Four New Family Cars That Are Fun to Drive
December 30, 2016
There are probably as many definitions of the family car as there are users, and the definitions can be as different as the expectations consumers have of such cars. But most of those looking for a family car are after two things: a big luggage compartment and a spacious and practical interior.
Believe it or not, but in communist-era Poland the tiny rear-engined Fiat 126p passed for a family car even though it was only 3,054 millimeters in length. Before communism fell in the late 1980s, it was only natural to see entire families cram into the 1960s’ design and drive all the way to Bulgaria or other popular vacation destinations. Despite its diminutive 100-liter trunk and 600 cc/23 hp engine, the Italian-designed, Polish-produced car was also routinely used to carry various kinds of cargo.
A total of 3.3 million Fiat 126p cars were produced in Poland under an Italian license from 1973 to 2000. In fact, the Maluch (“The Little One”) was the only car available or affordable to a majority of the population.
The family car means a different thing to different users. Depending on individual needs, this could be a station wagon or a compact minivan, and some large families will need a regular van. The options increase with gasoline, diesel and hybrid engines, two-wheel drives, 4x4 drives and so on. But compared with other vehicles, buyers who seek family cars will invariably look at the size of the trunk and the amount of room inside. After all, packing several people with luggage into a single car can be a challenge even for a small family.
Satisfying buyers’ expectations has always kept the car industry going and growing. The first automobiles from the late 19th century were invented just to transport people from one place to another. Luggage was secondary and would only be attached to cars in separate boxes or trunks. But with each new model, car manufacturers would come up with new ideas to better protect the driver, the passengers and their belongings. As decades rolled by, technology as well as fashion resulted in different car body types such as sedans, hatchbacks, liftbacks, station wagons, SUVs and vans. Shapes and sizes may have differed, but the main idea was always the same: to optimize passenger safety and comfort while ensuring enough room for luggage.
Read on for a review of several new models that belong to different market segments and can be used as family cars. This is by no means a league table of any kind, but a small selection out of a wide variety of cars that cater to a vast and highly diversified group of buyers.
Renault Talisman Grandtour Initiale Paris: A Comfortable Station Wagon
The French automaker Renault has a lot to offer in the family car department, including the brand-new Renault Talisman, the successor to the familiar Laguna model. The Talisman is a mid-size (D-segment) car whose station wagon version is marketed as Grandtour.
Boasting an attractive 4.86-meter-long body, the Talisman Grandtour has a large Renault logo on the grille that sits between the LED headlights stretching to the middle section of the bumper. This trademark feature of all new Renault models makes the new station wagon look massive yet dynamic, an impression strengthened when you look at the car’s streamlined design from the side. The standout feature of the rear section is the long and narrow taillights that wrap onto the quarter panels. A wheelbase of 2.81 meters makes for a capacious interior.
Inside the Renault Talisman features an easy-to-read dashboard and heated and ventilated front seats with a massage function for extra comfort. The back seats offer plenty of room as well. The 572-liter trunk comes with a contactless opening system; all you have to do to open it is put your foot under the rear bumper. The trunk’s threshold sits just 57 centimeters above ground, making access easy through the 107-centimeter-wide door. The cargo space is easy to arrange. You can fold the backseat bench partially (1/3-2/3) or completely and with the seats down, the cargo volume expands to almost 1,700 liters with the floor stretching on over 2 meters. In other words, apart from taking your family on a safe and comfortable road trip, you can easily use the Renault Talisman Grandtour as the next best thing to a delivery van.
The car is exceptionally maneuverable thanks to its 4Control four-wheel steering system. The Talisman comes with a choice of four-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines. We test-drove the Initiale Paris trim version, which is the most expensive one, priced at over zl.150,000. It is fitted with a 1.6-liter, 160 hp Common Rail diesel engine.
German car manufacturer Volkswagen offers a wide range of family cars, but probably no model fits the designation better than the Volkswagen Touran. First unveiled in 2003, the Touran has since undergone a lot of facelifts and modifications. The latest one ushered in a brand-new modular platform called MQB. The Volkswagen Group has used the platform in new Passat, Golf and Tiguan models, as well as in cars such as the Skoda Superb and the Audi TT. The standardized design of the group’s different makes has been a smart move financially, but MQB has also enabled Volkswagen to roll out larger cars whose longer wheelbase results in more room inside. Consequently, the new Touran has grown to 4.52 meters in length and its 2.79-meter wheelbase is 11.3 centimeters longer than in the previous version.
The car has a slender body and looks positively appealing despite the designers’ conservative approach. The Touran is neat and well arranged inside, and the interior is free from any superfluous embellishments. Instead, it is all about functionality with a number of storage compartments and door pockets.
The car has three separate back seats that can be folded independently of one another. The Touran offers the largest cargo volume in its market segment, at 834 liters in the five-seat configuration, or up to 1,040 liters when packed to the roof. A seven-seat version is available at an extra charge with two extra seats hidden underneath the floor.
The standard trim level comes with all the active and passive safety features available in the new Touran. The car comes with a choice of turbocharged gasoline and diesel engines. The test-drive model was fitted with a 1.8-liter/180 hp TSI gasoline engine with a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG transmission. The prices of the Highline trim level start at zl.114,000.
n Lexus, the luxury division of Toyota, produces two exclusive models that can serve as family cars. One of them is the high-end RX, which some regard as the forerunner of the entire SUV segment. Ever since the vehicle was first rolled out in 1998, its high functionality has won it a lot of fans. Since 2004, the RX has been available with an innovative and environmentally-friendly hybrid engine.
The 450h F Sport model is the fourth generation of the Lexus RX and probably the most attractive one. Its 4.89-meter-long body is so dynamically designed that even when the car is standing still, it looks like it is in motion, promising a thrilling and safe ride. The car offers a lot of room inside, enough to comfortably seat five adults. Lavishly furnished, the Lexus comes with virtually any system imaginable to enhance passenger comfort and safety. The “h” in the name and the “Hybrid” designation stands for a 3.5-liter/263 hp V6 gasoline engine coupled with two electric motors adding up to a total of 313 hp.
The essence of the hybrid drive is that it recycles energy. Instead of letting energy escape as heat, hybrid drives use electromagnetic coils in electricity generators to lock energy inside and store it in batteries. The energy then powers high-performance, high-rotation electric engines that set the wheels in motion over a stepless CVT transmission. Even though the hybrid drive in the Lexus RX necessitates extra space for the electric engines, batteries and enlarged transmission, the car retains everything buyers have known and loved it for. Admittedly, the trunk threshold is rather high above the ground, but the 496-liter trunk is comparable in size to those in rival models fitted with conventional engines.
The RX is available with a 238 hp turbocharged gasoline engine or as a 450h hybrid with a combustion-electric system delivering a total of 313 hp. The RX 450h F Sport model costs zl.375,000.
Mitsubishi ASX Invite 4WD DiD: A Compact Crossover
Drivers have recently embraced small, recreational cars that perform well in rough terrain. One of them is the compact Mitsubishi ASX model that combines the benefits of a small yet capacious van with the endurance only a SUV can deliver. The ASX has all the distinctive features of an SUV, such as a ground clearance of 19.5 centimeters and four-wheel drive with electronic torque shuffling between the axles. While two-wheel drives do just as fine in moderately difficult terrain, they really belong in city streets, tackling high curbs with ease.
The Mitsubishi ASX was first unveiled six years ago and while fashions come and go, the car’s body with just 4.29 meters in length looks surprisingly good after all this time. The standout features of the ASX include its Jet Fighter grille, so named after the Japanese F-2 fighter aircraft. Even though Mitsubishi’s new Outlander model marks a radical departure from the familiar look, older Mitsubishi models with a more conservative design are still a hit with buyers. Most users will appreciate the ASX for the high position of the driver’s seat, good visibility from behind the wheel, short overhangs and a turning radius of just 10.6 meters.
In addition to good handling, the ASX offers superb safety features (five stars in NCAP tests) and a practical interior. The car might look compact on the outside, but it has enough room inside to comfortably seat five adults. The 442-liter trunk can be expanded to 1,169 liters with the backseat down, providing space for items of up to 1.5 meters in length.
The ASX is available with a selection of cutting-edge, environmentally friendly gasoline and diesel engines. Built of aluminum alloys, the engines are extra light and comply with the Euro V emission standards. They are also fitted with energy recovery and start-stop systems. The test-drive model was fitted with a 1.8-liter/150 hp diesel engine and sported a price tag of just under zl.98,000.