It's life-changing news: Your kid has just had a kid. Now — and for the rest of your life — you're Gramps, Grandma, Grandpa, Old Man or Nana. What vehicle befits you, the 21st-century grandparent?
It depends. Grandparenthood today is anything but sedentary. You may be the designated adventure scout, hauling the family's hang gliders up to the top of hills. Or you could be the social director, rounding up the scattered grandkids and taking them to the movies so their parents can have the night off. Maybe you're one of those grandparents who is determined to pass along a love of fishing. Or perhaps you'd rather spend every weekend whipping the grandprogeny at Call of Duty.
There are certain automotive requirements for your new role, however you view it. These include accommodations for a child's car seat and room enough to carry a stroller and other equipment needed to keep the tykes safe and clean. But your new car, truck or SUV should also be a vehicle that you love to drive. Ideally, it'll make you almost as happy as the grandkids do.
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The Sports-Obsessed Grandparent: 2016 Honda Pilot
Crossover SUVs are the default vehicle for family hauling. The trick is to get one that's pleasant to drive every day, even when it's not stuffed full of hockey gear, football pads and half of an AYSO soccer team. The current Honda Pilot, new for 2016, manages that neat trick by combining a large, versatile, up-to-eight-passenger cabin with rewarding handling and a responsive 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine.
For the sports-obsessed grandparent, the Pilot can be ordered in versions ranging from two-wheel drive with rugged cloth upholstery up to the Elite with leather, all-wheel drive and every tech toy imagined by Honda's engineers. Still, the killer app here is the 83.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the second- and third-row seats folded down; that's enough for the entire team's equipment and incidentals. And with Honda's well-deserved high resale value, it's among the least expensive large crossovers to own. List prices start at $30,145 and peak at more than $46,000.
The Handy Grandparent: 2016 GMC Canyon
Some grandparents never met a house, yard, cabin or treehouse that they couldn't fix or refurbish. They're the go-to people for the DIY lists that busy families generate but find hard to complete. The right truck for them is a midsize pickup like the 2016 GMC Canyon. Even better, for luxury-oriented buyers: the upcoming 2017 GMC Canyon Denali.
Big trucks are great, but they often don't fit in garages, can be a hassle to park and deliver huge capabilities that are beyond what's necessary for light family duties. The smaller Canyon fits in almost anywhere, drives with ease and composure, and will still work hard with its full ladder frame. The crew cab models also have room for a passel of kids along with the tools of every trade.
The Canyon is available with a wide range of options, including four-wheel drive and a new 2.8-liter turbocharged diesel engine optimized for light towing. But it's the 2017 Canyon Denali, introduced at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, that is unique in this class. It's a fully equipped luxury pickup with all the flash and technology a savvy grandparent could ask for. Standard is a 305-hp, 3.6-liter V6 that's among the best driving companions available in any truck, no matter the size or segment.
The 2017 GMC Canyon Denali goes on sale in late 2016, and pricing is still pending. The less flashy but still very capable 2016 GMC Canyon crew cab has an MSRP of $25,705. The price rises with options, of course.
The Convertible Grandparent: 2016 Buick Cascada
Show up top-down in a convertible on the right spring day, and every grandchild is suddenly fighting to be your favorite. A convertible is fun in the sun, and it sure isn't the family SUV. Buick's new Cascada is a keenly priced, very comfortable, four-seat drop top that doesn't sacrifice practicality for sunshine.
Based on the Verano sedan and built in Germany by General Motors' Opel division, the Cascada is powered by a 200-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers mellow performance with excellent fuel mileage. It's backed by a standard six-speed automatic transmission. The top itself is an old-school fabric construction that is power-operated via a single button. It can be flopped down while the car is moving at up to 31 mph.
A base model Cascada has an MSRP of $33,065. That puts it among the most affordable convertibles with four usable seats currently on the market.
The Unforgettable Grandparent: 2016 Chevrolet Corvette
Just because there's a third generation coming up behind you doesn't mean your life has to be boring. And showing up to take a grandkid (singular) for a ride in a new Corvette is guaranteed to produce a lifetime memory.
The current Corvette Stingray marks the seventh generation of the legendary fiberglass-bodied sports car. Enthusiasts call it the "C7," and virtually all of them would agree that this is the most versatile, easiest to live with and overall fastest version of the car ever. Available as a hatchback coupe or a downright glamorous convertible, the Corvette is the star of its own show wherever it goes, and there's actually room inside for some stuff besides the two occupants.
For the grandparent who needs to move multiple munchkins, the 'Vette is, admittedly, an impractical choice. But this thing will rock your grandkid's world. And yours, too, of course.
The base engine is a 6.2-liter V8 rated at 455 hp. A gratifying seven-speed manual transmission is available, but the eight-speed automatic works exceptionally well, with imperceptible degradation in ultimate performance. If that's not enough, go for the Z06 model with its 650-hp supercharged version of the V8.
With a starting MSRP of $55,400, Corvettes aren't cheap. But your grandkid's memories of riding with you will be priceless.
The Avant-Garde Grandparent: 2015 Tesla Model S
Sleek, stylish and all-electric, the Tesla Model S sedan is the leading edge of automotive technology. It delivers an extraordinary driving experience, is almost eerily silent and scary quick, and every element of its being has been engineered to be slightly beyond anyone's expectations.
Among the many things that make the Model S unique among electric cars is the fact that it's genuinely large, with plenty of room for two grandparents and three grandkids. Shoot, with the optional rear-facing third-row jump seats specified, you can fit another pair of kids in the way back. The enormous 17-inch touchscreen at the center of the dash invites exploration of the car's technology, which the young ones are bound to find mesmerizing. And the advanced autopilot features mean that the car will compensate — somewhat — for the driver distractions that come with hauling children.
Prices for a Model S start at $69,900 but escalate quickly. You may be able to take advantage of federal and state tax credits.
The Lots-of-Grandkids Grandparent: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
Chrysler invented the modern minivan back in the 1980s, and for some new grandparents, the minivan is still the ultimate family transportation module. With the 2017 Pacifica, Chrysler has reimagined the minivan as a stylish machine for the 21st century. The 2017 Pacifica goes on sale in spring 2016, while an innovative gas-electric plug-in hybrid goes on sale in the second half of the year.
The Pacifica replaces the Town & Country in Chrysler's line and shares practically nothing with it. The structure is all new, and the interior promises to be exceptionally flexible, with accommodations for up to eight or a floor flat enough to fit a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood. But it's the Pacifica's suite of technology (widescreen video displays, integrated vacuum system and second-row seats that stow down into the floor) that will mark you as the future-forward grandparent.
The Let's-Hit-the-Road Grandparent: 2016 Chevrolet Suburban
Every day is an adventure for some grandparents: They restlessly take the youngsters to a state park one weekend, a national park the next and New York's Park Avenue the week after that. They need a vehicle that's accommodating, rugged and built for self-guided touring. The Chevrolet Suburban is all of those things.
Sharing much of its structure and strength with GM's full-size pickups, the Suburban is a big three-row SUV that can carry up to nine people in shockingly spacious comfort. Beyond that, there's plenty of room for stuff, and when properly equipped the Suburban can tow up to 8,300 pounds of toys. Available with two- or four-wheel drive, all Suburbans are powered by GM's latest "L83" direct-injection 5.3-liter V8 rated at 355 hp. Buyers often purchase a Suburban as a tow vehicle and then find it's nimble enough to drive every day, despite its massive body stretched over a long 130-inch wheelbase. MSRP begins at $49,700.
If the sheer size of the Suburban is a touch intimidating, new grandparents could consider its littler (but far from little) brother, the 2016 Chevrolet Tahoe. There's always some far-off place to go, and it's tough to think of a better vehicle for getting there.
The Glamorous Grandparent: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class
You don't need to hide your success from the grandkids. And there's no car that exudes success in a more dignified, elegant and restrained way than the upcoming 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan.
When the new E300 arrives this summer, it will be powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine rated at 241 hp, with a flurry of other power plants soon to follow, including diesels, hybrids and AMG performance variants. All-wheel drive will also be on the menu. Slightly larger than the outgoing E-Class, the new one adopts many of the signature styling elements established by the larger S-Class and smaller C-Class. But of the three, the E may well be the best-looking.
The new E-Class is a luxury sedan that discerning grandparents will want to wait for. Prices should start around $54,000.
Don't want to wait? Mercedes dealers may still have 2016 E-Class models in stock. Then again, there's always BMW's 5 Series. Or the Audi A6, Jaguar XF or Lexus GS. At this level, all these cars have their attractions.
The Airstream-Hauling Grandparent: 2016 Ford F-350 Super Duty
Some grandparents like to bring along something like the 28-foot-long Airstream Land Yacht travel trailer. This is the sort of trailer that can sleep five, is more indulgently luxurious than a Ritz-Carlton and needs a big, capable truck to haul it. The Ford F-350 Super Duty fills the bill.
Many truck fans know that a new Super Duty is on its way for 2017. And that new 2017 Ford F-350 Super Duty will use a new body built from military-grade aluminum, just like its lighter-duty brother, the F-150. Should you hold out for the new truck, or get a deal on the outgoing model?
It's a tough choice. The current Super Duty trucks (F-250, F-350 and F-450) are all available with Ford's fantastically capable Power Stroke 6.7-liter turbodiesel V8, which makes a solid 440 hp and a monstrous 860 pound-feet of torque. It's an engine that endows the Super Duties with the pulling power of a black hole.
The Super Duty options list is nearly endless, and finding the truck that perfectly meets your needs at the right price will present challenges. We should all have such problems. Base MSRP is $33,280, but you can nearly double that if you go for all the trimmings.
The Eco-Conscious Grandparent: 2016 Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius hybrid has a reputation for being environmentally virtuous, which is a real plus for the right kind of buyer. And the all-new 2016 Prius is a vastly better vehicle than any Prius before it.
Built atop a brand-new structure, the new Prius bears only a vague resemblance to the previous version. The roof is more peaked, the side windows are taller and the rump rides up high. There are funky bits here and there that make the new Prius look decidedly spacey, but that's likely what many buyers want. For the engineering-minded grandparent, the headline is that there are revisions to the drivetrain, including a new Atkinson-cycle 1.8-liter gasoline engine paired with an electric motor that's slightly smaller than before, but significantly more efficient. The result is 121 total hp.
Thanks to improved low-end torque production and a better-tuned suspension, the 2016 Prius is more rewarding to drive as well. And it remains exceptionally versatile, with its five-door hatchback body ready to accommodate not just people but surfboards, snowboards and keyboards. Toyota lists the base price for the basic Prius Two hatchback at $24,200. A new "Eco" model shaves off some weight and increases fuel economy slightly for $500 more. At the top of the range is the Four Touring model at $30,000.