Which family car is both safe and smartly designed?This is the question that drives Kristin Varela, a mother of two who writes automotive reviews from a mom's perspective. Varela devotes two weeks to testing every vehicle she covers, posting her sharp, peppy assessments on her Web site, T+L Family joined Varela for a ride to find out what to look for in the family wheels.

Best Family Drive 2005
"The Chrysler Pacifica [; from $25,345]. It's safe, gets great mileage for an SUV, and has minivan-like seating—though rear visibility is poor, so spring for the backup detection system. Second choice is the Volvo XC90 [; from $35,640]. My kids love the pop-up boosters, headphone outlets, and toy container. The Toyota Sienna [; from $23,425]— a minivan with rear windows that actually roll down and built-in sunshades—is another favorite."

Buyer's Checklist
"A car should have low step-in height for women and children, an adjustable steering wheel and foot pedals, a third row that unfolds with ease, simple LATCH connectors for child seats (not ones hidden in the seat crack), and rear climate controls so kids can cool down or warm up in a flash."

Down the Road
"I'd like to see sliding doors on all cars (they're so much easier in tight parking situations), seat-side refrigerators, and a built-in vacuum to get rid of all those kids' crumbs." —INTERVIEWED BY ROBERT MANIACI