I have a friend who swears she will put it in her wedding vows that she will never, ever drive a minivan. In fact, if her future husband even suggests it, the marriage is off and she gets everything. I personally think she is brilliant, fantastic, incredible… Oh okay, it’s me. You can judge. It’s fine. And as long as we’re being honest here, I’ll admit, I am currently single and childless. (Perhaps this is because I want to put a no-minivan, no-touching-the-radio-stations-in-my-car clause in my vows. My mother seems to think so.) No matter, I have an army of mami friends and I regularly judge their fleet of vehicles as we sit in traffic with their kids screaming about whatever kids scream about and I turn up the radio to drown them out.  Yup, I’m that friend.  But I have my good points.  For one, I insist that my friends join me for drinks and girls getaways on a regular basis.  And, if they want to take turns driving on these escapades, I also insist that we ride with at least a modicum of style.

And so, after hours of driving with kids on highways and hiding from kids in driveways, I have compiled a list of vehicles I won’t swear off in my vows.

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Best SUV • Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  • An SUV that’s not too big, not too small.  It fits a party of seven…all the gear that comes with it.  The trunk space measures 10.3 cubic feet when the third row is up and in use (so you can fit five kids and still have room for a full-sized stroller and still have room for beach bags/sports gear).  If you fold down the third row, you gain 42 cubic feet (four strollers, with space for groceries).  And if you kick everyone out and fold down all back seats, you have 94 cubic feet of space to fit a mega shopping haul, an entire yard’s worth of flowers, 24 cases of wine, or to put it in mami terms, 9 full-sized strollers, with room to spare!
  • A Navigation system is available on the base model.
  • The Highlander was the first hybrid SUV available in North America (it came out in 2005 and they are still leading the way in 2011).
  • The ride is smooth and quiet (even when all else is chaotic and loud).

Best Hatchback • Toyota Prius

  • Comfortable and spacious, the Prius is roomy from the front seat to the surprisingly large trunk (21.7 cubic feet with the rear seat up) it comes standard with Toyota’s Star Safety System.
  • Environmentally sound and wallet friendly at 50 mpg.
  • And it’s celebrity approved by everyone from Cameron Diaz to Natalie Portman to Demi Moore…if you care about that sorta thing.

Best Wagon • Volvo XC70  

  • Volvo has always been the leader in safety and security, which is evident in the XC70’s side armbags, dual chamber side airbags (that’s 8 airbags total), and enhanced vision on curvy roads (a technology that bends the headlights ahead of the curve in the road as you turn the wheel, illuminating your path).
  • Designed with parents in mind, including features like integrated booster seats (standard) and an impressive DVD system (optional, but recommended).
  • The navigation system is un-paralleled (we tested it out by getting impossibly lost numerous times).

Best Sedan • Ford Taurus

  • Earned “Top Safety Pick” from Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  • All the benefits of a large sedan, but with a surprisingly smooth drive.
  • Budget friendly, with the lowest starting price in its class.
  • This is not your grandmother’s Taurus (unless you have a very hip and chic Nana);  the new design is sleek and stylish.

Best Minivan • See Below
Listen, I just can’t do it.  So I called upon the fabulous Carmen Wong Ulrich, ardent fan of the minivan, for her list of picks.

Carmen Wong Ulrich is a renowned personal finance expert, former host of CNBC’s On the Money, a bestselling author, a regular contributor to the Dr. Oz Show, iVillage, Glamour magazine…need we go on?  We do!  Because the best part about Carmen is that she’s a fantastically cool mami.  When we asked her for a list of Family Friendly Cars, she was driving from one interview to another (how fitting) and she still came up with a detailed list within 24-hours. And with a minivan leading the charge!  She’s just too cool to care. Here’s what she had to say:

Best Minivan • Honda Odyssey
Considering that my mami owned the first generation Honda minivan (oh, the adventures), I have officially come full circle.  This space-ship-like machine is fully redesigned for 2011, and it shows.  With a Mars Needs Moms-style cockpit, the Odyssey has the best interior design in its class with wide-mode seats in the second row allowing for three—count ‘em—three child car seats or boosters, not to mention still-easy access to the third row.  And welcome to the minivan for the mami who likes to drive.  The Odyssey feels more sedan-like and sporty on a drive than other models and that goes a long way with this sport-car-lovin mami.  Need I mention that it also will give you a good feeling at the gas pump?  The Odyssey has the highest fuel economy in its class.  Rocket on.

Best Large Crossover • Ford Flex
I admit however, that the Odyssey is best for those who shuttle masses—more than two kids (such as mi hermano with his house of six).  Me, my numbers are lower, so I’d pick the funky Ford Flex for my brood.  First off, watch the dark colors.  This boxy disco-machine can look hearse-like in black, but in other colors, you’ll just look like the coolest mami on the block.  The interior is retro and fresh, with its heavy stitched seats, a refrigerated console to keep those juice boxes cold, and the boxy shape means super-high headroom and space to move around.  Another plus, is the handling.  I parallel parked this baby half a dozen times in the narrow streets of NYC with absolutely no problems with sight lines or steering—it was a breeze.  That’s something you cannot say for many/most crossovers.  Parking a Flex is like parking a small sedan.  Breezy.  Valuable aside:  Spend a bit more for more power.  Without the eco-boost V-6 twin turbo edition, merging onto the highway can be too putt-putt.  The V-6 makes this Flex really flex its muscles.

Best Family Sedan • Hyundai Sonata
Oh yeah.  I said it.  A Hyundai.  This brand should win the Has Come the Farthest Award.  Eons higher in quality than the horrid, shaky, money-sucker my college roommate had many years ago, Hyundai is now cranking out some of the sharpest, best-driving cars in their class.  Echoing Mercedes styling, the Sonata has you saying as it floats by, “Was that a…?”  Who doesn’t like great style for a low price?  You’ll also get the most standard features for the money and the longest warranty and roadside assistance in its class.  And we know if there’s something mamis need, it’s excellent assistance.  Have fun shopping this model because the Sonata also has a hybrid and turbo version for both green-mamis and lead-footed ones too. (Guilty).

Best Luxury Crossover • Audi Q5
Oh Audi.  How I love you so.  You are the Prada to my nada for sure.  Design?  Gorgeous.  Styling?  Sleek and never-dated, inside and out.  I’ve always been an Audi fan; they continue to pump out fantastic competition in their class, and the Q5 does not disappoint.  The Q5 is the equivalent of wearing the sharpest, most stylish suit, all around town.  But this diva is not surface-only.  Her handling can take you from soccer to groceries to playdates to work and home as fast, smooth and sharp as The Transporter or Iron Man (both Audi drivers).  The Q5’s all-wheel drive always offers more security, especially if you live in colder climes near spotty, sometimes dangerous weather.  (Or, you just live in a state with noted crazy-drivers that have you on the defensive.)  Yes, it’s big and has a 4-cylinder turbo, but it still offers great fuel efficiency.  And keep in mind, Audi as a brand has one of the best resale values out there.  Maybe not an investment per se, but definitely not The Depreciator.

Best Small Hatchback •  Mazda 3 Sport
My first car was my dad’s hand-me-down Mazda GLC Sport.  Hence, hatchbacks and Mazdas have another little piece of my heart.  With extra trunk space, hatches are great for families of two to four who need high mileage under the hood of a small package.  The Mazda 3 Sport is a super fun, young, cool option for mamis in the city or any place with slim parking-pickings.  I had a great time zipping around in a 3, with the manual/stick version, though the automatic holds it’s own.  Let’s get really girly and talk colors—the picks are amazing and fun.  Eggplant purple, manicure-red… No one will mistake you for a wallflower!