Selecting a new family car is a big decision. Not only is it a significant purchase, but it also significantly impacts your and your kids’ comfort and safety while on the road. Add to that the numerous car options on the market, and it’s enough to make your head spin. Which is why we’re helping you navigate this tricky road. Here’s what to look for when shopping around, and which vehicles made our list of the best family cars out there. In our book, safety always comes first—so every car here scored a 5 star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the highest ranking there is.
What to Look for in Family Cars
The best family cars are the ones that best meet your specific needs—so a natural starting place is to pinpoint exactly what you want out of your vehicle. If you're just starting a family, you'll want to look at the best cars for babies; if you're already a rowdy crowd, you might want to look at large family SUVs. Consider how many kids you have, how old they are and what kind of activities they’re into. Will you be hauling sports equipment around? Do you end up driving everybody everywhere along with their best friends? Do you take a lot of road trips, where having kid-friendly entertainment options are must-have sanity-savers?
Here's a quick checklist of what to keep in mind as you browse the best family cars available:
· Size · Price · Comfort (in both the back seat and front) · Trunk space · Entertainment and connectivity options · Safety ratings · Safety features
Family car safety features
Safety features may appear last on the features list, but they’re one of the most critical criteria to consider. After all, what’s more important than the safety and wellbeing of your children? Good news: Family cars are safer than they've ever been before, and they just keep getting better. Here are some of the modern safety features to look into when shopping for family cars:
· Car seat support. Most cars make it fairly easy to get car seats in and out, but if you still multiple young kids at home, you'll want to know how many car seats can fit in one row. Most cars made after 2002 come with the built-in LATCH system for easy car seat install.
· Back seat reminder. We're all busy, and we all get distracted. To avoid ever forgetting your kids in the car, look for a vehicle with an audio reminder to check the back seat when you reach your destination.
· Collision warning. These come in various forms, but they’ll alert you when you're too close to someone in front of you or moving in too quickly. Some will even automatically apply the brakes. They work not just for other cars, but also for pedestrians who are crossing in front of you.
· Blind spot monitoring. This one is literally a lifesaver. We all check our side mirrors before changing lanes or making that turn, but now the mirrors have warning lights that tell you when someone's in your blind spot.
· Parking sensors. Especially helpful for city drivers, these sensors let you know when you're getting too close to other vehicles, shopping carts or anything else above a certain height.
· Lane-change assist. When you start to slip out of your lane but your turn signal isn't on, this will gently turn your steering wheel back and alert you.
· Adaptive cruise control. Thanks to this feature, you can set the maximum speed for cruise control, and your car will speed up or slow down to keep pace with the car in front of you. It’s especially helpful in stop-and-go traffic.
· Rear vision cameras. When you're in reverse, you get a live image of what's behind you, with grid lines to help you keep a safe distance from other objects. There are also 360-degree cameras, which provide a virtual 360-degree view around your car, helping you navigate tight spaces.
Best Family SUVs and Crossovers
Need room for your growing brood? SUVs and crossovers will serve you well, with loads of cabin and cargo space and flexible seating options.
Hands-down one of the best family cars around. This SUV features one of the highest cargo volumes for a three-row, mid-size SUV—a godsend, given that it’s near impossible to travel light with little kids. Parents will appreciate the wide seats (so a car seat won’t crowd), air vents in the ceiling (to keep rear passengers cool), and a pass-through between the second-row bucket seats to access the rear bench seat (which saves you a lot of effort when loading up the family). As if there wasn’t enough space already, an additional hidden rear storage compartment under the floor lets you stash even more gear. Certain models include a hands-free liftgate, so when your hands are full (and when are they not?), you don’t have to drop everything to open the back.
Callout safety features: Standard safety technology in the Traverse includes a rear-seat reminder that prompts drivers to double-check the back seat for kids and pets, as well as a rearview camera and the Teen Driver system, which monitors young drivers when it's their turn behind the wheel and lets parents limit the SUV's top speed and stereo volume.
Price range: $31,000-$53,000
Shop it: Chevrolet.com
The Pilot is another mid-size SUV offering families a great combination of space, storage and a smooth ride. With three rows included, you can fit up to eight people comfortably. It's got plenty of horsepower and lots of room for all your stuff, including various nooks and holders, plus underfloor storage. And when you’re busy loading up the car, you don’t have to worry about having a free hand, thanks to the hands-free access tailgate (in certain models).
Callout safety features: Though the base model only features a multi-angle rearview camera, higher tiers offer impressive driver assistance features, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic high beams, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and Honda LaneWatch—a camera mounted to the passenger-side mirror that provides a video feed of your blind spot.
Price range: $32,000-$49,000
Shop it: Honda.com
Marketed as a mid-size family SUV, the Atlas sports three rows that can accommodate up to six people. While that’s two fewer people than some of the other best family cars on this list, it still feels spacious inside thanks to the panoramic sunroof that runs nearly the full length of all three rows. When it opens up, the entire family can feel like you’re in a convertible. Parents of young kids will also love that the wide second row can fit three car seats side by side. The liftgate can open either in hands-free mode, with a wave of your foot under the rear bumper, or remotely, before you even reach the car.
Callout safety features: The Atlas has frames and body panels designed to take all the impact in an accident, and an automatic braking system slows the car down after a collision. To help prevent any accidents in the first place, it has rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, forward collision monitoring with automatic braking and lane departure warning.
Price range: $31,000-$50,000
Shop it: VW.com
It may be a large-size family SUV, but the Ford Expedition boasts a smooth ride and easy handling for a vehicle of its size. You get three rows of flexible seating, and they sure didn’t skimp on leg room. Plus, thanks to the tip-and-slide seats, you can access the third row without having to remove your child’s safety seat. (Because no one wants to have to install those things again and again.)
Callout safety features: Standard active safety features include a rearview camera and rear parking sensors. Like many of the best family vehicles, other available features include blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, front parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with stop and go and more.
Price range: $53,000-$77,000
Shop it: Ford.com
This vehicle offers a bunch of options for a small-size family SUV, including a roomy interior and ample trunk space. The CR-V can seat up to five people, but its cavernous cargo space can hold a serious amount of stuff—a key feature when assessing the best family cars. With 60/40 split rear seating, you can fold the back seats down flat to haul big items—say, a new toddler bed—home. Another nice feature: Climate controls for the seats as well as the car interior are dual-zone, meaning no more complaints from the back seat!
Callout safety features: While a rearview camera is the only driver assistance feature that comes standard in the CR-V, if families move slightly above the base model, they can enjoy the Honda Sensing suite of technologies, plus a Driver Attention Monitor that detects drowsy drivers and responds with an audio and visual alert.
Price range: $25,000-$35,000
Shop it: Honda.com
Best Family Minivans
Minivans may be the stereotypical family vehicle, but thanks to modern styling and impressive features, the best family cars of today are a far cry from the minivans your grandparents drove.
When it comes to the best family cars, the Honda Odyssey is a fan favorite. In fact, Kelley Blue Book reviewers loved it so much, in 2018 they named it the best family car in the world. The Odyssey’s Magic Slide second row allows the seats move up and back as well as side to side, so two friends can sit side-by-side, or two siblings can slide the seats away from each other to avoid constant squabbles—a parent’s dream come true. The car also has a LATCH system that can accommodate up to five car seats. Yes, five.
Callout safety features: Honda’s CabinWatch camera system provides views of the second and third rows on the touch-screen display, so you can safely keep an eye on your kids. With CabinTalk, parents can communicate with second- and third-row passengers from the driver’s seat using a microphone—no more turning around, craning your neck or taking risks to get the kids to stop fighting in the back.
Price range: $31,000-$48,000
Shop it: Honda.com
The Chrysler Pacifica is the only minivan in its class with the Stow 'n Go Seating and Storage System, which allows drivers to easily fold their third row seats into the floor to make more space—all with the push of a button. The minivan also comes with a Stow ‘n Vac vacuum that extends through the entire cabin to help keep the space mess-free. If you've ever opened the back door and watched an avalanche of Cheerios fall out, you'll love this feature.
Callout safety features: Standard active safety features include a multi-angle rearview camera that activates when you shift into reverse, blind spot information system and the Honda Sensing suite.
Price range: $28,000-$45,000
Shop it: Chrysler.com
The Sienna is a spacious family car with an interior built for wear and tear (as all the best family cars should). It’s the only minivan that offers all-wheel drive—a serious selling point if you live someplace where snow days are all too common. Plus, it has an available Blu-Ray Disc Entertainment Center that can display one wide-angle screen or or a split screen with two smaller images from separate sources. So when one kid wants to watch Elmo while the other is demanding Paw Patrol, you can make everyone happy.
Callout safety features: The Sienna comes with lots of standard safety features, including the Toyota Safety Sense-P, lane departure warning and assist, adaptive cruise control, a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection and automatic high beams that toggle between high and low to provide the appropriate amount of light as needed.
Price range: $32,000-$50,000
Shop it: Toyota.com
Best Family Sedans
Even if you don’t need to fit eight people in your vehicle, the best family cars still offer plenty of room, flexible features and advanced safety protection. These sedans provide it all.
With a starting price point in the middle of its class, the Accord is one of the best family cars in the sedan category. It offers plenty of space, with both a roomy cabin and large trunk, a smooth ride and great gas mileage. Not to mention, it has a ton of available tech features—like the Head-Up Display that projects info like speed and driving directions onto your windshield—and scores of safety features.
Callout safety features: Every Accord comes with the standard Honda Sensing suite, including Traffic Sign Recognition with a camera that notifies you of speed limit signs—especially helpful if you have a new young driver in the family.
Price range: $24,000-$37,000
Shop it: Honda.com
As one of the best family cars on the market, the Avalon offers a great combination of quality and value, providing ample interior space, a high-end cabin and reliable performance. It also pairs your iPhone with the car's Apple CarPlay, so you can make or get calls, send or receive texts and listen to your own playlist without glancing down at your phone. It can also sync with your AppleWatch, so you can find your car, lock or unlock the doors and start your engine all through voice commands.
Callout safety features: The Avalon comes standard with a suite of advanced safety features, including a rearview camera, a pre-collision system with forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and automatic braking, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and adaptive cruise control, plus adaptive cornering lights that illuminate when turning corners or in reverse.
Price range: $32,000-$42,000
Shop it: Toyota.com
The Camry has been a mid-size family sedan favorite for years. Like the Avalon, the Camry offers one of the best combinations of quality and value, but in a more affordable package. It’s said to have better handling and fuel economy than the Avalon but less leg room and fewer tech and luxury features.
Callout safety features: The Camry offers more advanced driver assistance features in the base model than most competing mid-size family sedans. It comes standard with Toyota Safety Sense-P, a bundle composed of a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high beams and dynamic radar cruise control.
Price range: $25,000-$36,000
Shop it: Toyota.com
If you’re looking for a luxury sedan that’s still family-friendly, this could be the car for you. The Buick LaCrosse makes passenger comfort a priority while still delivering top-notch performance. This roomy family car offers standard hybrid power and available all-wheel drive, as well as some impression tech features, including a WiFi hotspots, wireless phone charging and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Callout safety feature: A rearview camera and rear parking sensors are the LaCrosse's only standard safety features. Higher trims add many more safety systems, including rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, rear cross traffic alert for all those times you're backing out of the driveway, and Buick's Safety Alert Seat, which vibrates to alert the driver of potential hazards.
Price range: $30,000-$48,000
Shop it: Buick.com
Published September 2018
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