Fatherhood - it's just not that much fun if you're driving a generic midsize sedan with a soft ride and looks to match.   It's even worse if you're in a sluggish minivan.

But it's much better when you can drop off the kids at daycare and work out the stresses of parenting with meditative downshifting on the long, twisty back route to work.   It's much easier when you can periodically crack the kids up with a 0-to-60 run on an on-ramp that they don't need to tell Mom about.

You don't have to compromise driving thrills just because you have children.  Reasonably priced cars that will move a family of four in safety and hold a tight line in a white-knuckle turn are out there.  You just have to look a little beyond what you see in most suburban driveways.

Here's a selection of cars that will let Dad race his pulse now and then, while still getting the kids around safely.

Pontiac G8

MSRP: $28,250 - $37,610

The last Pontiac will roll off the lot sometime in late 2009.  It's a pity.  The brand that used to say it built excitement got it right the moment GM's troubles finally sent Pontiac over the edge.  The G8 is a triumph, and possibly the best American sedan.  Ever wanted a four-door car with a Corvette's engine?  Pontiac has your back.  It's been compared to a BMW 5-Series costing $20,000 more.  But the big V8 it borrowed from the 2008 Corvette Z06 leaves those BMWs in the dust, and the G8 offers a spacious cabin that is considered one of the best GM has ever built.  Get one while they last - they might even be cheap as the last days approach.

Current Pontiac G8 Deals: 0% APR financing for 60 months, or up to $4,000 cash back until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 Pontiac G8 using our new dealer quote tool

Ford Mustang

MSRP: $20,995 - $35,995

What are we doing putting a two-door muscle car on this list?  You can't move a family in one of those things, right?  Actually, the Mustang places at the top of its class for safety, and has one of the largest back seats of any sports coupe.  While the rear seat isn't quite suitable for teenagers, it's more than enough space for small children.  Ford's available SYNC infotainment system only adds to the equation.  The system lets you operate Bluetooth-enabled devices with voice commands, even reading text messages through the nav system.  It might not be as hard as you think to talk Mom into the Mustang - it just might be hard to wrestle the keys away from her.

Current Ford Mustang Deals: Up to $3,000 cash back until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 Ford Mustang using our new dealer quote tool.

 

Mazda CX-7

MSRP: $23,900 - $28,400

Still think you need the hauling capacity of a minivan or an SUV?  That doesn't condemn you to soggy driving dynamics.  Mazda's CX-7 outperforms a lot of sedans with brisk handling, while offering 29.9 cubic feet of cargo space (which expands to 58.6 with the seats down).  Available sure-footed all-wheel-drive seals the deal.  You've never enjoyed hauling the soccer team, and all of its gear, this much.

Current Mazda CX-7 Deals: 0% APR for 36 months plus $2,000 cash back until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 Mazda CX-7 using our new dealer quote tool.

 

Ford Flex

MSRP: $28,550 - $36,810

The Flex is the perfect vehicle for many guys.  It has most of the virtues of a minivan - space for your whole family and several of their friends, a comfortable ride and sedan-like handling.  But it looks much cooler, with SUV-like styling and an available contrasting-color roof that resembles a huge Mini.  And sometimes the coolest dad is the one with all the gadgets. The Flex has everything -- that SYNC system, two optional LCD screens in back, even an available built-in working refrigerator.  Who knew you could get all the family-friendliness of the dreaded minivan in a stylish package you'll enjoy driving?   

Current Ford Flex Deals: 0% APR financing for 60 months, or up to $3,000 cash back until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 Ford Flex using our new dealer quote tool.

Mazda6

MSRP: $18,550 - $28,260

Okay, fine, settle for a front-wheel-drive midsize, midpriced car if you must.  But get one that can hold its own with rear-wheel-drive sport sedans.  Mazda's all-new 6 is the sportiest family car out there, with handling balance you'd never expect to find in an ordinary family car.  The new sheetmetal is nothing to apologize for, either.  With lines borrowed from the RX-8, it's the sexiest family sedan on the market. 

Current Mazda6 Deals: 0% APR financing for 36 months plus $1,000 cash back until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 Mazda6 using our new dealer quote tool.

 

BMW 3-Series Wagon

MSRP: $35,400 - $37,400

The BMW 3-Series is often regarded as the benchmark driver's car.  It can't make this list, however, because once all of the performance options are added in, it easily exceeds the budgets of most dads.  Luckily, the wagon version costs thousands less than the sedan or coupe, and it shares many of the same performance characteristics and all of the same road-gripping handling.  It doesn't make any sense - ask for more hauling capacity, and BMW insists on charging you less.  But check the prices - it's true.  And sure, a wagon may strike some dads as being about as masculine as a man-purse...but keep in mind, the coolest dad by far is the one with nothing to compensate for. 

Current BMW 3-Series Wagon Deals: 2.9% APR financing for 36 months until 6/30/09. Get free, competing car price quotes on a 2009 BMW 3-Series Wagon using our new dealer quote tool.

 

Worth Waiting For: 2010 Ford Taurus SHO

MRSP: Not yet announced

We'll throw in one you might want to wait a few months for. The greatest dad car of all time was born by accident in the late 1980s.  Legend has it that Ford cancelled a planned sports car, but was left with thousands of units of a new high-powered engine built by Yamaha for the new car.  So a pair of Ford engineers, Mike Klein and Will Johnston, pulling all-nighters fueled by New Coke and a mean boombox, made that engine fit in the bay of Ford's ordinary midsize car.  They threw in a stick shift, and the Super High Output Taurus, a family car with a vicious secret under the hood, was born. It's been out of production for a decade. But it's coming back.

In late summer, an all-new Taurus will appear.  With sharper lines than any sedan Ford has put out in a long time and an interior that melds family sedan and sports car, it's going to be a nice ride.  And it's going to have an SHO model, this time with a twin-turbo V6 that posts a nearly flat torque curve.  Everyone in the automotive press is unreasonably excited that the SHO is back.  It's perfect for guys who need a dad-mobile but know what a torque curve is, and what kind of secrets a nearly flat one can hold. 

Current Ford Taurus SHO Deals:  It's not even out yet, much less discounted. It's just way too cool to leave off our list.