Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000

Chrysler 200 a pretty and practical car for the modern family, and gets writer Kathy Renwald’s vote for best new family car under $30K.

Chrysler 200 a pretty and practical car for the modern family

A homogenized group competes in this category, with no wacky wild card among the three pretty traditional family cars.

But tradition gets some tremendous tweaking in the Chrysler 200, and I picked it number one for its sleek exterior, V6 engine, luxury cabin and ahead-of-the-pack styling.

Chrysler 200 ($27,995 base, $29,995 as tested)

Inside, the hard work of the fashion and function police at Chrysler shows up in rich-to-the-touch surfaces on the steering wheel, armrests and the excellent seats. A rotary dial shifter — yes, like the one in the über-thousand dollar Jaguars — clears clutter from the centre console. A bigger-than-most 8.4-inch touchscreen houses the Uconnect info hub, and is so easy to use that it could be tagged “senior friendly.”

With the 3.6-litre V6 producing 295 horsepower, the 200 was quieter on the highway, frisky to drive and had better steering and handling than the 4-cylinder competitors in the category, but logically it gets the worst fuel economy of the bunch. The new 9-speed automatic transmission makes the days of the 4-speed auto seem medieval.

Family shoppers should note that the Euro-swoopy styling of the Chrysler 200 means the inattentive risk banging their heads on the roof when getting in the back seat, and leg swinging room on entry and exit to the back is tighter than the competition. A rare styling miscue is on display on the instruments in front of the driver: the tach and speedo are rimmed in a garish slot-machine blue, and the plastic cover is too shiny.

Overall, the Chrysler 200 executes a new stylish standard for the family hauler and fits it with common-sense features, like the clever sensor that wouldn’t let me close the trunk because it knew the keys were in the pocket of the jacket I was trying to stow.

It’s a pretty and practical car for the modern family.

Subaru Legacy ($23,495 base, $28,995 as tested)

The Subaru Legacy fought hard to be number one in Family Under, but seemed diminished next to the big-kilowatt star power of the Chrysler 200. I picked it number two. In a side-by-side comparison with the Chrysler 200, inside and outside the Legacy is as exciting as a pair of coveralls. When the designers at Subaru finally put down their T-squares and draw a car with some curves, then we can talk.

Subaru Legacy Test Fest

Beyond design doldrums at Subie, there are lots of good things in Legacy-land. The standard all-wheel-drive, the excellent bolstered seats, the quiet cabin, and the feeling that the car is solid and in control. Safety features are abundant, and nannies such as lane departure work well without being intrusive. The CVT operates smoothly and delivers the best fuel economy of the bunch, but sometimes 174 horsepower just leaves the Legacy feeling short of breath. All those straight lines and right angles do make the cabin feel more spacious than the Chrysler 200.

Toyota Camry XSE ($23,850 base $29,890 as tested)

The everyman styling of the Toyota Camry gets a poke of personality in 2015 with a new heavy metal grille at the front and more rounded rear end. Inside, my Test Fest tester had ultrasuede seats and red-stitched highlights on upholstery and the dash. Ultimately I liked the form-fitting seats of the Legacy better, and preferred its handling, ride and quieter cabin to the Camry’s. Ergonomics in the Camry are excellent, and big dials for audio and climate are welcome. Overall, not enough for a home run in this group.

Toyota Camry XSE Test Fest

  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
  • Test Fest: Best new family car under $30,000
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