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WANTED: A family-ferrying sedan

Moving the kids without paying the price

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The V6 Volkswagen Passat in Highline trim comes in at just under $40,000 and offers a good combination of sporting drive and comfortable ride.


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Dear John: Dad needs a family sedan with room for kids

While some parents use the excuse of having children to go out and buy a large people mover -- like a minivan or crossover -- this month's Dear John letter is asking for advice on buying a new family sedan.

You read that correctly. I wrote "family" and "sedan" in the same sentence. Although families are flocking to crossovers and SUVs en masse, a large family four-door can fulfil many of the same practical functions as these bigger and heavier utility vehicles with the added value of better fuel economy and better driving dynamics.

Our Dear John letter writer, Jake Brock, lives about a 30-minute drive from downtown Montreal. He's a single father with two children under 10 years of age.

Looking to replace his 2007 Lexus IS compact sedan, Brock has found the small sports sedan's rear seat simply isn't big enough for his growing kids and the Lexus' trunk isn't large enough for their hockey and ski gear or trips to the garden centre.

Beyond family driving duties, Brock's occupation occasionally requires taking "clients/bosses" as passengers. So he's looking for a new, five-passenger vehicle that is roomy, comfortable and quiet on the highway.

Brock also mentioned he drives about 25,000 kilometres a year and would like a vehicle that can get average fuel economy between 10 and 12 L/100 km. All-wheel drive is a bonus, but in my experience, a good set of snow tires fitted properly on a front-wheel-drive car works just as well.

From a powertrain standpoint, Brock wants a V6 engine for "better acceleration/less sluggishness" than a smaller four-cylinder. And in regards to specific equipment, heated leather seats, sunroof, hands-free Bluetooth and a navigation system are also must-haves. As well, he plans on owning his new vehicle six to eight years, so "good reliability" is also on his wish list.

As for cost, he'd like to spend between $35,000 and $40,000. Brock's done his homework enough to know a large, luxury-brand sedan is out of his price range.

Despite a new car market that's gushing with non-sedan offerings, there are still plenty of large family-sedan choices. While the Ford Taurus and Dodge Charger come readily to mind, both have back seats that are better for two passengers instead of three.

But no worries, Jake Brock. I managed to find three candidates for you that offer the room and features of a large luxury sedan at a mainstream price.

My first candidate is from Japan's Toyota. The new-this-year, full-sized, front-wheel-drive 2013 Toyota Avalon remains based on the mid-sized Camry, but adds more room -- especially for rear-seat passengers.

The 2013 Avalon XLE, with a base price of $38,420 (all prices include freight and pre-delivery inspection charges), already comes with all the features Jake is looking for. In addition, its smooth-revving 3.5-litre six-cylinder (that makes 268 horsepower) and six-speed automatic deliver excellent 9.9 L/100 km in the city and 6.4 on the highway.

My second recommendation is the full-sized, 2014 Chevrolet Impala. Even fresher than the Toyota, the new Impala ditches a chassis that's been around since 1988 for the same up-to-date platform as the new-for-2013 mid-sized Chevrolet Malibu.

While four-cylinder models start as low as $29,995, to meet Jake's requirements we need to move up to the $40,545 Impala 2LT, with an optional 308 hp, 3.6 L V6.

My last big-family sedan candidate is the 2013 Volkswagen Passat. You can get lesser Passats in the mid-$20,000 range, but with a 280-hp six-cylinder engine and the Highline trim level, Brock's Passat will cost him $39,220.

As much of an improvement as it is over its decrepit predecessor, the first off my list is the Chevy. The Impala marginally gets the worst fuel economy here (11.1 L/100 km city, 6.9 highway) and is also the most expensive to buy.

Second to be cut is the Avalon. While the Toyota offers the lowest price, its extra road noise and harsh ride is a departure from smooth-riding models of the past. While the Avalon comes with a host of luxury-sedan features and space, it doesn't ride as nicely as its $46,000-plus Lexus ES 300 platform-mate.

That leaves us with the Passat. Of the three, the VW splits the difference in price between the Toyota and Chevy sedans. Rated at 10.9 L/100 km city and 7.4 highway, its fuel economy is also mid-pack. But while all three candidates are within millimetres of each other in regards to interior space, the VW leads with 532 litres in trunk-room.

Perhaps best of all, the Passat offers the best combination of a sporting drive and comfortable ride. And when it comes to reliability, the VW's ratings have been improving, the Passat's powertrain is proven and it's the only large, family sedan here that offers four years of factory warranty instead of the three years you get with either the Toyota or Chevrolet.

-- Postmedia News