Things continue to get better and better for drivers with mobility challenges. Certain technology features can be a godsend for people with mild-to-moderate mobility issues; someone who is stiff-necked from arthritis, for example, will appreciate a rearview camera, since it can reduce the need for a driver to turn his neck during rearward maneuvers. Features such as this used to be seen exclusively in expensive luxury models, but these days, they're available even in budget-priced alternatives. We've also seen the recent launch of the first purpose-built mobility vehicle, designed to facilitate wheelchair-bound drivers.
Full-size sedans are longstanding favorites for those with mobility challenges. They've got big door openings that make life easier for those who have difficulty with the bending required to get in and out of a vehicle. Their huge cabins are spacious enough to facilitate comfortable seating, and many also offer trunks that are roomy enough to easily swallow wheelchairs and mobility scooters. The Ford Taurus is a true full-size all-star, brimming with standard features, and offering an enormously capacious interior and a very comfortable ride. Another solid choice is the Chevrolet Impala, on the strength of its optional front bench seat, which can make it easier for wheelchair users to position themselves behind the wheel.
Those in the market for a midsize or compact four-door will likely be impressed with the Toyota Prius. This hatchback sedan boasts a spacious cabin, along with amenities that can be welcome allies to those with mobility issues. There's keyless start, for example, which eliminates the need for the key-turning that can be arduous for those with stiff wrists; and there's low-effort steering. The icing on top is the Prius' hybrid frugality, with EPA ratings of 51 city/48 highway mpg.
Though minivans and full-size vans are the most popular picks for conversion-minded shoppers, more and more of these shoppers are turning to wagons and SUVs. These vehicles offer the roominess that's a must-have for wheelchair users, teamed with a smaller footprint (relative to vans) that enhances maneuverability. A top pick in this segment is the Honda Element, which comes with wide-opening and wheelchair-friendly clamshell doors.
Another worthy choice is the Scion xB. It's fuel-efficient and can be outfitted with a rear-deploying ramp that makes it easier for wheelchair users to enter and exit the vehicle in standard parking spaces. It's also got more flair than your standard cookie-cutter conversion van, with statement-making sheet metal and lots of customization options. Keep in mind, though, that its low height may make it a poor fit for taller wheelchair users.
New on the market, the VPG MV-1 SUV is the first vehicle purpose-built for the mobility market. It's loaded with a host of mobility features, including a sturdy ramp and an antislip floor.
Full-size vans offer more headroom than any other type of vehicle on the market, which makes them excellent choices for taller wheelchair users. The class leader in this segment is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which delivers relatively nimble handling, unparalleled interior room and superb fuel economy. Ford's Transit Connect — a compact work van — is also worth a look, offering lots of interior space within a relatively small footprint. One downside, though, is acceleration from the Transit Connect's modest engine; it's weak in certain situations, though the trade-off for this lack of power is excellent fuel economy.
As far as minivans go, you won't go wrong with the Toyota Sienna, whose strong points include a powerful V6, roomy accommodations and available all-wheel drive. The Sienna is also available with a factory-installed rotating lift seat to accommodate mobility-challenged passengers. Known as the Auto Access seat, it rotates almost 90 degrees to extend from the vehicle, and is capable of being lowered to within 19 inches of the ground. Aftermarket seats can sometimes clash with the décor of the cabin; this isn't a problem with the factory-installed Auto Access seat, which is indistinguishable from other seats in the minivan.