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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. For those facing a mild to moderate mobility challenge, carmakers have responded with a range of thoughtfully engineered solutions. 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. Features such as this used to be available only in pricey premium models, but these days, they're widely available. Evaluating the usefulness of features like this is just a matter of considering your own limitations in a thoughtful way.
The Toyota Avalon has long been a favorite with mobility-challenged drivers, on the strength of its smooth ride and roomy cabin. A 2013 redesign makes the sedan even more appealing in all the ways that matter most to shoppers in this segment. Though the car's footprint has decreased in size, a wider range of seat adjustments and more efficient sunroof packaging make its cabin more spacious than before. It also boasts a bigger trunk, which is good news for drivers who need a place to stow a mobility scooter. Comfort has remained a top priority, so if you've been a fan of the Toyota Avalon's serene ride quality, you won't be disappointed.
Though it's most famous for its hybrid-style fuel frugality, the Toyota Prius is a car with more than one trick up its sleeve. The generous dimensions of its cabin allow it to seat passengers in comfort, and its large cargo area is more than up to the challenge of accommodating mobility equipment. The Prius also boasts a number of amenities that are well-suited for drivers with certain mobility challenges. Its low-effort steering is useful for those with limited upper-body strength. And since twisting a key in an ignition can be painful for those with arthritis, the keyless ignition of the Prius is a real asset, since the engine starts with the mere push of a button.
If you rely on a wheelchair for mobility, you know that there are advantages that come with owning a car with a front bench seat. The wide, flat design of these seats makes it easier for wheelchair users to enter and exit the vehicle. There was a time when front bench seats were a common feature on large sedans, but in recent years, many manufacturers have abandoned this option. As such, the 2013 Chevrolet Impala's available front bench seats make it among the last of a dying breed. Other Impala perks include a gigantic trunk and unruffled ride quality. The Chevrolet Impala is set to be redesigned for 2014, and unfortunately the bench-seat option will be discontinued.
It's easy to see why the Toyota Prius V is a top pick in the mobility segment. This wagon boasts class-leading fuel economy, to the tune of an EPA-rated 44 city/40 highway mpg. Its cabin is as quiet as a Buddhist temple, offering a tranquil haven from the noise of traffic. Ride quality is such that bumps and road imperfections are magnanimously forgiven, which is valuable if you have a back or shoulder condition that is exacerbated by rough travels. There's also a tremendous amount of versatility on tap; the Prius V's 34.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity is enough to welcome a mobility scooter with room to spare.
The first thing you notice about the Scion xB is its boxy, edgy style, and these square, upright proportions help create a roomy cabin that is of value to those who rely on wheelchairs for mobility. For this reason, the xB has emerged as a popular choice for mobility conversions, though its low roof height relative to that of a minivan makes it a poor bet for taller wheelchair users. The xB can be equipped with a rear-deploying ramp that makes entry and exit a breeze even in tight parking spaces, and numerous customization options allow drivers to add a personal touch.
Obviously, it's possible to convert a van or minivan to meet the needs of wheelchair users, but for a long time, there hasn't been a choice available for those who want a van that's purpose-built for the mobility market. That changed with the launch of the VPG MV-1, which has been built from the ground up with mobility-challenged drivers in mind. Its amenities include anti-slip flooring and a ramp for easy access. Best of all, its assertive, stylish sheet metal makes this a genuinely handsome vehicle. If you want a conversion vehicle but balk at the idea of driving a mommy-friendly minivan, the MV-1 is the pick for you.
Minivans make good conversion vehicles because they offer lots of cabin space and relatively decent fuel economy. Within this segment, the Toyota Sienna is a standout, displaying competence in all areas and distinguishing itself as the only model in its class to offer all-wheel drive. Its V6 delivers spirited acceleration, and the minivan comes with a useful feature for those with mobility challenges: the Auto Access lift seat. This seat facilitates ingress and egress by rotating almost 90 degrees to extend from the van, and it's capable of being lowered to within 19 inches of the ground.
If you're a wheelchair user who's on the taller side of the spectrum, headroom can become a major concern, and there are no vehicles on the market that offer more of this valuable resource than full-size vans. Unfortunately, this segment is largely marked by vehicles that present poor fuel economy and awkward handling, but the one exception to this rule is the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. The Sprinter feels nimbler than its upright posture suggests and offers mileage that's significantly better than that of its Ford and GM rivals. Buyers also get gargantuan interior capacity and superb Mercedes-Benz craftsmanship.
Ford's Transit Connect was designed with small-business owners in mind, but it boasts attributes that make it a solid choice within the mobility segment as well. The van offers abundant interior room, which is contained in a surprisingly small footprint that helps make this vehicle an easily maneuverable companion on congested city streets. Its tall, boxy shape is space-efficient, with the kind of ample headroom that makes it a good fit for wheelchair users. With just 136 horsepower, its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine doesn't exactly make for neck-snapping acceleration, but on the plus side, the power plant delivers fuel economy that's strong for the segment.