Does choosing the right family car drive you crazy? Do you get confused having to shift gears between comfort, affordability and style? Does the entire process cause your brain to stall out? Do you ever tire of car puns?
Recently I was invited to the Kelley Blue Book headquarters in California, as part of an elite squad of “experts” — the KBB Dads! Our mission: choose the NUMBER ONE BEST CAR FOR DADS OF ALL TIME! Well, for 2016 at least.
I doubt there was anyone there with less technical car knowledge than me. Yet what I lack in knowing how cars work or what all of the things are called, I make up for in expertise on things like comfort, style, hauling lots of crap, and what is or isn’t a pain in the neck to figure out. Seriously — has Designer Daddy ever steered you wrong?
Kelley Blue Book (KBB, for short) started by sifting through the hundreds of 2016 American car models featured on their site, narrowed them down to a Sweet Sixteen, and then a Final Five (those are sports references, I believe). As KBB Dads, our job was to test drive the finalists — kick the tires, fiddle with the knobs, get lost a few times — and then choose our Best Car for Dads (BCFD, for short).
Before we were let loose behind the wheel, we got a crash course in all things KBB. The first and foremost takeaway for me? In addition to being the go-to source for used cars, Kelley Blue Book is just as thorough and trustworthy in researching, pricing and comparing new cars. In fact, over 300 new vehicle reviews are created annually. KBB’s crack editorial staff schooled us on their evaluation criteria for the numerous Top 10 lists featured on KBB.com. These include rankings like the Best Back-to-School Cars, Coolest Cars Under $18,000, and Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs.
But back to the Best Cars for Dads. To clarify, we’re not talking about cars dads WISH they had — the ones they drive during their mid-life crisis/divorce, while the wind blows through their thinning hair. I’m talking about cars for actual, active dads. Dads who have a kid (or two, or five) to transport; with responsibilities like commuting to work, getting groceries, carpooling, chauffeuring first dates, and epic family vacations.
While KBB’s standards are certainly well respected, my BCFD judging criteria needed to have a bit of my own flavor. So of course a cheesy clever acronym was in order…
DESIGNER DADDY’S D.A.D. RATING CODE:
D is for Driving. The overall experience — handling, comfort, sight lines, all around funness.
A is for Appearance. How the car looks (body, interior, uniqueness/ability to find in a Target parking lot)… as well as how it makes you look.
D is for Doo-dads. All the bells and whistles dads need and love — sound system, lane alarms, air conditioned seats — and stuff we didn’t even know we needed or loved.
I had clear favorites (and clear not-favorites), but as every dad and his family are unique, I’m giving you the lowdown on all five finalists. In addition to a general assessment of the vehicles, I’ve included what type of family might best benefit from each car, and a thing or two that could be improved.
2016 CHEVY TAHOE
I’m not gonna lie, this car is a monster. But it’s a comfy, pretty monster. It has a booming sound system worthy of its size — yet the tech is savvy enough to adjust to everyone’s liking in all 3 rows of seats. I also dug the high-quality rear camera, with very cool guiding lines that curved as I steered.
Good for: Big family with 4+ kids. Or 2 kids, a huge dog, and a LOT of stuff to haul. Best in the ‘burbs, beach or country. Navigate cramped parking garages at your own risk.
Needs Improvement: I know this seems like a nit-pick, but it took forever to find the hazard lights. All the other finalists had it prominently featured on the middle console. The Tahoe went retro and hid it on top of the steering column.
Driving: Excellent handling for a car this size. Loved the wide, flat driver’s seat. It was comfortable without trying too hard to mold to the shape of my butt — which can be super distracting. 👍👍👍👍👍
Appearance: BIG exterior, HIGH seating, definitely felt like I was ruling the road. 👍👍👍👍
Doo-Dads: Favorites were the lane change alert & side blind zone alert. 👍👍👍👍👍
2016 KIA OPTIMA
Surprisingly, the most fun to drive. The sound was great, but not overpowering for a sedan. The back seat was a little snug for me, but was plenty big for a car seat or two.
Good for: Family with 2 kids, any age. Great commuter car, and for (*gulp*) teaching teens to drive.
Needs Improvement: If the body had been a little more sporty, it would have been my favorite.
Driving: Easy to control, smooth, and genuinely enjoyable. Loved the massive, easy-to-use sunroof. 👍👍👍👍👍
Appearance: Not as sporty as the Civic, but between the two, the one I’d prefer to drive. 👍👍👍
Doo-Dads: Liked the built-in rear window shades and heated steering wheel. 👍👍👍👍👍
2016 HONDA CIVIC
Good for: Dropping off 1-2 kids before commuting to work. Another good training car, but stick to the cities and burbs.
Needs Improvement: Apparently someone thought it would be clever to make the big knob that should be volume control into temperature control. And to make it so you had to turn it down to increase the strength of the AC.
Driving: Almost as fun to drive as the Kia, but after setting the seat low enough to give me ample headroom, I had a hard time hauling my big, old butt out of the thing. 👍👍👍
Appearance: Thumbs up for sporty family cars! Decent trunk space for a sedan. Love the Cosmic Blue Metallic color option. 👍👍👍👍👍
Doo-Dads: The console storage panel big enough to hold/charge a tablet was totes awesome. 👍👍👍👍
2016 SUBARU OUTBACK
Good for: Sporty/outdoorsy family with 2 kids (or 1 kid and a dog). Will drive comfortably pretty much anywhere — small city, suburbs, mountains, beach, snow.
Needs improvement: Even sporty types like their tech — and so do their kids. No place to plug-in from the back seat.
Driving: Nice enough to drive, but a little snug for my wide load tastes. And I don’t want whoever’s riding shotgun so up in my business. 👍👍👍👍
Appearance: Too station-wagony for me. But the sturdy roof rack and large amounts of interior space will appeal to skiers, kayakers, and Home Depot-frequenters. 👍👍👍
Doo-Dads: The power rear gate with height memory was nifty, but overall was sorely lacking in tech. 👍👍👍
2016 TOYOTA SIENNA
Good for: Practical family with 3+ children. Or a kids/dog/grandma combo. Or 1 kid and a passion for carpooling everyone else’s.
Needs Improvement: Shifting on the dashboard was annoying and clunky.
Driving: Not the best on curves or hills. But it holds a lot of people and stuff, and would be on par with the Tahoe for taking the family cross-country in comfort. 👍👍👍
Appearance: You can call it the Swagger Wagon till rapping dads are cool, but it’s still a minivan. 👍👍
Doo-Dads: The Voice of God button (AKA, Driver Easy Speak) should be standard on any car with more than 2 rows. 👍👍👍👍
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💵 💵 💵
Note to dads on a budget: I realize finances are tight for many families. In addition to these shiny new cars, Kelley Blue Book features used models of each of the finalists on their site. Four of the Top 5 were on 2015’s Best Family Cars list; and the 2010 Civic and 2006 Outback both appear on KBB’s recent list, 10 Best Used Cars Under $8,000.
I hope this information and handy, dandy list helps you like it did me — in making me just a little more “new car smart.” Many thanks to Kelley Blue Book and Life of Dad for all of the information, enlightenment and camaraderie. It was definitely an outside-my-wheelhouse experience, and I’m glad I went along for the ride.
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Car Pun Challenge! Can you spot all of the car-related puns? Post your answer in the comments and win a new car my eternal admiration!