Best Family Cars of 2016: The Runners-Up
This year’s family cars comparison test started with 24 cars, from which we picked the 16 Best Family Cars of 2016. But every family has a different combination of wants, needs and preferences, so one of these runners-up may very well be the best choice for you and yours.
The country’s best-selling 3-row vehicle has been enhanced for 2016 with styling upgrades inside and out, improved driving manners and a host of new features. The range-topping 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 is among our favorite engines under any hood, but the more common 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine is also impressive, and more efficient. As a stylish and modern American icon the Explorer’s appeal is undeniable, but it didn’t make our list of top family picks primarily because both the Honda Pilot -- our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2016 -- and Toyota Highlander offer more room and greater value.
Last year we named the Ford F-150 to our list of best family cars, but our approach evolved a bit this year and we concluded that only a small section of shoppers in search of a new family car were being served by the inclusion of trucks. With that said, trucks are roomier and more comfortable than ever, and if you’re looking for a truck that will also serve your family well, the wildly popular Ford F-150 remains a rock solid choice. And while it didn’t make this year’s list of best family cars, the F-150 handily claimed our 2016 Pickup Truck Best Buy Award.
Totally redesigned for 2016, the stylish and feature-rich Hyundai Tucson deserves a spot on any small-SUV shopper’s short list. Offering plenty of room for most segment shoppers, the Tucson didn’t make this year’s Family Cars short list because it’s just not as roomy, flexible and accommodating as the world-beating Honda CR-V.
Offering an unparalleled mix of style, features and value -- it starts under $17,000 -- we continue to think the world of the Kia Soul. And while it earned a spot on last year’s list, it was effectively and rightly replaced this year by the far roomier new Honda HR-V subcompact SUV.
The exceptionally comfortable Ram 1500 didn’t repeat as a top family car this year, but only because of a philosophical change in how we approached the list. As the only full-size truck with coil springs in back, the Ram 1500 offers a notably smoother highway ride than any of its competitors. Combined with a rich, roomy interior and available built-in Wi-Fi, the Ram 1500 has the makings of a family favorite.
Small car meets small crossover in the Crosstrek, which proved a bit too small -- compared to some compelling alternatives -- to make the short list of top family cars this year. But Subaru’s all-wheel-drive system remains a strong selling point, as noted in our full review: “Unlike most other crossover SUVs, the Crosstrek's AWD is permanently engaged, routing power to the wheel or wheels with the best grip. The system is lightweight and efficient, making foul-weather and off-road excursions a walk in the park.”
If midsize sedans make great family cars, it would stand to reason that full-size cars make even better family cars. In reality, many full-size cars are designed more for post-family buyers, often as quasi-luxury sedans. The Toyota Avalon, for instance, doesn’t even offer a fold-down rear seat to accommodate longer cargo items, the only vehicle in our test without that feature. A roomy, well-appointed sedan, the Avalon is really more of a high-value Lexus than a family-friendlier Camry.
With a richly deserved reputation for delivering extended trouble-free ownership, the Toyota Camry remains the best-selling car in the country. It’s roomy, comfortable, easy, affordable and efficient, and a 2015 update elevated its style and technology games. Clearly the Camry is a great choice for families, but it’s now one of the older cars in a midsize sedan segment that’s added some great new cars in just the past couple years. We’d never talk a family car shopper out of buying a Camry, but we’d encourage them to check out some of the newer entries before making their final decision.
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