Good Vehicles For Seniors and The Rest of Us

Car critic Bill Griffith reviews cars for the elderly that are both comfortable to drive and easy to get in and out of.

EASY ACCESS: This Honda CR-V is one of 10 cars that are easy to get into, which is especially good for transporting seniors with medical issues
EASY ACCESS: This Honda CR-V is one of 10 cars that are easy to get into, which is especially good for transporting seniors with medical issues –HONDA

Agnes, our neighbor in Florida this winter, is the primary caregiver for both her 95-year-old mother and a married couple who are longtime friends and neighbors.

Part of each day is spent driving her charges to medical and other appointments. She’s thinking of trading in her present crossover, a Subaru XV Crosstrek, and asked for suggestions of some vehicles that might be easier for her patients’ access and egress. Of course, if a vehicle is easy for someone with mobility issues to enter and exit, it’s easier for everyone else, too.

After searching the topic online, you find plenty of lists that are aimed at senior drivers—but not their passengers—and the recommendations are heavy on driving aids such as blind spot warning, cross-traffic alert, number of airbags, visibility, and the like.

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Aggie says, “What I want is something that’s comfortable for me to drive and also easy for my people to get in and out of.’’

A lot of the lists she’s found tout low thresholds for doors. Unfortunately, a lot of those cars also have low seats that make it really almost impossible for some seniors to up from by themselves.

That brings up the somewhat delicate topic of “butt height.’’

If you’re able to turn your back to the seat and can easily sit on it, that makes for easier in-and-out. So does good head height and the ability to step into the vehicle. Thus our list pretty much is limited to crossovers, SUVs, and vans.

Of course, passengers come in all shapes and sizes, as do vehicles. For Agnes, we also gave consideration to ease of storage for canes, walkers, and wheelchairs.

It’s a tough question without easy answers.

Perhaps the easiest answer would be a conversion van—a Honda Odyssey or Chrysler Town & Country converted with a wheelchair ramp—but Aggie’s clients are independent enough to want to move from chair to car on their own.

With that in mind, and apologies to all who make Top 10 lists, here is a list that quickly came to my mind. (Aside to readers: Feel free to email with more suggestions for this list. The topic is important enough to be worth adding to in future columns.)

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Mazda5: A true “mini’’ van. Its small size makes it easy to fit into parking spaces. Sliding doors and adjustable second-row captains chairs give passengers room to maneuver themselves.

Ford Transit Connect Wagon: We see a lot of these set up as tradesman’s vans, but the passenger version can do a workmanlike job in its own right, with dual sliding doors and good legroom and cargo space.

Subaru Forester: It doesn’t have sliding side doors, but the rear seats sit up high, thanks to the crossover’s boxy shape. That makes it easier for passengers to enter and exit and gives room in back to stow gear.

Honda HR-V: We got a preview of Honda’s subcompact SUV this winter. Rear seat access for the physically challenged is surprisingly good for such a small vehicle, but not as ample as in the larger CR-V. Still, it’s worth a look for its versatility.

Honda CR-V: It’s at the top of the compact SUV lists for a reason. For our purposes, rear seat space and the reclining feature of the rear seats put it on this list.

Toyota RAV4: The rear seat is a bit low, but it reclines, and there’s lots of legroom. It merits a close look as we say to “try it out for size.’’

Nissan Rogue: The vehicle we’d really like to put in here is the Nissan NV200 van; unfortunately, the only way to get it in passenger livery is with the taxi package. That vehicle is easy to step into and offers tons of head and legroom. Nevertheless, the Rogue is a good Nissan substitute. Rear seats have nine inches of back-and-forth adjustment for added legroom, and they also recline.

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Kia Soul: Kia has managed to put lots of personality and edginess into a car with boxy styling. Dress it up one way and you can make it a “clown car,’’ as one neighbor claims; however, you have to fit all those clowns—or a patient or two—someplace and there’s plenty of room back here.

Scion xB: My friend Nuno Rei has had two of these and praises them as being the Thomas the Tank Engine of little boxy cars—flexible and with plenty of room to carry things and easy for seniors to “hop in and out.’’ In other words, really useful.

Toyota Venza: Our friends Helen and Ken drive an older version and cargo space is abundant, especially for Vixey, their world-class German shepherd. So why is this a good choice for the mobility challenged? It’s relatively high doors, a low step-in height, and lots of legroom. And, oh yes, the rear seats recline.

Additions to this list are welcome at the email address below.

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