Shopping for a family car is especially important — and uniquely challenging. You want your family to be safe on vacations and for around-town errands. But you also want to make an economical decision, selecting a vehicle with good value that also will deliver good fuel economy for years to come. Furthermore, the market is loaded with many choices, making test-driving all models out of the question. That's why Edmunds.com teamed with Parents magazine to review all the candidates and steer you toward the top 10 performers in categories ranging from space-saving compacts to roomy minivans.
As we considered the candidates, safety was a top consideration and so we selected models with the best crash-test scores. Our lineup includes many recently redesigned vehicles that boast the latest safety and electronic features. For example, collision mitigation systems are designed to prevent accidents by monitoring the road ahead with radar. In addition to safety, the editors also considered many other factors, such as cabin layout and driving characteristics. So before heading to the dealership for a test-drive, enjoy this quick overview and you may spot the next set of wheels for you and your family.
Best Budget Cars
Vehicles from Mazda are often known for their precise handling and this compact is no exception. What makes the little 3 our top pick is the value it delivers for a price starting at under $19,000 for the hatchback and under $18,000 for the sedan. And while they're going to add to those prices, you can load up the 3 with high-tech safety and convenience features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and forward collision warning. The car's base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 34 mpg combined (30 city/41 highway) according to the EPA. Combine all this with newly redesign styling and it adds up to a safe, attractive choice for a small family on the go.
Introduced only eight years ago, the Honda Fit quickly became one of the most popular hatchbacks because it offered lively performance coupled with incredible interior convenience and a starting price that's under $17,000. Since then, the Fit has been redesigned twice to provide more room and power while still providing outstanding fuel economy. One unique feature is its "Magic" seat, which folds in different ways to accommodate many different types of items. The base model, with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine generates 130 horsepower and boasts 36 combined mpg (33 city/41 highway).
Best High-Mileage Car
Volkswagen Golf TDI
Any family that loves road trips will appreciate the Golf TDI's EPA rating of 45 mpg on the highway (36 combined and 31 city). Furthermore, with the 13.2-gallon fuel tank full of clean diesel, this Volkswagen can travel over 567 miles without a fill-up. The newly redesigned hatchback has a refined European-styled interior with many soft-touch materials. Standard features include a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and iPod connectivity and 60/40-split folding rear seats with a center pass-through window. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Golf the highest rating in several of its crash tests. While this VW wasn't the first hatchback invented, during its 40-year history it has come to define the segment. Add the diesel powertrain to all these benefits and you get a truly exceptional family vehicle.
This Hyundai four-door provides an outstanding value for a family seeking a vehicle with a roomy interior and a smooth, quiet ride. Redesigned this year, this sharp-looking sedan now offers a new Eco trim level with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 32 mpg combined (28 city/38 highway). Options include such high-end features as adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam control, and the latest in driver safety aids such as blind-spot detection and forward-collision alert systems. Models are equipped with the hands-free "smart" trunk opener automatically unlocks the trunk if the person with the key fob stands behind the car for more than 3 seconds. Now available in four trim levels and with a more refined look and solid build quality, the Sonata should be on every shopper's list.
The Honda Accord continues to define the popular four-door sedan segment. Its cabin is roomy enough to seat a family in comfort, while affording the driver some of the best ergonomics in its class. The Accord's powertrains manage to be both exciting and efficient, and handling is sharp and acceleration is brisk. Fuel economy is also impressive, getting up to 31 mpg combined (27 city/36 highway) in the base engine. A hybrid and plug-in hybrid model of the Accord are also available. Bluetooth, cruise control and a rearview camera are standard while lane-departure and forward-collision warning systems are available on upper trim levels. One unique option is a screen that displays a view of the car's passenger side blind spot when the right turn signal is engaged.
This Subaru is another repeat winner especially after it was redesigned to provide even more interior space, higher fuel efficiency and a nicer interior. Families will enjoy a roomy interior while the driver will appreciate the excellent visibility and the intuitive controls. The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 28 mpg combined (25 city/33 highway). Available safety features include adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation system and a lane-departure warning system. An IIHS top safety pick, the Outback is packed with safety technology, including a forward collision system that can detect and brake for pedestrians.
The CR-V has long been the top choice in this class. This year, the Honda CR-V's four-cylinder engine is coupled to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to deliver 29 mpg combined (27 city/34 highway). The CR-V's standard features include stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and a rearview camera. This year's model also has some new options, including a 7-inch touchscreen linked to the LaneWatch blind-spot monitoring system (EX trim and above) and a high-end Touring trim level with additional safety technologies.
Thanks to this year's redesign, this Nissan crossover now delivers luxury and style without breaking the family budget. The Murano introduces "Zero Gravity" seats this year, designed to reduce fatigue on long drives for front and rear occupants. The cabin is filled with quality materials and the latest in technology and safety features. Powering the Murano is a 260-hp V6 engine, paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Despite the increased power, fuel economy is still respectable at 24 mpg combined (21 city/28 highway). This midsize crossover SUV is offered in four trim levels, all of which can be had with front- or all-wheel drive.
Large families, or families with lots of friends, will love this year's Toyota Sienna. Starting at $29,485 the roomy minivan seats eight and still delivers 21 mpg combined (18 city/25 highway). This IIHS top safety pick was refreshed for 2015, getting a revised suspension, a stronger body structure and upgrades to the interior's design and materials quality. All five trim levels come standard with front-wheel drive, but the top three models also can be had with all-wheel drive. Standard features on the Sienna include manual sliding rear doors, triple-zone automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat and rearview camera. Luxury options offered include front and rear parking sensors, upgraded leather seating, a heated steering wheel, a power-folding third-row seat and a navigation system with upgraded JBL surround-sound audio system.
If you have a large family but want to avoid driving a minivan, a smart choice is this eight-passenger Chevrolet Traverse SUV. With the third row folded flat, there's 70.3 cubic feet available for cargo, and that figure jumps to 116.3 cubic feet with the second row stowed. All-wheel drive is available for families who want to hit the ski slopes. Starting at $31,870, the front-wheel-drive Traverse gets 19 mpg combined (17 city/24 highway). Bluetooth and a rearview camera are standard and options include a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic monitoring, a forward-collision alert system and a lane-departure warning system. This year sees the introduction of Siri Eyes Free voice control technology for the infotainment system.
These vehicles didn't quite make our top 10 but are also worth considering for those seeking family transportation: