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AAA Highlights Top Cars

There are lots of factors to consider when buying a car for your family. The folks at the American Automobile Association hope to steer parents in the right direction with their new list of top cars for families. The American Automobile Association's Robert Sinclair talks about four of the top 12 vehicles.

The AAA's list was released in late March and includes 12 cars in four categories. In a visit to The Early Show, he spoke about one car from each category. The group considered a variety of factors when choosing the best cars for families.

"The primary consideration is safety," Sinclair said. "We also considered convenience, economy features, space and of course, cupholders!"

In addition to original cost and resale value, economy features include gas mileage, maintenance records and servicing requirements - how many miles before the car needs a tune-up? When examining safety features, the AAA looked beyond standard features to find those specifically aimed at protecting kids. Sinclair gives a thumbs up to cars that are easy to fit with a booster seat, come with an optional booster seat and have the LATCH system - three sturdy metal rings/tethers that can be used to anchor a car seat.

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"More than 2,000 kids - we're talking kids under 15 - are killed each year because they are not properly restrained," Sinclair said.

HONDA ACCORD
Robert's favorite features: Lap/shoulder seat belts come standard in all seat positions, allowing parents to secure even an older child riding in a booster seat in the middle of the backseat, generally the car's safest spot.
Also, smart air bags. This means the bags expand in proportion to the force of the crash. A small fender bender won't result in a fully-deployed air bag.

Also good to know: The Honda receives high crash-test ratings. And the Honda comes in a wide range of prices. Of the three sedans AAA choose, the Accord models offer the cheapest and most expensive options for buyers. But even the low-end models come with important safety features.

Basic stats:
Price: $15,500 - $25,300
Gas mileage: 20 miles a gallon (mpg) in the city and 32 mpg on the highway
Tune-up: needed after 105,000 miles
Accords hold their value well which means a great resale price.

ACURA MDX

Robert's favorite features: It's an SUV with decent gas mileage, 17-23 mpg. The average SUV gets 10 or 11 mpg.

The Acura also has all-wheel drive. "This is good for stability, keeping you on the road, which is an important consideration when choosing an SUV," Sinclair said. "It makes for better cornering, braking, the whole deal."

Also good to know: The SUV has smart air bags, the LATCH system and a third row of seats that easily collapses for more hauling space. Although this last item does create a lot of room in the back of the car, Robert believes station wagons tend to have more usable space. The storage/hauling space in an SUV is often tall, but not deep. For instance, it's hard to fit a TV into the back of many SUVs. Station wagons however, offer a deeper, wider cargo space.

Basic stats:
Price: $34,700
Gas mileage: 17-23 mpg
Tune-up: needed after 100,000 miles
The Acura has some nice luxury features such as heated front seats, an eight-way power driver's seat, audio controls on the steering wheel and a deep center console.

VOLVO V70
Robert's favorite features: "Three words about the Volvo - safety, safety, safety," he said. It has lots of air bags. "It's like being in a giant pillow when they inflate," he says. The wagon's seats are specially designed to prevent "submarining," slipping out from under the seat belts in a severe crash. It's also equipped with headrests in the back seat to help prevent whiplash.

Also good to know: The Volvo has an optional built-in booster seat and a rear compartment that expands to more than 71 cubic feet. "You can haul a lot without sacrificing fuel economy, as opposed to most SUVs," Robert said.

Basic stats:
Price: $30,025 - $36,425
Gas mileage: 20-28 mpg
Tune-up: standard warranty of four years or 50,000 miles

TOYOTA SIENNA
Robert's favorite features: Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and smart brakes. "The VSC system is always monitoring your path of travel and steering wheel position and if it detects something strange, it will trigger the brakes," Robert explained. "The bottom line is that it keeps you under control."

The Toyota also has smart brakes which monitors the force with which you depress the brake pedal. "If it detects that you are in panic mode," Robert said, "It will take over electronically to quickly, forcefully use the brakes." The smart brake response is faster and stronger than a human response.

Also good to know: Kids will love the optional VHS entertainment system that comes with a flip-down screen, remote control and jacks for video-game systems.

Basic stats:
Price: $24,415 - $28,522
Gas mileage: 19-24 mpg
Tune-up: warranty of three years or 36,000 miles
The Toyota's maintenance costs are lower than average and resale value is quite high.

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