Driving used to be fun and filled with dreams of sports cars, muscle cars, classic relics, sleek lines and convertibles. Back then, it was all about open headers, through-flow mufflers and pure power. Who cared about miles per gallon? Then life mandated practical buys of spacious family-sized vans, compact economy cars and go-through-anything SUVs.
Whether we are retired and have time to travel or we're still commuting to a job, our older selves have other priorities when it comes to choosing a vehicle. It isn't easy to climb in and out of low car seats or scale the heights of a massive monster truck. Bucket seats are only fine when they fit; manual clutches are too much stress on aging hips; and rear seats are only useful when they have their own egress.
Baby boomers grew up around cars. But the senior driver needs to consider comfort, economy, convenience, use and need. Luckily for today's seniors, there is a large assortment of vehicles to match different tastes with style, features and amenities.
Based on customer surveys and satisfaction, consider the following new and used cars:
--2014 Chevrolet Impala. User-friendly controls, forward collision monitoring* (*select models), lane departure warning*, blind spot monitoring* and good fuel economy.
--2011-14 Chrysler 300. Rear-wheel drive, Chrysler's Uconnect 8.4-inch touch-screen system, electronic safety gear, available forward-collision alert and blind spot monitoring, and optional all-wheel drive.
--2013 GMC Acadia. A crossover for up to eight passengers, a lower step-in height, 17 city miles per gallon city and 24 highway miles per gallon, front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive, a second-row bench or a pair of captain's chairs, and a third-row bench that can fold.
--2008-14 Honda Accord. Plenty of driver room, improved fuel economy, standard backup camera, and (EX-L models) standard forward-collision and lane departure warning systems.
--2011-14 Honda Odyssey. An easy-access minivan with wide and comfortable seats. It gets 21 miles per gallon overall and drives like a smaller sedan. The 2014 model offers improved crash protection, and there's a forward-collision warning system on EX-L and higher models.
--2013 Hyundai Genesis. A four-door, five-passenger sedan with a 333-horsepower V-6 engine, ultrasonic parking sensors, a backup camera, leather seats and automatic climate control. Optional premium package includes navigation, a glass sunroof, a power rear sunshade and rain-sensing wipers.
--2014 Kia Soul. Practical for mature drivers, with chair-height seats, big doors, a heated steering wheel and ventilated seats. It's inexpensive and fuel-efficient.
--2004-2015 Lexus RX. A midsize SUV with a responsive V-6 engine. It gets 18-26 miles per gallon and has a roomy rear seat, and there's an available hybrid model.
--2013 Ram 1500. A pickup truck with ample space for five or six passengers. It comes with standard stability control and brake assist, six standard air bags, a 305-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and an eight-speed transmission. It gets 18 city miles per gallon and 25 highway miles per gallon. Two V-8s are available, a two-wheel drive 1500 SLT Crew Cab and a four-door 1500 Laramie.
--2009-15 Subaru Forester. Easy access, great outward visibility, easy-to-use controls, all-wheel drive and good fuel efficiency. Newer models offer Subaru's EyeSight suite of safety features.
--2005-12 Toyota Avalon. Fuel-efficient and reliable, with optional stability control (standard after 2009).
--2007-14 Toyota Camry. Smaller than the Avalon but offers many of the same attributes, easy access and good visibility. There is a fuel-efficient Camry Hybrid. (Note: The 2014 Camry is not included in all recommendations.)
--2004-14 Toyota Highlander. An SUV with easy access. It's comfortable to drive. And the redesigned 2014 Highlander has a standard backup camera.
Many retirees look forward to traveling the country in an RV. RVs can offer the convenience of bringing a guaranteed bed and a dine-in kitchen, which is useful for both the budget and special diets; they also avoid the need for packing and unpacking at every stop. RV campgrounds usually offer amenities (e.g., a pool, tennis courts and a golf course) and community activities. Dropping in to visit relatives is easy when the visitors bring their own guest room.
Decide what your needs are before buying an RV. Do you want a large RV equipped with a bathroom and kitchen, or would you feel comfortable in a large van? Pop-up campers are small, close to roughing it and easy to tow with a personal vehicle. Large motor homes restrict parking and mean you have to move the "house" to drive anywhere.
Whatever you buy, a car or an RV, check out the fit and cost and weigh them against your individual needs.