There’s no question that for many, SUVs have become the family car of choice. The traditional sedan (or even station wagon) are distant Boomer memories of family transportation. Still, the explosion of SUV offerings owes more to these vehicles’ car cousins than the trucks that inspire their styling.
Full-size body-on-frame SUVs have definite appeal to families (especially large ones) for their generous cargo-carrying capacity, towing capability, and 3-row seating. And while they are represented on our list by the Ford Expedition, many of these attributes are found in car-based crossovers with 3-row seating. In fact, that category is bursting at the seams. Two new additions, the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade join the Volkswagen Atlas, Honda Pilot, and redesigned Toyota Highlander.
The Korean newcomers show that families want high style, plenty of creature comforts and high tech safety features at an affordable price. Other manufacturers have heard that message and offer redesigned entries in the midsize and compact 2-row segments. We’re also seeing the staying power of minivans in the form of the Chrysler Pacifica and Honda Odyssey.
No matter the configuration, the vehicles that have made the cut as Kelley Blue Book’s 12 Best Family Cars of 2020 have something to offer families, no matter how big or small their number or income.
Best 2-Row SUVs for Families
In alphabetical order
|2020 Honda CR-V|
|2020 Hyundai Santa Fe|
|2020 Subaru Forester|
|2020 Toyota RAV4|
Best 3-Row SUVs for Families
In alphabetical order
|2020 Honda Pilot|
|2020 Hyundai Palisade|
|2020 Kia Telluride|
|2020 Toyota Highlander|
|2020 Volkswagen Atlas|
Best Full-Size SUV for Families
|2020 Ford Expedition|
In alphabetical order
|2020 Chrysler Pacifica|
|2020 Honda Odyssey|
What Makes a Good Family Car?
Here’s a look at the key elements we consider when choosing our annual list of top family cars. Most of these considerations should factor into your selection process.
Everyone wants a safe car, but family car shoppers are even more safety-minded. We pay special attention to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data. Every rated vehicle on this year’s list has the highest Overall Safety Rating available in the class.
Many of these vehicles are the very best in class in terms of our 5-Year Cost to Own calculations. By considering a vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price, predicted resale value, insurance, fuel and maintenance costs, our 5-Year Cost to Own figures make it easy to compare actual vehicle costs over a full buy-own-sell ownership cycle. Quite often, spending a little more on the right car can save you thousands in the long run over going for the big rebate on another car. Our 5-Year Cost to Own figures make it easy to see the big picture and make the smart decision.
And while there are plenty of excellent, family-focused luxury SUVs to recommend, we focus strictly on mainstream brands for this annual collection. Starting prices for the SUVs and minivans above range from the mid-$20,000 range to the low $30,000 range, with only the Ford Expedition exceeding a $40,000 starting price.
Most of the models on this list have been around a long time and have earned strong reputations for durability and reliability. In most cases, however, a few-year-old version of most of the SUVs and minivans on this list would make excellent used cars as well. In fact, several of them are indeed on our most recent list of the 10 Best Used Family Cars Under $15,000.
Even in a vehicle designed primarily to get you and yours from Point A to Points B, C and D on a daily basis, good steering, and pedal feel can make a big difference. A vehicle that goes, turns and stops smoothly and as expected is more satisfying and less fatiguing than one with acceleration delays or non-linear braking response, for instance. Good outward visibility and parking-lot finesse also contribute to stress reduction for the driver.
Comfort and Convenience
A smooth ride, quiet cabin and comfortable seats all help keep a family happy while on the move. Convenience features also make a big difference in the overall experience. The sliding doors on some Chrysler Pacificas can be opened with a wave of your foot when your hands are full. The second-row seats on some Honda Pilots will fold and slide forward with the push of a button, granting easy access to the third row. And the Honda Odyssey offers second-row seats that slide not only forward and back but also side to side. With all the loading and unloading that happens in a busy family car, the benefits of small touches like these can really add up over the years.
Minivans and SUVs are the cargo-friendliest family vehicles on the road, but some are friendlier than others. Usable volume is a key differentiator, but we’re also looking for advantages like low load floors that ease loading and unloading of bulkier items, as well as second- and third-row seats that fold and redeploy with minimal thought or effort.
Child car safety seats are a hugely important consideration for car shoppers with infants, toddlers or both. Is there enough distance between the front seat and the back seat to accommodate both the seat and the child? Can you fit all the seats you need? Are the LATCH mounting points easy to access? Can you access the third row when two car seats are mounted in the second row? Do the vehicle’s seat height and door opening make it easy to buckle the child in and lift them out? While all these vehicles are among tops in their respective segments when it comes to car seats, we recommend taking yours along with you when shopping. How well they fit could make or break your decision. If you’re in or near the child car seat stage, be sure to check out the accompanying car-seat story.
Technology is an increasingly significant factor in new vehicles, and for many buyers, it’s the most exciting part. This is the fun stuff. Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB ports are almost standard fare at this point, while keyless entry and push-button start are heading in that direction. From the driver’s perspective, we look for capable and easy-to-use infotainment systems. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability lead the way here. Features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assists are both helpful and comforting in town and on the highway, while backup cameras/sensors and rear cross-traffic alert greatly enhance parking lot navigation.
The Kelley Blue Book editorial staff drives hundreds of new cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans every year, so our testing never stops. For this year’s Best Family Cars we compiled a list of last year’s winners and the best of the new and redesigned 2020 models and brought them all together for a back-to-back testing regimen. Our group includes several parents responsible for a dozen offspring spanning a full range of ages including an adorable toddler; elementary, middle, high school and college students; and even a couple who’ve made it out into the real world. We put family cars under a group microscope once a year, but we live with them every day.
Other Family Car Stories
|10 Best Family Cars Under $25,000
Great family cars — on a smaller scale.
|10 Best Used Family Cars Under $15,000
If a new family car isn’t in your budget, consider these excellent used SUVs and minivans.
|Best Family Cars for Car Seats
Top family car picks for car seats, and what to look for when you’re buying a car.