This year I am going to be 48 years old, a Gen X’er pushing hard on the gas and racing toward membership eligibility in the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). By 2020, having followed all of the Baby Boomers to the mid-century mark, I most certainly will not be the only overweight and gray-haired driver on American roads, with failing vision (thanks genetics), constant shoulder pain (thanks weight lifting), and diminished hearing (thanks Journey and Prince).
Already, according to the most recent statistics by the U.S. Department of Transportation, 93.5 million of the nation’s licensed drivers were over the age of 50 in 2013, amounting to 44.1 percent of all licensed drivers in America. The numbers are rising, and fast. Today, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), 10,000 drivers turn 65 every single day. This is why the number of elderly drivers, defined as those folks over the age of 60, is expected to increase 77 percent by 2045.
Data from the AAA also indicates that a whopping 90 percent of drivers over the age of 65 suffer health-related issues that can negatively affect their driving skills. Yet, according to AAA research, just 10 percent of older drivers own a vehicle that can help make them safer drivers through increased comfort levels and helpful safety technologies.
To assist this population of drivers in finding the right vehicle for their life stage, the AAA has partnered with the University of Florida Institute for Mobility, Activity and Participation to create a vehicle finder tool. It appears, however, that the tool is flawed. For example, a search for vehicles appropriate for people with limited leg strength and range of motion, or folks who experience hip and leg pain, brings up the Nissan Armada and the Nissan Titan, two types of vehicles (big SUVs and pickup trucks) that the AAA specifically recommends that older drivers avoid.
Broken tools and conflicting advice is exactly why AutoWeb is going to tell you which 2015 model-year vehicles are the best for older drivers. Before we get to our recommendations, let’s outline certain assumptions:
1.) You are either on or are planning to be on a fixed income and don’t have lots of money to spend. We’ll keep the base prices of the cars on our list below $30,000, including the destination charge.
2.) You want something safe in case you get into an accident. Each of the vehicles on our list earns both a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
3.) You’re not interested in stooping to get into a car, or working hard to lift yourself out. That means you need a vehicle that sits high enough off the ground to make life easier, but not so high that life gets more difficult.
4.) You are not about to shift your own gears. An automatic transmission (or equivalent) is a requirement.
5.) Winter sucks. Driving in snow is dangerous. Having something with all-wheel drive (AWD) helps if you still haven’t packed up and moved to Florida or Arizona.
In consideration of these factors, we recommend the following vehicles that are available for less than $30,000 when equipped with AWD, including the dealership’s destination charge (listed in alphabetical order):
2015 Buick Encore
Buick is selling far more Encores than it expected to. Perhaps the aging driver populace data discussed above helps to shed some light on this small crossover SUV’s popularity. Affordable but with upscale looks and features, the Encore is easy to get into and out of, and it offers both good gas mileage and decent cargo space. Prices start at $26,490 when equipped with AWD.
2015 Chevrolet Trax
Figuring that if the Encore is so popular, why not sell more of ‘em by lowering the price and slapping on a Chevy badge, General Motors introduced the new Trax for the 2015 model year. It’s just like the Buick Encore, right down to the turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but with different styling, equipment, and details. You can get a Chevy Trax with AWD for as little as $22,495.
2015 Ford Fusion
If a four-door sedan is more your speed, a 2015 Fusion SE with AWD starts at $29,150, and it comes with a powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Though the Fusion sits lower to the ground than a crossover SUV, both front seats include power height adjustment with the SE trim level, making it easier to position them for comfortable entry and exit. Skip the AWD system, and you can get the Fusion as a fuel-efficient hybrid model for well under 30 grand.
2016 Mazda CX-5
Mazda is already selling the 2016 model-year CX-5, the updated version of the company’s popular compact crossover SUV. This year’s upgrades are related to driving dynamics, comfort, ease of use, technological advancement, and overall refinement and sophistication levels. Fuel economy is improved, too. Despite the list of enhancements, the CX-5 remains a good value, starting at $25,325 with AWD.
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander
If you happen to live near a healthy Mitsubishi dealership, and you don’t mind gambling on whether the company will remain viable in the U.S. market, the Mitsubishi Outlander is worth consideration. It comes with a terrific warranty, and great deals are almost always available, Prices start at $27,045, mainly because you need to upgrade to SE trim to get AWD. Avoid the GT model’s thirsty V6 engine.
2015 Subaru Forester
One of three Subaru crossover SUVs to make our list, and for very good reason, the Forester includes standard AWD, gets impressive fuel economy, and provides nearly as much ground clearance as a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Prices are affordable, starting at just over $24,000, and Subaru offers highly rated safety technologies for the Forester. With that said, if you do upgrade to the optional navigation system, prepare for some serious levels of frustration.
2015 Subaru Legacy
One of the largest midsize sedans in terms of interior space, the Legacy starts at $22,790 and includes both AWD and a manual driver’s seat height adjuster that makes entry and exit much easier. Upgrade to the Limited model for a height-adjustable front passenger’s seat, and when loaded with all of the extras, a Legacy 2.5i costs just over $30,000. Best of all, at that price it has the latest safety technologies as well as Subaru’s new, and easier to use, infotainment system.
2015 Subaru Outback
Take one Subaru Legacy, turn it into a station wagon, raise the suspension, install a few SUV design cues, and you’ve got the popular Subaru Outback, which starts at $26,045. Like the Legacy, AWD is standard. Unlike the Legacy, loading up on extras pushes the price tag well over 30 grand. We’re big fans of this model: Be sure to read our review of the 2015 Outback.
2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek
Take the same recipe used to create the Subaru Outback, apply it to a Subaru Impreza five-Door hatchback, and you’ve got the XV Crosstrek, a small and affordable crossover SUV thingamajig. All-wheel drive is standard, but in order to ditch the manual gearbox for a continuously variable transmission (CVT), an upgrade to Premium trim is required, and that runs $24,145. Don’t get talked into a hybrid version, either, as the increase in gas mileage doesn’t justify the extra cost.
2015 Toyota RAV4
The trick to buying a safe version of the 2015 Toyota RAV4 is to get one that was built on or after December 1, 2014. That’s because Toyota made running production changes to the crossover SUV that produced a significant improvement in crash-test ratings. Toyota is going to upgrade the RAV4 again for 2016, including the addition of a new hybrid model, so it ought to be easy to get discounts on the leftover 2015 models. They start at $25,965 with AWD.
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