The auto industry is booming. Sales are expected to surpass 16 million vehicles, the highest number since before the recession. Through August, overall sales have jumped 7 percent over last year.
Yet minivan sales are down, falling more than 5 percent so far this year. The classic family hauler has become a niche product. Never was that point underscored more than when AAA announced its list of Top Vehicles For Growing Families earlier this week.
The cars on the coveted list didn’t catch our eye as the much as the ones that were omitted -- namely, minivans. Only two of the eleven cars selected by AAA, the nation’s largest motor club, were minivans. What has replaced them? Families, having fewer children today than in past decades, now opt for small SUVs and crossovers.
Here’s a look at the 11 family-friendly cars selected by AAA. If you’re looking to buy a car for your family, this is a smart place to start your research:
Sticker Price: $29,020 - $39,400
Invoice Price: $26,494 - $35,972
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
The nice thing about the Highlander is that customers have options. It comes with a standard V6 engine that delivers power, yet also comes in options that include fuel-saving four-cylinder and hybrid powertrains that deliver considerably better gas mileage.
The third row would be a little tight for an adult, but hey, there’s a third row, delivered in a vehicle that also supplies 95.4 cubic feet of cargo room for toting around groceries and sports equipment. Kids like being as far away from mom and dad as possible.
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Sticker Price: $23,495 - $32,095
Invoice Price: $22,123 - $30,034
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Subaru sets itself apart with its standard all-wheel drive, a feature that should appeal to parents driving their families around in less-than-ideal weather throughout the year. The Outback delivers rugged performance throughout all sorts of terrain and conditions.
The Outback comfortably seats five, as does its showroom sibling, the Forester, which is a favorite in the small SUV class because of its roomy cargo area and terrific cabin visibility. Subarus also have very good long term reliability ratings.
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Sticker Price: $24,225 - $32,735
Invoice Price: $23,014 - $31,098
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
The Equinox tends to fly under the radar a bit for the small SUV shopper who often hears more about the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. That's too bad.
We like the Equinox for its safety features, attractive sheet metal and roomy interior. This small SUV is also available with a 3.6L direct-injection V6 engine that produces an impressive 301 horsepower.
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Sticker Price: $19,940 - $24,470
Invoice Price: $19,073 - $23,401
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
The Mazda5 is technically a subcompact crossover, although almost everyone would call it a minivan, or maybe a micro-van, based on its exterior design. It comes with seating for up to six people as well as a wealth of safety features.
It's also surprisingly fun to drive. Mazda has done a great job making sports cars out of its sedans and crossovers, meaning that you can have fun and versatility at the same time.
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Sticker Price: $22,795 - $28,795
Invoice Price: $21,413 - $27,030
Fuel Economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway
We'll probably never understand how Honda engineers make a small SUV seem so darn roomy inside. Sitting in the back seat of the CR-V, you'd swear you were in some kind of livery vehicle. That's a great thing to have if you've got a growing family.
The CR-V also comes with legendary Honda reliability, meaning you can expect your car to last up to 200,000 miles or more if you take care of it.
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Sticker Price: $29,795 - $42,345
Invoice Price: $28,349 - $39,838
Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city, 23 mpg highway
A full-size SUV with solid handling and a nice, quiet interior, the Durango is a good option for the growing family. It comes with seating for up to seven people and striking good looks.
You can also get the Durango with all-wheel drive. Doing so will make tackling inclement weather a breeze. Chrysler has also vastly improved the Durango from the original model that debuted a decade or so ago. That truckish SUV has been replaced by this much smoother, refined SUV that shared development with the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mercedes M Class when Mercedes and Chrysler were jointly owned.
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Sticker Price: $21,680 - $33,430
Invoice Price: $19,849 - $30,567
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Attractive, safe, fuel efficient and reliable, the Honda Accord has for decades remained one of the best cars you can buy. This mid-size sedan has almost everything for your growing family, and can be had at a very reasonable price.
One of our favorite features on the Accord is Honda LaneWatch. When merging or changing lanes, a camera projects the car's blind spot onto the infotainment screen, so you can always be certain it's safe to turn right.
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Sticker Price: $26,700 - $39,900
Invoice Price: $24,631 - $36,808
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
The Ford Taurus is a handsome large sedan that has a comfortable interior and great driving dynamics. Its 3.5L V6 is both powerful and fuel efficient, and the car comes with lots of safety and technology features.
If you're looking for something sportier, try the Ford Taurus SHO, which adds a 365-horsepower twin-turbo 3.5L V6 to the equation.
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Sticker Price: $20,895 - $27,595
Invoice Price: $20,010 - $25,790
Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
The Hyundai Sonata has been praised by critics and consumers alike for its bold styling and great fuel economy. The mid-size sedan is also great for families, given its smooth ride and nice interior.
The best thing about the Sonata, however, is that it's a great value. Even the base version has a wealth of great features and comes with a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
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Sticker Price: $28,825 - $44,450
Invoice Price: $26,366 - $40,618
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
The Odyssey is one of just two minivans recommended for growing families by AAA. It is generally considered to be the best minivan on the market, with its great drivetrain, comfortable seats and surprisingly good handling.
You can also get the Odyssey with a built-in vacuum cleaner, which we're sure will prove to be quite helpful having children in the car. One of the dirty secrets about minivans, especially the Odyssey, is that it is a favorite of active retirees and empty-nesters who like the comfort and versatility, as well as the room for grandkids.
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Chrysler Town & Country
Sticker Price: $30,620 - $41,145
Invoice Price: $29,310 - $38,993
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway
The Chrysler Town & Country is the other minivan AAA recommends for growing families. It's a little pricier, but the interior is first rate and it uses a smooth and powerful V6 engine.
The standout feature on the Town & Country is the Stow-n-Go seat system, which allows the second row of seats, as well as the third row, to fold away into the floor. We love that feature.