From the January 2018 issue

Minivan Makeover: Best New Family Features in SUVs, Crossovers, More

The ol' swagger wagon's more winsome than wince-worthy these days. Here's how today's fleet of SUVs, crossovers and, yes, minivans are giving families a whole new ride.

When we bought our minivan 15 years ago, the dealer simply asked, “What color?” There was no discussion of features or horsepower – he knew why we were buying: convenience. There’s still no equal to a minivan’s roomy interior and practicality, although several crossovers and SUVs are coming close. While they may never have the cool factor of a sports car, today’s minivans come loaded with innovative family-friendly features that make trade-off trivial. Not convinced? We dug into some of the latest models’ perks that just might have you eyeballing a new minivan – or one of its relatives.

Chrysler Pacifica’s Stow ‘N Vac

Built-in vacuum

No need to cart out your home vacuum or the one at the car wash. The Stow ‘n Vac, available in 2017 and 2018 Chrysler Pacifica models, is an integrated vacuum that can reach throughout the entire vehicle. “I like to keep my car clean,” says Mary Ann Capo, a local mom and senior brand manager for multi-purpose vehicles at Fiat Chrysler in Auburn Hills. “With the Stow ‘n Vac you can clean up crumbs in seconds, right in your car.” Even better, it’s a wet and dry vac, so soda spills are easy to tackle, too. Built-in vacuums are also available in the Honda Odyssey minivan starting with 2014 models.

2018 Ford Expedition

Better third-row seats

“There are a few big trends taking place right now with third row seats,” says Scotty Reiss, founder of SheBuysCars.com, president emeritus of the International Motor Press Association and a mom, too. Many of these trends, explains Reiss, involve crossovers or SUVs trying to provide the same level of comfort as minivans. Often, these vehicles have provided only a “convenience” third row, meaning it’s fine in a pinch for a few extra kids in the carpool, but for adults or kiddos in car seats, it’s tight. However, the newly redesigned 2018 Ford Expedition, for example, includes more legroom and headroom for third-row riders (even grown-ups would be happy in the back).

2018 Honda Odyssey Touring Interior

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Built-in interior cameras

Wondering what the kids are up to in those third-row seats? Take a look with cameras tucked right inside your vehicle. With CabinWatch, available in the 2018 Honda Odyssey, drivers can see second- and third-row passengers on a display near the steering wheel. And yes, there’s a zoom function – plus an infrared LED so you can also spy your kids at night. “I think you’re going to start seeing other auto manufacturers start putting this in too,” Reiss says. “I would say the use of cameras is growing to provide more safety in and outside of the vehicle.”

2018 Ford Expedition

Entertainment and tech centers

Minivans, and some of their crossover and SUV cousins, have become advanced media machines with screens and sound systems that give your car the vibe of a movie theater. The newer Chrysler Pacifica models, for example, include high-definition 10-inch touch screens with built-in games kids can play against each other. Beyond screens, many vehicles include voice-activated controls for the audio and phone. And then there’s the all-important Wi-Fi. Many newly redesigned vehicles – like the 2018 Ford Expedition, the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse and others – offer a Wi-Fi hotspot (your teens will thank you!).

Dodge Journey Booster

Integrated booster cushion

As kids get older, it’s harder and harder to get them to stay in their booster seats. It can also become tedious to transport the seat from one vehicle to another (we’ve all been there when it comes to lugging boosters when it’s your turn for the carpool). Now, integrated booster seats are available in some Volvo models and the Dodge Journey, making it easier – and safer – to ensure your child is properly positioned in her booster.

2017 GMC Acadia Rear Seat Reminder

Rear-seat reminder

“GM includes the rear-seat reminder in all of their cars, and there are several other vehicles, like the 2018 Nissan Pathfinder, that have added it,” says Reiss, who lives in Connecticut with her family, including a teenage daughter. As the name implies, the system is designed to alert you that you might have left something in the back seat – whether that’s your groceries, your purse or your child. The vehicle notes if you’ve opened and closed the rear door with a dash light, along with a soft ping noise to let you know, “Hey, did you leave anything back there?”

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Interior

All about hybrids

As part of the 2017 Pacifica redesign, Chrysler came out with a hybrid model. “There’s no compromise as far as your passenger seating or cargo space with the hybrid,” says Capo, who lives in Rochester Hills with her family, including her 17-year-old daughter. “The vehicle gets 84 miles to the gallon; 33 miles on the electric charge.”

Aftermarket Accessories

Not ready to invest in a new ride? With these products you can still pack your car with convenient add-ons and safety features.

Car vacuum cleaner

Cleanups are quick and easy if you’ve got this bad boy handy. The HOTOR DC 12-volt wet/dry portable handheld auto vacuum cleaner – with carry bar – includes plenty of attachments for hard-to-reach places. $31.88 on Amazon.

Phone mount

A car voice-activated system might be nice, but you can create your own using your smartphone and a mount system. The best-selling Mpow cell phone holder is inexpensive and easy to install. $8.69 on Amazon.

Travel tray

Soup up your existing car seat, and keep messes to a minimum, with Travel Tray. The circular tray includes a spot for drinks and snacks like apple slices, crackers or dry cereal. Fits cup holders of most car seats. In 11 colors. $14.99 at traveltray.us.

Portable jump starter

You never know when you might need to jump your car’s battery – and no one else is around. This lithium jump starter portable power bank from Winplus can power up your car or other gadgets – it includes two USB ports. $59.99 at Costco.

Overhead TV screens

Overhead and behind-the-seat screens are available from several large electronic stores and retailers – like this XO Vision 12.2-inch widescreen overhead model with built-in DVD player. $88.77 at Walmart.

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