Though many motorists would love to throw caution to the proverbial wind and pilot a hot-blooded muscle car or a low-slung roadster on a daily basis, real life and common sense usually intervenes, and most of us are forced to make more rational vehicular buying decisions. At its best, new-car shopping involves a series of deftly negotiated tradeoffs within one’s particular price range and preferred model segment made for the sake of sheer practicality.
By our standards that means picking a model that’s affordable, performs well, is sufficiently roomy, gets good fuel economy, and gets top marks for safety. If it can outrun our neighbor’s car from a stoplight or attract attention from the opposite sex at the supermarket parking lot, so much the better.
To that end we scoured assorted databases to highlight 15 of the most practical cars, crossovers, and minivans for the 2017 model year that meet all of the above criteria. We’re featuring each of them with specs and other pertinent information in the accompanying slideshow and video.
Each gets among the best fuel economy and affords the greatest cargo volumes within their respective vehicle classes, and all have been named a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That means they’ve received top marks in all of the IIHS’ crashworthiness tests, received “good” or “acceptable” ratings for headlight performance, and offer standard or optional frontal auto-braking systems that enable each model to avoid a crash or reduce speeds by at least 5 mph in either of two tests conducted at 12 and 25 mph.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the models in our list are hatchbacks or crossover SUVs, given that their tall-roofed designs and rear tailgates inherently afford expansive cargo capacity and easy loading and unloading. We skipped over pickup trucks and full-size SUVs in that they’re all essentially practical but their fuel economy is hardly worth noting. Small cars, and most midsize sedans for that matter, failed to make the cut given their comparatively limited cargo room, though the stellar fuel economy of the Honda Accord Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid models raised their profile considerably in terms of their overall practicality.
But the clear winner in our survey, the vehicle we’d nominate as being the most practical ride on the road for 2017 is the Chrysler Pacifica minivan. Though the segment still carries the insidious “soccer mom” stigma, minivans have long been the most sensible choices for growing families. They feature expansive interiors, flexible seating, family-minded features, and slide-open rear doors that makes belting children into their car seats in crowded parking far less of a chore. The Pacifica in particular affords a whopping maximum 140 cubic feet of cargo space thanks to Chrysler’s handy Stow ‘n’ Go seats in which both the second and third rows fold into the floor to create an enormous load floor (it’s probably large enough to fit a Smart fortwo microcar, should the need ever arise). The Pacifica is also offered in a fuel frugal plug-in hybrid model that can travel for the first 33 miles on a charge solely on battery power, though it’s far costlier at $41,995 versus starting at $28,595 for the standard V6-powered version.
While we’ve included a few gas/electric hybrid-powered models among our most practical picks for their unbeatable fuel economy ratings, be aware that some tend to sacrifice their hauling abilities a notch, with their self-charging battery packs encroaching onto cargo space (they’re usually located beneath the load floor). As an example, the hybrid version of the Toyota RAV4 compact crossover SUV provides around three cubic feet less cargo room than the conventionally powered model. It’s not much, but is worth noting. Similarly, while some of the models we cite offer optional all-wheel-drive systems for improved road-holding abilities on wet or snowy pavement, they tend to exact a premium both in price (usually around $2,000) and in lower fuel economy ratings (by one or two mpg).
The fine print: All fuel economy ratings come directly from the Environmental Protection Agency, with cargo volume data provided by the automakers. All models in our most practical list have received Top Safety Pick+ awards for their crashworthiness, headlamp performance, and the ability to apply the brakes autonomously (via either a standard or optional auto-braking system) to avoid or reduce the severity of front-end crashes. All MSRP (manufacturers’ suggested retail prices) are for base models and do not include destination charges, options, or related fees.