Four great cars for back-to-school 2013

Back-to-school season is also a great time to consider a new car because a new model year in the fall brings big discounts on the outgoing models. Here are some top picks for back-to-school vehicles, for every stage of your child's education.

Danny Moloshok/Reuters/File
The 2013 Ford Flex is seen at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles in 2011. With its roomy interior, wealth of entertainment options, and high safety rating, the Flex is the ideal vehicle for carting around a group of elementary school children.

It's finally that time of year--when schoolgoers of all ages get very sad, when parents breathe a sigh of relief.

It's time to go back to school, and the kids are almost set: tablets, new sneakers, a sweet backpack. 

Wait, did you forget something? How about a new set of wheels? School time is a great time to consider a new car, because a new model year brings bigger discounts on the outgoing models. Never mind that; it's the perfect chance to show off in the pickup lane.

While you make one last back-to-school shopping list--cars to test-drive--we'll let you share our notes. We've picked our top choices for back-to-school vehicles, for every stage of education, from kindergarten to passing the bar. And in each case, we've picked some of the safest, most value-packed vehicles you can buy.

Elementary School: 2014 Ford Flex

You need something that makes the wheels go round and round with maximum safety, a minimum of fuss, and the most entertainment per mile. How about something that actually looks like a bus? The top-rated Ford Flex wagon is stuffed with its DVD entertainment systems, Bluetooth streaming, and excellent crash-test scores. The only thing missing? Maybe a coat of school-bus yellow paint.

2014 Dodge Grand Caravan

Middle School: 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan

Life's sloppy years force parents to think more practically when it comes to cars. What you really need to endure the early teen years and their overscheduled pace is a Dodge Grand Caravan. Base-priced from just about $20,000, you can spec out one of these minivans in the mid-$25,000 range and get Stow 'N Go seating, Bluetooth streaming audio, a reasonable amount of power and safety features, and save some bank for UConnect's in-car 3G data service so every passenger can log into wifi and email their homework ahead of class. We're sure that actually happens, somewhere.

2013 Honda Civic Coupe 2-door Auto EX Side Exterior View

High School: 2014 Honda Civic Coupe

If your high schooler is lucky enough to have earned a car, you want it to be safe. They want it not to be the social equivalent of leprosy. A nice compromise is the Honda Civic Coupe, which isn't too fast, and not unattractive. It's an excellent choice for safety and gas mileage, too--and it's likely to still be running when the next kid needs to inherit it.

College: 2014 Subaru BRZ

Since college is really just high school with an expense budget, some of the choices overlap. For the undergrad with a reputation to enhance--and the parents with a righteous amount of anxiety--something like a Subaru BRZ sends the right signals. The BRZ's a great choice, good-looking and trackable right out of the dealer box, but with Subaru's typically excellent safety ratings.

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