row is awesome), but I expected it to feel like driving a bus. This made me particularly nervous as the first car I drove, in an unfamiliar area, but as it turned out I really liked driving the Tahoe a lot. Features like a rear camera and multiple proximity sensors made me much more at ease about navigating through parking lots, especially.
Like a cross between an SUV and a station wagon, the Outback is for families that love getting outdoors, whether for a road trip, or off the beaten path. One of the KBB reps told us “If the apocalypse happens tomorrow, this is the car you want to have” and it’s easy to see why.
The Outback had far less in the way of gadgety-doo-dads (that’s a technical term) or entertainment tech, but felt solid and reliable, as well as having a lot of space for people and stuff. This is a very good choice for any family.
When my wife and I first met, she drove a Civic, so it was our first “family” car and the car in which we drove our first-born son home from the hospital. In that regard, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Civic.
We’ve since moved on to larger vehicles that suit our family better right now, so driving this updated 2016 model was a lot of fun. Sporty and with a lot of zip, but still featuring a ton of safety options that make me consider looking at a Civic again in the future.
This was, unexpectedly, probably my favorite to drive of the whole bunch, just in terms of the feeling of comfort behind the wheel and the fun I had driving it. Maybe it was just that I currently drive a Kia Sedona, so it felt familiar, or that this stretch of the route was particularly lovely. I definitely loved that it has in-seat cooling.
I don’t think it felt like a very practical choice for a family though — at least my family, right now. As a great car for my wife and I when the boys are older though? Yes.
Overall, this here is my winner. As, I will admit, I expected.
Was it the most fun to drive? No, not really, though it has a lot more zip than you’d think. But when I think about which vehicle would be best for my family, at this stage in our lives, this one was easily the top dog. I’ll admit that a big part of this is that, as the only mini-van we tested, it’s the only one that has sliding doors (and bonus points that that are powered doors, says the guy who has to wrestle with a sticky prone-to-jam sliding door on his current vehicle every day). As a full-time caregiver to two boys, sliding doors are basically the #1 feature I look for in a car right now. It makes loading and unloading exponentially easier and safer for everyone involved, and almost eliminates the very real possibility of damage to our car or someone else’s that come when young kids swing open doors in parking lots or while parked along the side of the street.
But the sliding doors weren’t the only feature I loved. The roomy third row and massive amount of storage was perfect for us, as was the ability to fold the third row down into the floor effortlessly, with one hand. Other features, like built-in recessed window shades, and blind-spot indicators, were just fantastic. And for those long road-trips up to Canada, the entertainment features could be a sanity-saver. Toyota Sienna, I have my eye on you!
No. You don’t. I mean, maybe you should consider one, even though there might be something holding you back, like you think driving a mini-van is somehow beneath you. And if that’s the case, well, I don’t know what to tell you. A mini-van isn’t ideal for all families, and KBB did a great job of showing us that any one of these cars has a lot to offer, depending on what you need for your family.
If you want to find out more about any of these vehicles, and others that KBB recommends for families, be sure to check out their full list of their top 16.
Disclosure: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Life of Dad and Kelley Blue Book. I have received compensation for this post; however, all opinions stated are my own.