small family cars

small family cars

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Ford ’s little commercial vehicle that could, the Transit Connect, is completely fresh for 2014 with new styling, multiple length and roof sizes, and a new EcoBoost option. Another first is a seven-passenger MPV variant called the Transit Connect Wagon. The passenger model will be offered in short or long wheelbase configuration, arriving in U.S. dealers in October with prices expected to start in the $24,000 ballpark.

As useful as full-size vans are, even Ford ’s brand-new, enormous 2014 Transit cargo van is not ideal for light commercial duties like doggie daycare pickup or flower delivery. Ford ’s elderly E-series vans are equally unsuitable for dropping kids off at school - so the latest Transit Connect Wagon has a willing market among van-deprived Ford loyalists.

The Transit Connect Wagon is a five-seater in the short-wheelbase configuration, and up to a seven-seater on the longer length option. This is no compact car - the larger TC Wagon has a 121-inch wheelbase.

Both vans come with dual sliding doors and an available one-piece power tailgate preferred by moms. How does this hot new Ford stack up versus the Mazda5 or Nissan Quest ?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon, with a full image gallery of the exterior design and interior layouts.

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The revised CX-9 follows on company’s hot streak of stylish new models like the Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedan. New LED lights and a slinky Kodo grille revamp the face of Mazda ’s largest and most expensive model.

The seven-seater CX-9 carries over its previous 3.7-liter V-6 in front or AWD configurations. Paired to the crossover’s singing engine is a premium Aisin six-speed automatic with sport and manual modes. A 60 mph sprint time in the mid 7 second range shows off the CX-9’s impressive chassis design – even without the SkyActiv banner that helps build buzz around the smaller CX-5 .

Refined but sporty damping helps this full-size Mazda crossover to be quite competitive in the $35,000 large crossover segment, and the new gearstick design is a classy touch.

Mazda is firmly in touch with premium buyer needs by the looks of the interior, and the CX-9’s revised cabin maintains the stylish vertical accent bars up the sides of the center stack. Touchscreen technology and rear-seat movies are offered in the plush Mazda CX-9, but what are its key advantages over the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander ?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2013 Mazda CX-9, including the features and pricing by trim level and a large photo gallery of the new styling.

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The family friendly Honda CR-V crossover announced its 2014 prices and updates today, with only a modest increase and a handful of new features like an easier fold-down back seat. Still hot off the car’s redesign last year, the CR-V is America’s best-selling crossover with an easy driving demeanor and quite a large cargo area, even with the back seat up.

Seating five people and bringing some of the most robust and reliable mechanicals ever made, the Honda CR-V’s celebrated position in the firm’s range speaks to the car’s exceptional balance of size, performance and efficiency.

The style of the previous CR-V was also ripe for updates, as seeing its grinning open grille intake at every stoplight became quite tiresome over the years. The new design brings a broader and flush-mounted upper grille with flowing wings that meet the headlights. These lights are still goofy and oversized, but overall the nose of the CR-V is more friendly and sleek.

The roof of this generation of Honda CR-Vs has some interesting shaping as it leaves tons of second-row headroom before rumbling downward to meet the rear glass. There is more structure and definition to the Honda ’s trademark chrome-trimmed glasshouse, but the CR-V will still not be winning any design competitions any time soon.

The cabin took a big leap forward with the latest refresh, and offers a new navigation and infotainment setup, as well as a streamlined audio button interface – quelling critics of Honda ’s overwrought interior layouts in recent years.

The CR-V still majors on reliability, affordability and family versatility. How does it compare with the Ford Escape , Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 ? Is its large seats-up trunk volume and handy urban maneuverability enough to outweigh its lackluster MPG and performance stats?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Honda CR-V, with all the official pricing and features explained in detail.

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The BMW X1 is a fantastic addition to the Bimmer range, as well as to the TopSpeed Garage . During our week testing the M Sport X1 sDrive28i, the car won many friends with its driving environment, striking new-BMW styling crispness and a truly sports-car-like agility versus the larger X3 .

The X1 is offered stateside in three trim levels across the turbo four-cylinder 28i and turbo six-cylinder 35i powerplants, with xDrive available across the range. The test car’s X1 sDrive28i pairs the base engine with the top M Sport trim level at the top, bringing a beautiful body-color bumper treatment absent from the cheaper ’Sport’ and ’X-line’ trim packs. The M Sport option also includes a variety of other tasty upgrades, including sports leather seats and handsome special paint and wheel options.

The X1 fills such a successful gap in the entry-level BMW offering that it even caught Audi and Mercedes-Benz flatfooted, with their GLA250 and Audi Q3 competitors still at least a year from reaching American buyers.

The X1 certainly doesn’t have the small premium crossover market to itself, but does carve a unique niche with few pretend off-road aspirations and a decidedly performance focus to its V-rated, 18-inch Pirelli’s.

This road-going bias helps the X1 to be an agile and playful companion on any stretch of pavement, with a 60 mph sprint just above 6 seconds for both rear- and all-wheel-drive 28i four-cylinders and down to the low 5’s for the potent X1 xDrive35i.

All this with a base price just above $30,000 means the X1 is the first affordable BMW entry for crossover shoppers, considering the Acura RDX or the Mini Cooper Countryman .

The full TopSpeed Garage drive review is past the jump, and takes a close look at the coolest performance options and features of the practical but sporty X1 sDrive28i M Sport.

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The Chrysler Town & Country is just about the finest minivan it has ever been, with class-leading performance and economy stats from its 3.6-liter V-6 paired to a six-speed automatic.

The exterior style of the new-for-2013 Town & Country S looks mean and lean wearing a black chrome grille and dark alloy wheels. Inside, the T&C is also better than ever, with standard leather seats and dual 9-inch overhead screens for the back seat’s built-in Blu-ray DVD player.

Rumors and speculation about the Town & Country’s future have been rampant in the Chrysler -Fiat era, with most bets on a big refresh for 2015 or 2016 that will bring crossover styling and perhaps a new name to the much-loved minivan king’s loyal buyers.

The core attributes of this year’s T&C are therefore extra special: flexible hauling space that can go from packing seven people, to 140-plus cubic-feet of stuff - and back - without unbolting or removing any seats.

Stow ‘n’ Go is still a masterful party trick for the Chrysler van twins, but the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are firmly established as winning the back-seat comfort contest. Thicker padding is available on fixed second-row buckets as an option to replace the tumbling chairs, but other comfort and drive quality issues remain for minivan shoppers.

The T&C finally has enough power to move confidently while carrying a full load, but still suffers from some old-fashioned harshness in the suspension, and little handling confidence on twisty highways.
Of course, families are the prime market for minivans, meaning prioritizing comfort, safety and technology first.

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Chrysler Town & Country, with special details on the cool new S model that is priced at just $32,000.

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Sales of the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover more than doubled in 2013, following the introduction of a more powerful SkyActiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder for the top two trim levels.

The little CX-5 has certainly caught buyer attention since it replaced the CX-7 in the Mazda lineup about two years ago. In terms of overall market share earned versus the heavy hitters, this small SUV has been a runaway success in a way that still eludes the handsome Mazda6 midsize sedan.

On track to move 70,000-plus units this year in the U.S., the CX-5’s popularity shows the brilliance of Mazda’s entry into the exploding segment at the right time, with the right style and the right price. This five-seater offers all-wheel drive and sprint stats as low as 7.2 seconds to 60 mph for the latest engine and six-speed transmission combo.

The value-priced CX-5 Sport now comes standard with an extra gear ratio in its manual gearbox, but sees base pricing jump to $21,000 for the cheapest entry in the front or AWD range. Even with this price increase of about $1,000 versus last year, the CX-5’s 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway numbers still make life very difficult for traditional economy cars like the Dodge Dart and Hyundai Elantra.

This means some really handsome, fresh and tasteful styling to wrap a roomy and practical five-seat cabin.

Is this handsome face enough to have staying power versus the Toyota RAV4 , Kia Sportage or Ford Escape ?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Mazda CX-5, with detailed information about the enhanced performance of the new 2.5-liter powerplant upgrade.

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The 2014 Ford Explorer Sport is a welcome addition to the TopSpeed Garage with its racy 20-inch wheels and twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. Taurus SHO enhancements transform the Explorer package from just a family-friendly AWD seven-seater into a taut performance machine that is both fun to drive and luxurious on the road.

The $40,000 Sport comes in as the top Explorer trim level, and the only one to get the 365-horsepower 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine. Dozens of performance and luxury enhancements join the potent powerplant: a sport-tuned suspension, huge vented disc brakes with front and rear performance calipers, dark-tinted headlights and a gloss-black grille round out the exterior mods for this performance variant.

The changes extend indoors as well, where the Explorer Sport is the pick of the range with leather-trimmed, heated sports buckets up front. Standard MyFord Touch by Sony and a powerful stereo join the fun, as do illuminated scuff plates and custom Sport badging.

As one of the best-known Ford nameplates, the Explorer lost its coveted spot as the default midsize SUV over the early 2000s following the introduction of the BMW X5 and a host of other truly premium models.

This latest all-new generation of Explorer has evolutionary styling but a sophisticated unibody design to replace the old Explorer’s body-on-frame construction.

After years in the doldrums, the Explorer Sport’s engine brings the magic back with a globally-competitive crossover package that can comfortably seat seven people and deliver 22 mpg on the highway.

The turbo power of the Explorer Sport trim helps the Ford stand apart from the segment-leading Buick Enclave and Nissan Pathfinder – but is the Ford’s fun-to-drive nature enough to reclaim buyers seeking a premium seven-passenger crossover?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Ford Explorer Sport, including a video walkthrough of the car’s interior at start up and during the 0-60 sprint.

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The Sedona minivan sat out the 2013 model year without joining the official Kia lineup. Even so, the practical seven-seater notched up nearly 15,000 sales of old stock to families seeking the upmarket style of the Honda Odyssey but the value pricing of the Dodge Grand Caravan .

Value is the Sedona’s key niche as it languishes without the chassis and tech overhauls that have done wonders for the Optima and Sportage. There are many benefits to the Sedona offering and the core model is refreshed in reintroduced for 2014 with a new grille design, new LED running lights in front and a new taillight design out back.

The space and features in this V-6 Kia minivan are beyond criticism – this wide and airy cabin makes full-size SUVs like the Chevy Suburban seem like a foolish extravagance that puts image ahead of actual vehicle priorities of kid and family transport. The Sedona’s 24 mpg on the highway will also shame any SUV and most large crossovers.

With all these benefits and a $32,000 loaded price, the Sedona is more than $12,000 cheaper than the fanciest Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Town & Country models.

Inevitably, there are big compromises to be made. The Kia ’s sloppy driving experience and interior design are a relic of the bad old Kia days. Do the new grille and LED accent lights turn the also-ran 2014 Kia Sedona into a real player in the minivan segment?

Click past the jump for the full review with highlights on the new features and desirable options.

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The second-generation Equinox is a huge sales it for Chevrolet, notching up well over 200,000 sales per year in the United States alone. This five-passenger crossover focuses on technology, value and space, and comes in four-cylinder or V-6 engines with optional AWD for about $30,000.

A leader in the fast-growing small crossover segment, Chevrolet has seen Equinox sales rise of over 14 percent in 2013 even in the face of competition from three rivals that are much newer: the Ford Escape , Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 .

In a way, that somewhat reflects the Chevy lineup in general, the Equinox is a tale of two cars. On the base side, this is functional transport with great backseat legroom and a versatile cargo area. The base LS delivers value with a low purchase price and great fuel economy - up to 32 mpg on the highway for the Equinox FWD.

On the other side of the coin are the LT and LTZ trim levels that include dozens of desirable features missing from the LS trim. The FWD V-6 Equinox makes over 300 horsepower and has a deep interior tech list that includes MyLink touchscreen infotainment. These options future-proof the car very nicely and help make the Equinox’s interior as much of a selling point as its fashionable exterior design.

How does the Equinox compare with its arch-rivals from Ford, Honda and Toyota? Is the Chevy ’s huge back seat enough to stay on top of rising stars like the Kia Sportage ?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox with highlights on how it compares with its rivals in the mid-size crossover segment.

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In the 2014 Chevrolet Captiva Sport’s senior yearbook, the standard headshot would have been replaced by a blank “No Photo Available.” This commercial vehicle sits in the fleet-only section of Chevy ’s U.S. lineup. These models major on sale price and fuel mileage – but typically include few tech or luxury features and zero trendy styling.

The opposite of trendy, the Captiva Sport is eerily familiar on all American roads. By george! It is the stillborn, second-gen Saturn Vue in a bowtie grille! Additional fender flares and chrome accents appear where there were once maroon Saturn badges.

Reviving this car is a special treatment within General Motors, and only replicated with the (also fleet-only) Chevy Caprice PPV that started life as the 2008 Pontiac G8 GT. What this distinction means for the Captiva Sport is that the vehicles have to be delivered directly to a commercial operator, thereby skipping the local retailer in favor of bulk orders.

The Captiva Sport’s big news for 2014 is an updated infotainment unit that now offers Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen audio and mobile connectivity.

The Captiva Sport is therefore a work car for people who might otherwise be in a Malibu Classic (yes, it existed..) or a Cruze – neither of which have AWD winter traction.

The larger Chevrolet Equinox is also on the fleet books for virtually identical list prices. How do they compare?

Click past the jump for the full review of the 2014 Chevrolet Captiva Sport, the only autobahn-tested AWD crossover in the Chevrolet’s American commercial fleet lineup.


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