Technology can be a dear friend to drivers with mild-to-moderate mobility challenges. For example, even if your mobility issue is simply a stiff neck from arthritis, a rearview camera can make driving more comfortable, since it can reduce the need for you to twist your head around during rearward maneuvers. Features such as this used to be available only in pricey premium models, but these days, they're widely available; you'll find them even in economy-priced alternatives. Evaluating the usefulness of these features is just a matter of considering your own limitations in a thoughtful way. For those with serious mobility issues, it's good to know that the usual vehicle conversions have been supplemented by the launch of the first purpose-built mobility vehicle designed to accommodate wheelchair-bound drivers.
Mobility-challenged drivers have a longstanding love affair with full-size sedans, and with good reason. These four-doors have the huge door openings that can make life a whole lot easier if ingress and egress is either painful or simply difficult. Seating is comfortable in their roomy cabins, and many offer trunks that are large enough to accommodate mobility gear such as wheelchairs and scooters.
The Ford Taurus is one of this segment's standouts, offering a smooth ride, a gorgeous cabin and a long list of standard amenities. Its cabin is roomy and its trunk is one of the largest in the sedan world. A front bench seat can make it easier for wheelchair users to position themselves behind the wheel, and this feature is available in the Chevrolet Impala . The Impala also boasts a roomy trunk and a strong engine.
If you're looking for a model in the midsize or compact segment, you'll find a lot to love in the Toyota Prius. In addition to offering abundant passenger and cargo room, it's full of features that support those with mobility issues. For example, there's low-effort steering, which makes turning the wheel easier for drivers with compromised upper-body strength. There's also keyless start, which eliminates the need for the key-turning that can be painful for those with stiff wrists. As if all this weren't enough, the Prius also offers peerless fuel economy, with EPA ratings of 51 city/48 highway mpg, which means less frequent fill-up hassles at the gas station.
Most shoppers with mobility conversion in mind turn to minivans and full-size vans, but wagons and SUVs are becoming more popular choices. These vehicles offer the roominess that's a must-have for wheelchair users, and they're more maneuverable than vans, since they have a smaller footprint. One of the top picks in the segment is the Toyota Prius V; it features all the user-friendly amenities found in the Prius hatchback, along with greater cargo and passenger room.
The Scion xB is also a strong bet. Its edgy styling evokes more flair than you'll find in the typical conversion van; this Scion presents bold sheet metal and tons of customization options. On a more practical note, the xB can be equipped with a rear-deploying ramp that makes it easier for wheelchair users to enter and exit the vehicle in standard parking spaces. Keep in mind, though, that its low roof height may make it a poor fit for taller wheelchair users.
Another worthy choice is the VPG MV-1 SUV, which bears the distinction of being the first vehicle purpose-built for the mobility market. It comes decked with a full complement of useful mobility features, including a sturdy ramp and an anti-slip floor.
Of all vehicle categories, full-size vans offer the most headroom, and as such, they're well suited for taller wheelchair users. The best pick in this segment is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, a tall glass of water that boasts nimble handling, unmatched interior capacity and strong fuel economy. If you're looking for something more compact, there's Ford's Transit Connect. This small work van delivers lots of interior space within a relatively small footprint. One downside, though, is acceleration from the Transit Connect's modest engine power; it's weak in certain situations, though the trade-off for this lack of power is excellent fuel economy.
The Toyota Sienna is a forerunner on the minivan front, with strengths that include a powerful V6, roomy accommodations and available all-wheel drive. Best of all, the Sienna is 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.