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Bankrate's 2007 New Car Guide
For women mostly
Women have become major players in the auto world and they're getting more respect.
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For women mostly
Top 5 family cars

Cars end up being second homes for busy families; so if you have kids your vehicle will need to have it all -- features that keep occupants safe, entertained, comfortable and, of course, headed in the right direction.

Multitasking moms are finding cars outfitted with technology never before seen: gadgets that provide directions, tools that enable them to safely talk on the phone, video systems with wireless headsets and the ability to watch the kids via mirrors and cameras.

"A lot of this is about helping women do everything they do," says Pam Scholder Ellen, an associate professor of marketing at Georgia State University in Atlanta. "For some women, their car is a means to accomplish many important jobs. All of the technology is there to allow the drivers to focus on what their primary job is -- which is driving the car."

Family cars
Select a vehicle:
Lexus RX 350:

This crossover gets a nod on Consumer Reports' list as well as from experts who like its luxurious interior, quiet ride and standard electronic stability control.

Base price $38,800
Source: Bankrate.com
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The minivan market is still a strong one, but there is backlash against the vehicles for being "incredibly dull and just boxes on wheels," says Jack Nerad, executive editorial director and executive market analyst with Kelley Blue Book. That's why crossover sport utility vehicles are growing in popularity -- they offer utility, economy and comfort but with a bit more style, he says.

Space is a key factor, from storage to seats. Cars like the Honda Pilot and new Buick Enclave can seat as many as eight or nine people with a lot of cargo space, Nerad says. Russ Rader, spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, agrees that the more popular SUVs are coming with three rows of seats instead of two.

If you're driving an SUV or minivan with three rows of seats, you'll want a vehicle with side curtain air bags. Rader says they usually provide protection for the heads of people in all three rows of seats, but other kinds of airbags don't always provide that.

When families look for a new vehicle, women are often the key decision makers and safety is always a top priority, says Rader.

The Institute provides a list of top safety picks that includes several family vehicles, chosen because of their performance in crash tests.

This year, the Institute required that vehicles on the list have electronic stability control, or ESC, which helps drivers avoid accidents. At this point, ESC comes standard in almost 90 percent of sport utility vehicles and in about 60 percent of cars.

"If you're buying a new vehicle, electronic stability control is a must-have feature. It's a feature most people haven't heard of but it's the most important safety feature since seat belts and airbags," Rader says.

-- Posted: Aug. 2, 2007
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