March 14, 2003

Parents magazine and American Automobile Association select 15 “Best Cars For Families”

Washington, D.C. – The American Automobile Association and Parents magazine have named the top 15 cars for families.

“We’ve combined Parents’ understanding of what moms, dads, and kids want with AAA’s 100 years of auto-safety expertise to create a list of cars perfect for everything from shuttling the kids to doctor’s visits, basketball and ballet practice to shopping and weekend camping trips,” says Parents editor-in-chief Sally Lee. “The features of these cars will help keep the kids safe and the parents sane.”

AAA and Parents test-drove hundreds of vehicles, considering everything from cupholders and cargo space to air bags and fuel economy. The reviewers also installed a variety of child safety seats into every car, making sure it can be done easily and securely. Of those vehicles that have been tested, the AAA/Parents picks are among the top performers in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

“Car buyers want to be sure that they’ll get top safety, convenient features, and lasting value for their money when they buy a new vehicle,” said Jim MacPherson, lead auto reviewer for the “AAA Auto Guide: 2003 New Cars and Trucks.” “With many parents and children spending several hours per week in the car, it’s important that the car be a safe, happy place for everyone in it.”

Now in its second year, the list has been expanded, with an “economy” category joining the list of sedans, station wagons, sport utility vehicles, and minivans. Complete descriptions of each vehicle are available in the April issue of Parents (on sale March 18) and in “AAA Auto Guide: 2003 New Cars and Trucks” (on sale now). Here are the winners in each category, as described by Parents magazine:


  • Honda Civic: “Thrifty gas consumption and outstanding safety rating. Comfortable for a family with two small kids. Snug, precise construction of the dashboard and components helps prevent the annoying rattles common in other economy cars.”

  • Mazda Protegé: “Snazzy styling that’s perfect for new parents who aren’t ready to give up their youth. Fun to drive. A 60/40 split rear seat folds down for storage flexibility. Its size makes it a breeze for kids to climb in and out.”
  • Volkswagen Jetta: “Loaded with safety features, including antilock brakes, and front, side-impact, and side-curtain air bags. Ample space for a family of four. Several engine options ensure an enjoyable driving experience.”


  • Honda Accord: “Consistently rated one of the most dependable mid-size cars. Superb ride for the money. Handy storage compartments in every door; roomy seating for five. Steering is nearly effortless; bumps in the road disappear.”

  • Nissan Altima: “Cabin is one of the largest in a mid-size sedan. Trunk opens low, so moving a stroller in and out won’t strain your back. Fun for dads who long to drive a sports car. Great stability and a calming highway ride.”
  • Toyota Camry: “Roomy cabin. Comes well equipped. Popular for its predictability and reliability. Soothing, mellow ride. You won’t notice any road noise rough pavement, or whining from under the hood.”

Station Wagons

  • Ford Taurus: “Offers lots of space for less money. Seats up to eight; includes dual-stage airbags that inflate at different levels based on the severity of the crash. Soft, quiet highway ride is ideal for long trips.”

  • Volvo V70: “Supremely comfortable interior. Lots of room to haul kids and gear. Standard side curtain air bags. Feels as nimble as a sprightly little hatchback. Spacious center console, storage nooks in the doors. Optional all-wheel drive.”
  • Volkswagen Passat: “Seats are unusually comfortable. Spring-loaded cup holders will grip any size bottle. All-wheel drive offers better traction in bad weather, without the roughness of a four-wheel drive SUV.”

Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs)

  • Honda Pilot: “Both rear rows split and fold flat into the floor for roomy, versatile storage. Nine cupholders, plenty of pockets, and power outlets throughout. Some models include a fold-down activity tray for kids sitting in the second row.”

  • Ford Expedition: “Third row comfortably fits actual grownups, not just kids. Cavernous center console, 11 cupholders, spacious interior. To minimize damage to other vehicles, bumpers are the same height as those on normal cars. Four-wheel drive version has true off-road moxie.”
  • Volvo XC90: “17 cupholders. Center section of the middle seat slides 12 inches forward to give you easy access to a rear-facing infant. Standard side-curtain air bags extend all the way to third row. Handles curves and corners so smoothly, you’ll forget you’re in an SUV. Innovative anti-rollover technology.”


  • Ford Windstar: “Highest safety ratings for eight years in a row. Kid-friendly gizmos available like overhead tissue dispenser, conversation mirror, and sleeping-baby light system that activates footlights instead of a blinding overhead beam when a door opens at night. Interior is spacious, comfy, and easy to move around in.”

  • Dodge Grand Caravan: “Sizeable cargo area, even with third row seat in place. Convenient storage bins between front and middle-row bucket seats can hold kids’ gear and snacks or can be removed for more space. Soft and forgiving steering makes the minivan easy to maneuver.”
  • Honda Odyssey: “Third row folds completely into floor to enlarge the already roomy cargo space. Mid-row bucket seats slide together (for better access to rear seats) or apart (to separate quarreling siblings). Handles tight curves and quick lane changes nearly as comfortably as a sedan.”

Additional child passenger safety information, including tips from AAA’s child-passenger safety public-service campaign, “Seated, Safe and Secure”, are on Parents’ web site:, and at

“AAA Auto Guide: 2003 New Cars and Trucks” contains detailed reviews and photos of more than 200 vehicles. It is available at AAA offices, online at and at retail bookstores. The retail price is $13.95 US/$21.95 CDN.

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