There’s no shame in owning a minivan.
False. Sure, there’s no question about their utility and, hence, their prevalence on the American driving landscape. But until someone comes up with one that doesn’t at least partially emasculate red-blooded men, we choose to drive other vehicles that offer up utility, a semblance of driving pleasure and better aesthetics than a toaster oven. Granted, most of them don’t offer up the kind of open rugrat roaming space of a minivan, but they also won’t embarrass you at the next dudes get-together. Here are five we tested on the road.
Additional contribution by Amos Kwon
MORE FAMILY-FRIENDLY VEHICLES: 10 Family Sedans That Won’t Put You To Sleep | Quick Spin: 2015 Volvo V60 Sportswagon | Behind The Wheel: 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE
Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4Matic Wagon
Best Stealthy High-Powered Minivan Alternative: MB’s wagon has tons of cargo space, AWD, plenty of rear legroom for adults, easily accessible LATCH connect points for car seats… and it also happens to get to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds thanks to a 577 hp (yep) 5.5 liter biturbo V8, which will rival your daughter’s laugh for best sound coming out of the car. With an under-the-radar sports car approach to hauling kids, the E63 AMG won’t draw too much attention or make you feel uncomfortable in the carpool lane. Of course it comes with all the greatness of the German three-pointed star, with extremely comfortable heated and cooled seats, a panoramic sunroof, infotainment voice command that actually works (still holding out for CarPlay integration) and practical storage space in the back with cubbies and a false floor to hide valuables. Sure you’ll get “you paid what for a wagon?” But as the kids say these days, “haters gonna hate.”
Verdict: If money is no object, this is the perfect car.
Memorable Moment: Turning off the traction control on a dry lake bed, stomping on the throttle and feeling the car dance on the loose silt, with the roar of that magnificent engine reaching the stratosphere.
Best Swiss Army Knife Minivan Alternative: With optional fold-and-tumble second row captain’s chairs and a fold-flat third row, the Durango offers 50 seating configurations, making it the perfect car for a family outing to Home Depot. Its best-in-class mileage gets around 600 miles per tank and translates to stellar road trip chops. With an optional Blu-Ray DVD player and two flip-up screens you can watch a movie on said trip or plug your camera into the HDMI ports to see photos or video you just made. Couple that with the digital dash, optional adaptive cruise control, brakes that dry themselves in the rain and all kinds of safety tech, and you’ve got a car that will impress the adults driving it and the kids riding in it. It also has a pretty mean grille for intimidating slower minivan families and freeway traffic alike.
Miles Driven: 561
Verdict: The versatility, tech options and huge fuel tank make this a great buy, even without kids.
Memorable Moment: Charging camera batteries, viewing footage with HDMI hookup and keeping the crew happy while using it as a production vehicle.
The Hipster Dad’s Minivan Alternative: King of the rally circuit for many years, Subaru isn’t your average “family car” manufacturer — as evidenced by the highly capable and affordably priced Forester 2.0 XT. Most minivans and family SUVs encourage road trips, but with a 250 hp 2.0 liter turbocharged flat-four managed by a CVT and a classically impressive all-wheel-drive setup, this a car that encourages off-road trips. The interior is not as luxurious as the others in our roundup and it’s not as capacious as a minivan, but you won’t lose your temper when your son drops his pizza on the rear seat — an inevitability.
Miles Driven: 372
Verdict: The price and knock rugged interior makes it a very liveable family vehicle.
Memorable Moment: Feeling at home with family in tow and an Ikea bookcase in the back.
Infiniti QX60 Hybrid
Best Semi-Environmental but Still Posh Minivan Alternative: Despite the confusion Infiniti nomenclature, the QX60 Hybrid’s look is still quite distinguishable in the segment, with the most pronounced D-pillar in the industry and a sculpted shape that wouldn’t look out of place on sports sedan. It’s a damn fine looking SUV that fits right in well-off suburbia due to its near luxe nameplate and its attempt at environmentalism made known with the “HYBRID” side badges. The interior is a fine place to be, except for the small but still practical third row with the oddest headrests that resemble a tall slice of bread. Step inside and you know that the $60K+ expenditure (with numerous options, of course) went somewhere. The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder, combined with a 20 hp electric motor is good for 250 hp and 248 lb-ft. It moves you quickly, but the CVT makes the engine sound like its either in heat or wildly convulsive. Choose Sport Mode and get a little more excitement out of the driving experience, but that’s not what this hauler is for. It gets nods of aesthetic approval, unlike the common disdain received by the minivan population.
Miles Driven: 342
Verdict: A striking family mover that looks rich but sounds a bit desperate in the powertrain department.
Memorable Moment: Getting eyed by a well-to-doer in a Range Rover.
The Best Paparazzi Magnet Minivan Alternative: There is little else it the world that ties together a rapper, a soccer mom and a diplomat like a Cadillac Escalade. The fourth iteration of the ultimate American luxury family hauler ups the ante with hand-cut, hand-sewn leather seats and actual wood interiors. In fact, standard options for 2015 are essentially last year’s fully loaded model. The interior has sharper edges highlighted by vertical LEDs; the 420 hp 6.2 liter V8 hauls the soccer tank to 60 mph in under six seconds; five USB ports, five 12-volt outlets and an optional Blu-Ray DVD with 9-inch flat screen keeps the kids at bay. Welcome to the total package.
Miles Driven: 110
Verdict: The Escalade of Escalades has arrived.
Memorable Moment: Watching bystanders gape at an armada of fifteen Escalades, no doubt wondering if it was a G-Man caravan or a slew of Saudi oil tycoons.