Newlyweds: Jeep Wrangler
Young, newly married couples can afford to stay in la-la land — for a few years at least, until mortgages and children come due. What better vehicle than a Jeep Wrangler, a car that Consumer Reports constantly bashes for sucking gas and keeping its passengers at risk? The “throw the doors off” attitude of a Wrangler echoes youthful buffoonery better than a 30-rack of cheap beer. But with one of the highest residual values of any new car, a Wrangler is actually a sound investment.
Couples with dogs: Subaru Outback
While some automakers pander to dog-loving couples with cheery commercials, Subaru means every last word of its ads. Whether it’s offering dealer adoption events or allowing dogs on test drives, Subaru gives us some faith in advertising. A high-riding, no-frills station wagon, the Outback sits lower than most crossovers, making it easier for pooches to jump in and out. There’s also enough room inside for big pups to stand up. It’s priced right and is reliable and unpretentious, so you’ll never care if it gets filthy.
Outdoorsy couples: Honda Pilot
Automakers love using the marketing phrase “active lifestylers” to describe this set, which assumes that anyone who doesn’t surf, ski or climb mountains every weekend is a walking corpse. Labels aside, there are people who make beaches and national parks part of their routine exercise, and a small SUV isn’t going to fit their needs. But the midsize Honda Pilot crossover lives to serve, whether you’re stuffing its cavernous interior full of gear or towing up to 4,500 pounds, and it does it all with refinement and comfort that defy its blocky, tough stance.
Baby-bound parents: Volvo S60 T5
Volvo introduced the world’s first rear-facing child seats, childproof locks and a booster cushion long before governments required them and safety became a vogue slogan. Heck, Volvo even invented the seat belt. The Volvo S60 T5, with standard auto braking and a class-leading crash score from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, may be boring in base trim, but it’s a competent, impeccably strong car. Forgo the pricey engine and appearance options and you can get one cheaper than a BMW 3-Series.
Dad’s weekend toy: Porsche 911
While mom might disagree, dad works hard and deserves to play on his time off. A Porsche 911 serves up the best thrills this side of a Ferrari 458, but without that car’s ludicrous maintenance costs and shaky reliability. This is a practical semi-exotic that can satisfy the inner racing driver and carry the little ones on trips, thanks to its usable back seat and cargo space. Gas mileage is great compared with other high-end sports cars.
Responsible teenagers: Chevrolet Cruze
Do teenagers really deserve brand-new cars? Their emotional instability and propensity for risky behavior mean mom and dad will probably be hit with a nice, fat insurance premium. But if parents think their teens are ready, there’s the $16,000 Chevrolet Cruze. It’s the safe-and-sound choice, with 10 standard airbags, OnStar monitoring and impressive quality and fuel economy.