What Family Car Fits Previous Generations, and What Fits the 21st Century Family?

What's today's family car? That's a good question...

Whether for the better or for the worse, the idea and practice of the American family is rapidly changing in the 21st Century.

The composition of the family has changed so much in the last decade alone, and this is reflected and imagined through the "family car."

We can all remember or imagine our idea of the family vehicle in the past. The "nuclear family," a term defining a two-parent household consisting of them and one or more children, is represented in our cultural past as the classic 50s or 60s station wagon.

Even into the 1980s this stereotype persists. Just watch national Lampoon's family vacation and you will see the car of choice for the suburban nuclear family. The Griswold's "Wagon Queen Family Truckster" was a modified 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire.

Ford Country Squire

The family road trip across America in the station wagon lives in our imagined past.

So if the station wagon represented the nuclear family into the 80s, then what vehicles aid in the imagination of the last few decades?

The 90s and early 2000s can be represented by the minivan. It was the Dodge Caravan, Ford Windstar, and Chrysler Town and Country which are the memories of my childhood.

Minivans were practical for larger families and load capacity. They were for soccer moms and dads taking their kids and their community's kids to activities.

family car

So here we are—current day—and we wonder what the family vehicle is for us.

The pure station wagon and the minivan may have waned in popularity, but there are still station wagons and minivans on the road. This highlights that the values haven't completely been abandoned either.

The family vehicles of the 21st Century family are the Honda CR-V and the Subaru Outback. I give honorable mention to most crossovers, but these two are my top two picks.

They have been picked by a few publications as the family car of choice for 2017 due to their safety features, fuel economy, durability, and family friendly available options. However they are my picks because of their meaning.

2017 Honda CR-V

They are sporty SUVs that embody the spirit of the changing family. They are both modern station wagon/minivan hybrids, thus carrying the remodeled meanings of both popular prior family vehicles.

Both also capture the spirit of the global identity, due to their manufacturer's origin. Both carry an identity of global consciousness. They are the vehicles of extended global networks.

While we may never be certain about where the American family ideal is headed, one thing is for sure...the family car will play a role in how we imagine the family.