Best Family Cars
Top-Rated Family Cars, SUVs and Trucks
December 31st, 2019
Best Family SUVs
The picture of the ideal American family car has changed over the decades, evolving from old Detroit's land-yacht sedans to the minivans of the 1980s and now the ubiquitous SUV. But today's families have the widest range of options ever, with a model to suit every scenario.
Small family that lives in the city? A compact SUV or midsize wagon that's roomy but easy to park might be the best call. Three kids and an appetite for outdoor life? One of today's crew-cab pickups makes a great fit. Team carpool parent? Proceed directly to minivan.
Each comes with trade-offs, of course. Compared to a midsize sedan, a pickup will exact its toll at the pump. Then again, you won't be loading two dirt bikes into the trunk of a Honda Accord, despite its generous size.
Here we've gathered our picks for the top family car in multiple styles: sedan, SUV, minivan and truck. These vehicles rank at or near the top of Edmunds' expert rankings, having risen above the competition based on our comprehensive evaluation across more than 30 categories. They are, quite simply, the best family cars you can buy right now.
Best Family SUVs
The Honda CR-V's compact dimensions belie its cavernous interior. Fold down the rear seats and the Honda offers up nearly 76 cubic feet of cargo space, the most of any compact SUV. Clever, efficient packaging is the key here, as generous cargo utility doesn't come at the expense of passenger room or ride comfort. It's also a joy to drive, with an alert turbocharged engine and tight, responsive handling that is a Honda hallmark. The CR-V also comes with a full complement of active safety features (automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control among them) on all but the base trim, plus clever options such as a hands-free opening liftgate and hands-free door lock/unlock. And at 30 mpg combined, the Honda CR-V goes easy on gas. Its only real weakness is a glitchy infotainment package prone to freezes and touchscreen display freak-outs.
Big family? Then you need a big SUV, ideally one with three-row seating. But not all three-rows are created equal. The cramped rearmost quarters of some SUVs make the third row a mere suggestion, while others are functional but designed primarily for children. Not so with the Kia Telluride, the newest, and now best, three-row SUV in a crowded field. How did Kia's head-turner vault to the top of its class, one that includes notable recent additions such as the Volkswagen Atlas and the Subaru Ascent? It offers eight-passenger seating, a strong V6 engine that returns 23 mpg combined and can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and a feeling from behind the wheel of driving a smaller, more manageable car. The Telluride is loaded with clever family-friendly features such as Quiet Mode, which can disable the rear-seat speakers, and several USB ports and 12-volt power outlets to charge up devices. As expected, numerous active driver aids are also offered, including an innovative live camera view in the gauge cluster that shows the Telluride's blind spots when a turn signal is activated.
There's no rule that says a family SUV needs to abandon form for function, and the Volvo XC60 proves it. The XC60 is a sharp-looking SUV with a modern, clean interior and immediate luxury appeal. It's a standout car not only for Volvo's hallmark attention to safety detail but also for its smart family-oriented features such as integrated booster seats in the second row. These optional perches provide safe and comfortable seating for children older than three years, offer two adjustable heights for placing kids at a good position for the safety belt, and tuck away out of sight when not in use. The XC60 is more than just clever child seats, though. Passenger space is abundant, and the infotainment interface, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is slick and intuitive. Four-zone climate control means each passenger can select their own temperature, and the front seats even offer a massage function. It wouldn't be a Volvo without innovative safety features. And the XC60 offers a full range of them, including a system that will automatically steer you back into your lane if the car crosses a lane marking into oncoming traffic. The XC60 offers three trim levels, but the T6 is best for its smooth-operating 316-horsepower engine; the base engine isn't quite up to snuff, while the available plug-in hybrid is relatively awkward in its power delivery and braking.
The rival Cadillac Escalade might have more music videos to its name, but the Lincoln Navigator quietly goes about its business as one of the most impressive large luxury SUVs available today. With bold new styling, a stout 450-hp V6 engine, seating for seven or eight adults, massive cargo space, and modern tech, the Navigator is built to haul families and their things in supreme comfort. There's no shortage of luxury touches. The third-row seats are power-reclining, while the optional second-row captain's chairs provide outstanding legroom. Active noise-canceling puts the outside world on mute, while a rear-seat entertainment system streams content to 10-inch displays. The Navigator's parking assist system can steer this luxury bus into a parking space — the driver just needs to brake and select gears. And when properly equipped, the big Lincoln can tow up 8,300 pounds. When you're pulling that boat out to the lake for a weekend of wakeboarding, in-car Wi-Fi keeps everyone connected during the drive. Today's Navigator is truly next-level.
Best Family Cars
The Honda Accord is the benchmark family car, the standard by which all others are measured. Exaggeration? No. The Accord's accolades span decades, and while rivals from Toyota, Ford and Hyundai have occasionally caught up or even surged ahead, the latest Accord's all-around excellence has pushed it back into the lead. Its "fastback" styling adds a touch of European sport sedan flair, while the interior's appealing, user-friendly design and high-quality materials compare favorably to luxury-branded efforts costing many thousands more. Factor in a roomy back seat that accommodates large child seats with ease, a massive trunk, and standard advanced safety features such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control, and you'll see why the Accord is a perennial all-star. Now consider its agile handling, quick and fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, and available hybrid model, and there's little doubt that the Accord stands above its competition.
Family-car luxury needn't be limited to the SUV. Mercedes-Benz has been doing family luxury for decades, most notably with rock-solid midsize wagons featuring rear-facing jump seats. Mercedes still offers a wagon like that today, in the elegant form of the latest E-Class. The E-Class wagon comes with standard all-wheel drive and 64 cubic feet of maximum cargo space — comparable to many compact SUVs, but with the character and balance of a sedan. There's even an optional 603-horsepower version, should you want your family car to double as a world-beating sports car. The wagon isn't exactly a unicorn, but you're bound to see more E-Class sedans on the road. For one thing, the sedan costs less, and secondly, wagons remain a niche interest to most American car buyers. Whichever style you prefer, the E-Class delivers exquisite cabin design and comfort. Highlights include three-zone climate control, windows that absorb sound and infrared light, and an advanced air filtration system. Mercedes also packs the E-Class with some of its latest safety and advanced driver aids, including semi-automated technology that can accelerate, brake and steer the car — frazzled parents stuck in highway gridlock will wonder how they got along without it. The E-Class can climb to eye-watering six-digit prices, but it delivers world-class poise and composure that you can experience every day.
Best Family Minivan
Comprehensively redesigned in 2018, the Honda Odyssey reasserted its dominant position next to rival minivans such as the Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica. The Honda comes loaded with thoughtful features that families will appreciate, including sideways-sliding second-row seats that adjust to create a center walk-through or a side-by-side grouping for an easier reach from the front seats. A strong V6 engine (280 hp) offers plenty of punch and respectable fuel economy at 22 mpg combined. Stable handling and precise steering also make the Odyssey something of a "driver's" minivan, even if you never intend to make the tires squeal in a tight curve. Picking an Odyssey is easy since there are six trim levels and no option packages to consider. The LX base trim works for bare-bones utility, but we prefer the next trim up, the EX, for its eight-passenger seating, power-sliding doors, three-zone climate control, and bundle of driver safety aids. Higher trims add more features such as a Wi-Fi hotspot, an in-cabin camera to keep an eye on rear passengers, and even an onboard vacuum.
Best Family Pickup Truck
The Ram 1500 raises the bar for full-size trucks. The interior is among the most accommodating and quietest we've tested -- rear passenger space is class-leading by a goodly margin, and the rear seats even recline for upgraded comfort. The Ram's secret weapon is its class-exclusive coil-spring rear suspension, which differs from the more traditional leaf springs used by rivals. The result is more precise control at each corner and a softer ride. There's also an optional air suspension for an even softer, but no less capable, ride. The Ram is also near the top of its class in towing capability — up to 11,500 pounds — so you won't have to leave the boat, bikes or toy-hauler at home. Hitching that trailer will be easier with the Ram's zoomable backup camera. And once you're on the road, the blind-spot monitoring system makes lane changes safer by compensating for trailer length. Choosing a full-size truck as a daily family driver, of course, comes with some drawbacks. Fuel economy can be an issue, although the 1500's 23 mpg combined rating is impressive given its abilities. It's also not the most practical choice for regularly navigating small parking lots or roadways. But Ram has packed the 1500 full of useful, clever tech features to make driving, towing and connecting to the outside world a cinch.
Key Elements of a Family Car
Cars and SUVs can be loaded with the latest audio, navigation and infotainment tech, or plenty of convenient features such as hands-free door locking and unlocking. But those don't mean much for a family car if it doesn't pass modern muster for safety. It's important to look at scores derived from crash tests conducted by the federal government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a non-profit organization funded by insurance companies. The NHTSA rates cars on a star system, with five stars being the best, while the IIHS issues four grades: Poor, Marginal, Acceptable and Good.
Although each group breaks down its ratings differently, ultimately both consider how well a car fares in various crash and rollover scenarios. Ideally, look for a car that aces both tests: five stars from the NHTSA and a grade of Good from the IIHS. More recently, cars that offer driver assistance features, such as automatic emergency braking and automatic high beams, have earned additional credit from the IIHS via its Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ awards.
Other factors to consider when shopping for a new family car include fuel efficiency (look first for the EPA's combined mpg rating here), maximum cargo area (most SUVs should hover around 70-80 cubic feet, and a good-size sedan trunk will have 16-18 cubic feet), ease of installing and removing an infant seat, and overall reliability.
We can forgive things such as quirky foldout cupholders and shallow center consoles when they come with our favorite sport coupes or convertibles. But family cars are all about practicality, and for today's families that means comfort, space, safety, utility and technology. Plenty of families make do with sedans or two-row SUVs, but even families with three children should consider an SUV with three rows. Many make it easy to get in and out of the third row with second-row seats that slide or tumble forward, often with enough room to keep a second-row child seat in place. Luxury-oriented models will also often offer power-folding rear seats to make loading cargo easier.
Other features you'll want to consider when shopping for a family car include a hands-free-opening trunk or liftgate. These typically work by swiping your foot under a sensor in the bumper and prove invaluable when approaching your car with an armload of groceries. In-car Wi-Fi will pay for itself many times over while keeping kids and teens connected to their favorite games and YouTubers. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meanwhile, extend smartphone capability to the dash and are quickly replacing native infotainment systems as the preferred tech interface. Anyone who's driven a large SUV or minivan knows it's difficult to keep tabs on small passengers in the back, so conversation mirrors — narrow convex mirrors that magnify your view into the back — are helpful, as are some newer intercom-type systems that can project the driver's voice into the second and third rows.
Tips for Family-Car Shopping
Now that you've pored over the research, read reviews and watched videos, it's time to see if the cars you're considering will fit your family's life. Use Edmunds to start a conversation with dealers in your area and schedule an appointment to look at the car. We suggest bringing the whole family — if not for the first reconnaissance visit, then definitely for a follow-up.
It's critical to get the whole family in the car at once. Get everyone seated and belted up. Do the driver and front passenger have enough room with passengers behind them? How about with a forward- and rear-facing car seat? Try the car seat in the middle and both outboard seat positions, and check its effect on the front-seat positions. Note how easy or difficult it is to access LATCH anchors. Anchors that are hard to access will be frustrating when trying to move an infant seat in a hurry.
While everyone's seated, take note. Can small passengers reach cupholders? Can older kids reach USB ports or climate controls without issue?
Finally, check the cargo area. Test-fit strollers, large gear bags and even golf clubs. Fold down all seats and lie down back there. Seriously. If you could sleep back there comfortably, chances are the car can handle whatever maximum cargo requirements you throw at it.