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The ’70S-era Brady Bunch station wagon might be all but extinct, but families aren’t. And neither is the need to haul kids and gear. If you’re not interested in making the jump to an SUV, consider a variety of stylish crossovers—vehicles built on car rather than truck frames—that mix capacity with a smaller size.
With a slight nod to those old wagons, the Ford Flex has room for seven in a long and lean cabin, and the Flex’s more recent stylistic updates have put a tough-looking spin on the AWD version of the people hauler. And haul it does, with up to 365 horsepower of turbocharged oomph, though you’ll still get a passable 23 mpg in the process. Power folding seats, an optional second-row refrigerator, and the ever-improving MyFord Touch digital system round out the goods.
Not to be outdone, Dodge’s reinvented Durango has morphed into a sleek and sophisticated seven-passenger machine with some of the aggressive styling of its muscle-car cousins, the Challenger and Charger. But more than just tail-wide LED lamps and an optional slick paint job, the 2014 Durango also gets an eight-speed transmission that aids fuel economy. The Durango comes alive with an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, which provides a 7,400-pound towing capacity but saves gas through cylinder deactivation. Optional second-row captain’s chairs and new behind-the-headrest DVD screens add extra comfort for your crew.
And while we mostly associate Mazda with smaller sports cars, the company has a successful track record of producing one of the sportiest full-size crossovers, the seven-passenger CX-9. Recently updated, this long-running import favorite features third-row seats that are surprisingly comfortable for full-size adults, and its array of elite finishes makes it the flagship of the Mazda line. The new CX-9 rides on massive 20-inch wheels, and with its 273-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6, it may be outgunned a bit by its larger peers but offers what is probably the sportiest ride of the bunch. The CX-9’s distinctive inverted prow of a nose is part of a contemporary design package that’s evident inside with luxurious leather and a booming Bose stereo.
For other intriguing options in this category, consider the unusual Subaru Tribeca, the low and long Infiniti QX60, or the Toyota Highlander.
2014 Ford Flex
Base price » $29,015
Highway mpg » 23 (AWD)
Ski-car perks » Curve control and torque vectoring
2014 Dodge Durango
Base price » $29,995
Highway mpg » 24 (AWD, V-6)
Ski-car perks » Low-range AWD with Hemi engine
2014 Mazda CX-9
Base price » $29,985
Highway mpg » 22 (AWD)
Ski-car perks » Gigantic panoramic sunroof