Family-friendly car features topped by Toyota Entune, BMW's head-up display
Most parents willingly admit that they need all the help they can get, whether that's from the grandparents or a smartphone. While test-driving 2013 and 2014 cars this year, I found that these family-friendly features make life in the car a whole lot easier. Here they are in no particular order:
Toyota's Entune to the rescue
After scrambling to find the tickets, pack the snacks and make sure my toddler's favorite books are in the car, I'm often running 10 minutes late and have no idea how to get to where I'm going. Toyota's Entune system in the 2013 Camry kept me on time and stress free this year by letting me do a Bing internet search first on my smartphone and then providing a simple "Sync to Vehicle" button that saved the location and made it available as soon as I got into the car. Now that's an easy button.
Head-up display is what's up
With all the information a parent is processing while driving, it's a relief to know that (some of) it can be streamlined and displayed in front of you. The head-up display in several cars, including the 2014 BMW 328i Gran Turismo I tested this year, was convenient, especially when using the navigation system. With speed, directions and sometimes even radio presets projected in the driver's line of vision, I never had to take my eyes off the road to look at another screen, especially that tempting smartphone.
Out of sight, out of mind
With kids in tow, there's a lot you've got to haul around for those just-in-case moments, and then you still need room for the grocery run or Home Depot haul. Under-floor storage compartments like those in the 2013 Acura TSX Sport Wagon (photo above) keep all the in-car necessities stashed away. The 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport's compartments even accommodated a 20-pound bag of cat litter, which I was grateful to have stowed away from my fresh produce.
Eyes in the back of your head
Maybe I'd never be caught dead driving a minivan, but I can't deny their awesomeness. There are a few things I'd love to see make the leap from minivans to smaller cars — in-car vacuum, anyone? Now you don't need to be a minivan owner to get a handy conversation mirror. The 2013 Honda CR-V (photo above) features one. How else are we supposed to know when our kids have squirted an applesauce squeeze pouch on the back of the front passenger seat?
No more running on empty
This may seem extraneous to some, but as one who tends to test the limits of fuel economy, knowing that Mercedes-Benz' Comand system, which I tested in the 2014 CLA250, and Hyundai's navigation system found in the 2013 Genesis, among others, can help me find nearby gas stations when it knows I'm low on fuel is handy. It's a time saver, and I'll take any help in that department.