Latest evolution could be family watching movie together while car does its own driving.
Since the end of World War II, the family car in America has evolved from humble four-door sedan or station wagon to high-tech, energy-efficient vehicle — sedan, SUV, minivan, crossover, hatchback or wagon — with an abundance of creature comforts and conveniences.
Before long, it may even drive itself, allowing the entire family to watch a movie together while cruising down the interstate.
Massimo Backus, who drives an Audi 3, hopes his family’s next car will be an all-electric vehicle.
Last year, Backus placed a deposit on a Tesla 3, a smaller, more affordable electric car from the makers of the popular and very expensive Model S.
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“I waited a long time, and I was probably about the 75th person in line,” Backus says. “A year went by, and just recently they released the first batch of Model 3s, so I probably won’t get the car until March of next year. By the time I take delivery, I will have waited two full years for the car — and I’m still really excited about it.”
What appealed to Backus, who works as a Seattle-based consultant, was the car’s combination of engineering, safety, economy and family friendly design.
“The fact that the car’s been built on a platform that never had to account for a petrol engine or drive train is exciting because it’s a different approach to building a car than the other automakers,” Backus says.
Backus thinks the Model 3 will be the perfect family vehicle for him, his wife Brie and their 3-year-old son, Luca.
“It would be a great car for driving around town with the family, if it were our only car,” he says. “It might even be good for longer work trips. There’s a fair amount of luggage space, and you could put a roof rack on it.”
Phil and Bonnie Bly of Mukilteo are also fans of electric vehicles, though Phil’s stable of vehicles includes a pickup truck and a vintage car.
Phil owns a 2017 Chevy Volt and Bonnie has a 2014 Volt, both gas-electric hybrids.
“They’re completely different cars,” Phil says. “The 2014 is a first-generation version, while my 2017 has a different body, engine, battery and drive train. It’s a much more efficient design.”
The Blys’ Chevy Volts serve multiple generations of their family and offer plenty of comfort as well as amazing fuel economy. The 2017 model boasts a range of 420 miles on a full charge.
“I had a couple of friends who had them and absolutely loved them and raved about them,” Phil says.
Though electric and gas-electric hybrid cars may be the wave of the future, there are many compelling reasons to buy a gas-powered car.
Your decision may come down to features that best serve the family. Here are some considerations.
Not everyone can afford a top-of-the-line sedan or SUV, so you’ll have to scale your car purchase to fit a budget, whether you’re buying a new vehicle or used. Or leasing.
Budgetary considerations should include what portion of your income or incomes you can commit to a payment, as well as insurance costs and fuel. If the cost of a new vehicle is simply too high, consider a used one in top condition with low mileage. You may even end up with more features that you would get with a new car — and at a lower price. But make sure you’ve done your homework on the quality and history of that used vehicle. Order a Carfax or similar report to find out whether the vehicle has been involved in an accident or has had a long chain of owners.
The top new-car dealers often keep their best trade-ins to sell to customers who can’t afford a new vehicle.
Comfort and convenience
Do you need room for just two or three? Or a whole brood of kids and teenagers and their friends? And if there’s a Fido in the family, consider creature comforts like AC vents in the rear of an SUV, partitions and even dog ramps. And you may want to keep your cargo of kiddies content with an entertainment system, WiFi hotspot or DVD player. And if you’re hauling lots of children and adults, a third seat may be desirable, usually available in minivans and sometimes SUVs.
Is safety a top consideration in buying a new vehicle? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) offers data on crashworthiness and crash avoidance. The good news is that safety features are abundant on many new vehicles, from air bags and collision avoidance systems to backup cameras.
Looking beyond safety, what about performance? Loaded down with kids, pets, luggage and bikes, your vehicle may seem more like Conestoga covered wagon that a fun-to-drive family car. Consider one of the new performance SUVs if you can afford it.