These days there are more automotive options for mobility-challenged drivers than ever before, and a wide array of conversion-ready vans, minivans and SUVs for drivers using wheelchairs. As technology has trickled down, comfort and convenience features that were once available only on high-priced luxury cars are now being offered on vehicles with far more modest price tags. Many of these features can make life easier for those wrestling with conditions that cause mild to moderate mobility issues, such as arthritis.
Full-size sedans are a popular choice with mobility-challenged drivers, for a number of reasons. Many of these drivers have difficulty entering and exiting vehicles; it can also be challenging for them to find comfortable seating positions. With their large door openings and spacious cabins, large sedans are perfectly equipped to make these problems things of the past. Many of these sedans also feature huge trunks — a must-have for drivers who need to tote bulky mobility equipment. Additionally, a couple of sedans in the full-size segment offer front bench seats, which can make it much easier for wheelchair users to slide behind the wheel.
With a long list of standard features, stylish looks, a comfortable ride and a gigantic trunk, the Ford Taurus is one of the most appealing full-size sedans on the market. Another strong choice is the Hyundai Azera — it, too, offers lots of features and a large trunk, and its modest price tag makes it an exceptional value. Shoppers with a preference for front bench seats will find them in the Buick Lucerne and the Chevrolet Impala.
As far as compact and midsize sedans go, the Toyota Prius is a compelling pick. Its cabin is both roomy and versatile, and it offers lots of technology features that will be useful to those wrestling with arthritis. The joint stiffness caused by this condition can make maneuvers like twisting a key or manipulating a car's shifter difficult. In the Prius, instead of turning a key, drivers start the engine with the push of a button; also, the car's shifter is buttonless and easy to maneuver. And of course, with EPA ratings of 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway, the Prius offers the kind of outstanding mileage you'd expect from a hybrid. The Prius is affordably priced, but an even more frugal option is the Nissan Versa. For a starting price of around $10,000, you get a tall seating position, a spacious cabin and easy-to-use controls.
Mobility-challenged buyers with conversion on their mind turn to wagons and SUVs because they offer generous interior volume in a footprint that's smaller than that of a minivan or a full-size van; these vehicles also tend to deliver better fuel economy than their larger counterparts. As far as SUVs go, the spunky Honda Element is an excellent choice. Its wide-opening clamshell doors are wheelchair-friendly, and it also offers all-wheel drive to help facilitate travel on snowy roads.
The fuel-efficient Scion xB is a strong pick in the wagon segment. When converted, its ramp extends from the rear, which makes it simple to deploy in standard parking spaces. However, the xB's low height makes it a less-than-ideal choice for taller wheelchair users.
Their large size makes them thirsty at the pump and challenging to maneuver; still, full-size vans are excellent bets for certain mobility-challenged drivers. As the tallest vehicles on the market, these vans offer generous headroom — a plus for taller drivers in wheelchairs. The Dodge Sprinter is a standout in this segment, offering great ergonomics and decent fuel economy. Due to the acquisition of Chrysler by Fiat, the Mercedes-sourced Sprinter will no longer be available through Dodge dealers after model-year 2009, though Mercedes has pledged to continue selling the Sprinter through its commercial truck outlets.
A new entrant on the scene is the Ford Transit Connect. A compact work van, the Transit Connect offers a lot of interior room given its relatively diminutive dimensions. Its other assets include abundant high-tech options and excellent fuel economy. Keep in mind, though, that its small 138-hp engine causes it to feel taxed in certain driving situations.
With a minivan, you'll often get fuel-efficiency comparable to that of the Transit Connect, but in a more fun-to-drive package. Top choices like the Chrysler minivans — the Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Grand Caravan — offer enough interior volume to accommodate most drivers using wheelchairs, along with a host of useful features.
One such feature is Swivel 'n Go seating. These second-row seats pivot toward the doors in a way that makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit the vehicle, and can be helpful to those with mobility challenges. Shoppers in this segment will also want to take a look at the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna. Pleasant to drive and offering rock-solid reliability and build quality, these vehicles are longstanding conversion favorites.