Best Family Cars 2014: The Runners-Up
Our 2014 family cars comparison test started with 21 cars, from which we picked 12 standouts. Here are the nine runners-up, each of which offers a unique mix of attributes that makes it the right choice for some families.
2014 Dodge Durango
While it was one of the most expensive vehicles to participate in our family-car test, the 2014 Dodge Durango offers some extra muscle not found in the other entries courtesy of an available Hemi-powered 5.7-liter V8 engine. When equipped properly, the Durango can tow up to 7,200 pounds and is tied for the most gasoline-powered towing capacity in Chrysler Group's light-duty vehicle stable. The Durango that spent time with us did not come with the Hemi heart though. Instead the 3.6-liter V6 engine reported for duty and was paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. Besides the available muscle under the hood, our Durango showed up with the most comprehensive rear-seat entertainment system in the field. An array of input options allows occupants in the backseats to be entertained through a variety of electronic devices. However, the DVD player stashed in the storage compartment between the front seats eliminates almost all of the real estate that could otherwise be used to store random things usually found in such a place.
2014 Jeep Cherokee
The newest addition to Jeep's small-SUV lineup was a pleasant surprise due in part to the cabin's refinement and the the Cherokee's ability to swallow more cargo than originally expected. The 3.2-liter V6 engine in our family-car test was potent, yet sipped fuel at a respectable rate for a V6 (a 4-cylinder engine is also available). Chrysler Group's available 8.0-inch touch screen and Uconnect infotainment system was also included in our 2014 Jeep Cherokee tester, which only sweetened the pot. However, the Cherokee competes in a crowded segment filled with the likes of the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, two segment stalwarts. While the Jeep Cherokee has no trouble leaving asphalt willingly, the CR-V and RAV4 SUVs aren't as receptive to going off-road. Nevertheless, car buyers shopping this segment aren't necessarily focused on going off-road and are more concerned with fuel economy and the ability to carry a metric ton of cargo and passengers. This is where the CR-V and RAV4 pulled ahead of the Cherokee when it comes to being a family-oriented car. That being said, the Cherokee is still a very respectable car in its own right, but it's catered to those who are looking for a closer balance of off-roading and daily commuting.
2014 Kia Sorento
The goldilocks of family vehicles, the 2014 Kia Sorento fills the vacant middle ground between compact and full-size SUVs. Available in 5- or 7-passenger configurations, the Sorento is a solid choice for families seeking the interior flexibility of a 7-passenger vehicle but prefer the more practical dimensions of a compact SUV. While the optional third row isn't as spacious as those found in true midsize SUVs, it does provide enough room for small children, something that can't be said for the Nissan Rogue. Around town, the Sorento's comparatively small footprint makes it easier to park and maneuver than the vast majority of 7-passenger people movers. Perhaps best of all, a 2014 Sorento V6 equipped with the optional 3rd-row seat undercuts the starting prices of the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango by at least $3,000.
2014 Mazda CX-5
The compact SUV segment has become one of the most crowded and competitive in the market for several good reasons -- these vehicles tend to be relatively fuel efficient, can comfortably carry four or more along with their gear, and are easy to drive and park thanks to a relatively high seating position. The 2014 Mazda CX-5 does as a good a job as any in the segment in these basic functions along with a dash of style and nimble road manners, the result of a finely tuned suspension and communicative steering. While being fun-to-drive can top some lists, the CX-5's two 4-cylinder engines put a premium on efficiency over raw performance. Others in the segment demonstrated more pulling power. While the exterior styling is expressive, the interior seemed a bit bland by comparison. Several of the other competitors offer more family-car-oriented storage cubbies and options as well. Still, the CX-5 offers good utility at a competitive price -- and it will always be a ball to drive.
2014 Mazda Mazda6
In a strong field of midsize sedans, the 2014 Mazda6 stood out not so much for its ability to stand out as a family car, but rather its ability to appeal to aesthetics and the non-rational need for a fun-to-drive product. Certainly the basics are there for family transportation -- 4 doors and ample trunk space -- but the Mazda6 really shines in the design department. The flowing lines and chrome accents lend an air of elegance, though the fast angle on the rear window means getting into the rear seat, especially wrestling with a child safety seat, isn't as easy as it is in sedans with a more upright greenhouse. Keeping with Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" image, the 6 is a blast to drive, especially when equipped with the smooth shifting 6-speed manual transmission. The Mazda6 may not necessarily top the list as a primary family car, but it demands consideration as a backup that can handle shuttling the kids around while bringing a smile to the driver's face.
2014 Toyota Avalon
Offering roomy rear-seat accommodations and Lexus-like refinement, the 2014 Toyota Avalon is a decidedly more upscale alternative to traditional midsize family sedans. For those who typically seek out the upper crust versions of midsize sedans, stepping up to the larger, more luxurious Avalon could get you more bang for the buck in your family car. For instance, a base 2014 Avalon checks in right around $32,000, roughly $2,000 less than a fully-loaded Honda Accord. Apart from navigation, the standard equipment roster of a base Avalon is quite comparable to that of a range-topping Accord Touring. Plus, the full-size Toyota Avalon offers more rear-seat legroom than every midsize sedan on the market, including the Volkswagen Passat. There's also a hybrid variant that achieves an impressive 40-mpg combined city/highway rating from the EPA.
2014 Toyota Camry
It may not lead its segment in visual appeal, tech features, or even fuel economy, but the 2014 Toyota Camry remains an easy family-car pick for those who value reliability, ease of use, and hassle-free ownership above all else. The Camry is also one of the few midsize sedans to offer an optional V6 engine, a valuable add-on for families who frequently fill their vehicle to the brim with people and cargo. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Camry can be had as a fuel-sipping hybrid. With a starting price of just under $27,000, the Camry Hybrid LE checks in about $2,000 less than the entry-level Honda Accord Hybrid. Still the de facto choice among midsize sedans, it's no secret why the Toyota Camry ended 2013 as the best-selling car in America for the 12th year in a row.
2014 Toyota Prius V
If fuel economy is the priority, the 2014 Toyota Prius V is the perfect choice for a small family car. Delivering 44 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, the Prius V uses the same powertrain as the standard Prius hatchback, but with its high roof design offers the versatility of a small wagon. In addition to standout fuel economy, there is an element of flexibility thanks to the adjustable split-folding rear seat that can slide forward enough to accommodate bulky cargo items such as bicycles. And that rear bench also reclines, which along with its generous legroom, makes the back seat quite comfortable for two adult-sized passengers. Aside from the utility factor and high fuel economy, don't expect the Toyota Prius V to be a particularly zoomy ride. And the quirkiness of the center-mounted instrument panel is something that may not be suited to everyone's taste in dash layouts.
2014 Volkswagen Passat
The only European option in the midsize sedan segment, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat offers generous legroom up front and in the back, making it an attractive option in the segment. Unfortunately, it also has to compete with the Honda Accord and Nissan Altima, two very popular alternatives. An interior that coddles both the driver and front passenger paired with slick exterior styling, something the Germans have nailed recently, make the Passat an especially appealing acquisition.