If safe, roomy and affordable are the characteristics that qualify a vehicle as a family car, then the American family has never had so many choices. While a sea of options is ultimately a good thing, it can also make it more difficult for families to pick a winner. To help ease the pain, every year we put together a list of the Top 10 Family Vehicles, evaluating an ever-lengthening list of eligible vehicles on such factors as resale value, fuel efficiency, capability and kid-friendliness.
For families that pride themselves on thinking small, the Honda Civic is a perennial all-star. Combining impressive fuel economy, unrivaled reliability and class-leading resale values, the winner of our 2009 Small Sedan Comparison is one of those special vehicles by which all its competitors are measured.
29 mpg (25 city, 36 hwy)
The hybrid version of the best-selling car in the country delivers an average of 135 more miles from a 15-gallon fill-up than its gas-only counterpart. On long family road trips, you'll have even less of a chance of making it through a full tank between restroom breaks.
34 mpg (33 city, 34 hwy)
As a fuel-friendly family sedan, the newest Chevy Malibu has some seriously strong credentials. Not only does it offer class-leading fuel economy topping out at an impressive 33 highway miles per gallon, it also edged out the Honda Accord to win our 2008 Family Sedan Comparison Test.
26 mpg (22 city, 33 hwy)
Thanks to the new technology and new clean diesel fuel that make it emissions-legal in all 50 states, the Jetta TDI's cult-like following is at risk of being absorbed by the mainstream. For some, the Jetta SportWagen TDI is the gold standard of responsible family transportation.
34 mpg (30 city, 41 hwy)
After undergoing a major overhaul for the 2008 model year, the Ford Escape Hybrid is improved again for 2009 with a more powerful and more efficient gas-electric powertrain. Its city fuel-economy rating of 34 miles per gallon is one better, even, than that of the Toyota Camry Hybrid's.
32 mpg (34 city, 31 hwy)
In addition to class-leading fuel economy, the Toyota RAV4 offers one especially family-friendly feature uncommon in the category: a third row of seats. It's a tight squeeze back there for some, but we ran into a family who shuttled seven people from Northern Utah to Southern California - and back - in a RAV4.
24 mpg (22 city, 28 hwy)
The three-row crossover continues to fortify its recently acquired status as the quintessential family car. This gas-electric version of Toyota's Camry-based crossover has the distinct advantage of being the most fuel-efficient three-row vehicle on the road.
26 mpg (27 city, 25 hwy)
Car-based crossovers continue to displace traditional SUVs in suburban driveways, but for big families with big passenger/cargo/towing needs, the full-size SUV remains indispensible. The Chevy Tahoe Hybrid is as green as it gets in this arena, and still offers towing capacity of up to 6,200 pounds.
21 mpg (21 city, 22 hwy)
Boasting more cargo volume than even its Chevy Tahoe stablemate, the Traverse is the biggest crossover on the road -- yet it beats the fuel economy of many smaller three-row vehicles. We like all the Traverse's siblings - Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook - but the Chevrolet has the lowest starting price, which makes it our family pick.
19 mpg (17 city, 24 hwy)
We've always thought an Acura badge would look right at home on the sharply styled, thoroughly refined Honda Odyssey. The most premium-like minivan on the market is also the most fuel efficient, thanks in part to its (optional) ability to cruise on three of six cylinders.
20 mpg (17 city, 25 hwy)