Getting There in Style

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Are We There Yet?

Getting There in Style
By Lisa Twyman Bessone

From the 1950s right up through the 1980s, the quintessential family car was the venerable, if un-hip, station wagon.

Fast-forward to 1997. Station wagons, like the Suburu Outback, now come equipped with four-wheel-drive, making them the automotive equivalent of mountain goats. And these days, suburban enclaves swarm with Chevy Suburbans (complete with a Clarion home theater and a decor that's nicer than most living rooms) that take on nothing more rugged than the Merritt Parkway. Meanwhile, minivans have outgrown their soccer-mom image, thanks in no small part to being John Travolta's way-cool vehicle of choice in Get Shorty.

If you're in the market for new family wheels, the choices are endless, even mind-boggling. So here are a few suggestions.

Road Trips
Proximity breeds contempt, so the more you can keep kids physically apart, the better your chances of avoiding backseat fisticuffs. The brand new Chevy Venture offers a palatial passenger compartment, not to mention the requisite two rows in the backseat. For economy, check out the Ford Windstar, which despite the reasonable price offers luxury appointments like built-in child seats and every toddler's favorite distraction, cup holders. The Dodge Caravan, which pioneered the two sliding doors, also offers good bang for the buck.

While U.S. car manufacturers invented the minivan, foreign competitors like Honda have joined the fray with its formidable entry, the Odyssey. (You can't miss this auto; it looks uncannily like a bullet train.) But if deluxe is your mantra, check out the Mercury Villager. Três chic.

We have friends who built a cabin at 12,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies. Getting there involves highway driving, then four-wheel slogging up roads that wash out faster than a Spray 'n' Washed gravy stain. Required: a car with a comfortable ride and grit. Try a Nissan Pathfinder, which recently underwent a massive redesign for a more elegant look. The Toyota Four Runner is good too, with its serious axle height to rumble over chasmlike road ruts. But the Daktari touring windows in the roof of the Land Rover Discovery are hard to beat for cachet.

Don't feel cut out of the SUV picture, however, if you have more than two kids. The Ford Expedition, little more than the best-selling Explorer on steroids, is one option. Ditto the Chevy Tahoe, baby brother to the mammoth Suburban, with better gas mileage, plenty of passenger room, and off-road stamina to boot. Oh, and lest we forget, here are two SUVs that send the needle off the posh-o-meter: the Infinity QX4 and, coming in 1998, the Lincoln Navigator.

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