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Today’s kids ride in comfort, with personal headphones for their music, and videos to keep them amused.

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The Best Family Cars of 2003

(ARA) - Many of us remember being crammed into the back of a crowded, hot station wagon when we were kids. Penned in by suitcases or grocery bags, you had to crouch down to avoid bumping your head, and often the only entertainment available was kicking your brother or counting the signs on the highway.

The family car has come a long way since then. Today’s kids ride in comfort, with personal headphones for their music, and videos to keep them amused. There are so many options and so many kinds of vehicles available now, that it’s difficult to know what’s best for your family.

There is help. MotorWeek, the critically acclaimed PBS weekly automotive magazine series, has some suggestions to help families evaluate cars on the market today. The annual MotorWeek Drivers’ Choice Awards are presented to the best vehicles in 12 categories selected by a team of 10 judges, including writers, producers and crew members from the show.

“Our team test drives more than 150 cars and trucks annually, and their decisions are based on superior performance, technology, practicality, style and dollar value,” says John Davis, executive producer and host of MotorWeek.

Here’s a preview of the 2003 winners, which will be featured online at www.pbs.org/motorweek:

Best Family Sedan: Saab 9-3

“This new Saab is yet another example of how mainline European manufacturers are discovering that they can build sedans that meet the needs of American families yet are still inspiring to drive,” says Davis. The car is more expensive than its domestic and Japanese competitors, but it comes with premium items such as leather upholstery, a power driver’s seat, traction control and a huge trunk.

Best Family Sport-Utility Vehicle: Ford Expedition

The team called this second generation Expedition “the new benchmark for full-size sport-utility vehicles.” This is the first SUV to offer an all-independent suspension system, which provides a smooth ride and easy cornering that is superior to most cars. It is also the first to have features like a power, folding third seat, side curtain airbags that can deploy in a rollover situation, and a stability system. “The Expedition is clearly the new king of big sport-utes,” says Davis.

Best Mid-size Sport-Utility Vehicle: Kia Sorento

This vehicle is comparable in size to the best selling SUVs; it has a strong V-6 engine, and is available with an effortless-to-operate, on-demand, four-wheel-drive system. Most desirable features like air conditioning and power windows are standard. The best news is the Kia costs about 30 percent less than a comparable SUV.

Best Small Sport-Utility Vehicle: Honda Element

“By thinking totally outside the proverbial SUV box, and clearly targeting young, active adults, Honda has delivered the most versatile little vehicle we’ve ever seen,” says Davis. The Element has clamshell side doors, a washable floor, and seats that fold down for sleeping and up for cargo. The team called this car “a motorized box for just about any need.” Adds Davis “This has got to be the sports enthusiast vehicle of the decade. The only problem is that some not-so-young adults will want one too.”

Best Pickup Truck: Dodge Ram

The experts found that American products are still “king” in the big truck categories. For the family that needs some hauling power, the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty offers the most powerful motor available in a big pickup truck. It also has a wide cab body, a well-designed interior, and attractive styling.

Best Eco-Friendly: Honda Civic

“If one of your requirements for a family car is being environmentally friendly, there is none greener than the Honda Civic,” says Davis. In a practical, spacious four-door sedan format, Honda offers two alternative fuel options: the Civic GX which runs on compressed natural gas, or the gasoline-electric powered Civic Hybrid. Even the gasoline-powered Civics are among the cleanest running cars on the planet, without compromising reliability or performance.

Best Small Car: Mini Cooper

MotorWeek experts found that the Mini Cooper is more fun to drive than most sports cars. Built by BMW, it can seat 6-footers comfortably, and for less than $20,000 can be outfitted with the most advanced safety features in the automotive world. “This little vehicle is not only packed with technology, it’s also hard to ignore ‘the cute factor,’” says Davis.

For more details and the complete list of Drivers’ Choice Award winners, visit www.pbs.org/motorweek. Airing on PBS and the Speed Channel, the weekly automotive magazine covers all aspects of the automotive industry and offers consumers unbiased, cutting-edge news and features covering new vehicle trends, current safety information, and the results of practical road tests. MotorWeek is nationally underwritten by eBay Motors and Pep Boys.

Courtesy of ARA Content

EDITOR'S NOTE: Since 1981, MotorWeek has been the trusted source for unbiased information, providing the first and last word on the automotive world. Hosted by John Davis, television's original automotive magazine offers comprehensive, cutting-edge news and features for consumers and enthusiasts alike.

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