12 Best Family Cars of 2017

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Families have moved on from the family sedan.

Looking at sales trends, soccer fields and school drop-off lines it’s clear that today’s family car is actually an SUV. And the family-friendliest vehicle of them all, the minivan, continues to appeal with its purpose-built practicality. Reflecting this continued shift, this year’s list of Best Family Cars is our first without a single sedan.

As SUVs have grown more comfortable and more efficient over the years, families and car shoppers in general have demonstrated an increasing preference for the elevated driving position, superior cargo versatility and higher profile of SUVs. Each of our 12 Best Family Cars of 2017 offers a unique but similarly compelling combination of safety, value, versatility, amenities, comfort and drivability. Whether it’s the sliding doors and cavernous interior of a minivan or the high-riding nature and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, each of these vehicles is simply more functional as a family car than a traditional sedan.

All of which isn’t to say a sedan isn't a great choice for many families. Midsize sedans like the Honda Accord and full-size sedans like the Chevrolet Impala are roomy and comfortable, and typically deliver more features and greater efficiency than similarly priced SUVs. If a sedan meets your needs we definitely encourage you in that direction, and suggest you check out our list of top choices in family sedans.

Similarly, there are plenty of excellent, family-focused luxury SUVs to recommend, but we focus strictly on mainstream brands for this annual collection. Starting prices for the SUVs and minivans below range from about $20,000 to the low $30,000 range, with only the Chevrolet Tahoe exceeding a $40,000 starting price.

For a look at the qualities and characteristics we considered when naming this year's family favorites, keep reading. But let's start with what you came for, the 12 Best Family Cars of 2017.

 

Best 2-Row SUVs for Families
In order of sales volume

2017 Honda CR-V

Totally redesigned for 2017, the CR-V is the best-selling SUV in the country and one of our most awarded cars every year. Read more

2017 Subaru Outback

Whether you see it as a higher-riding wagon or a lower-profile SUV, the Outback is a top choice for go-anywhere, do-anything families. Read more

2017 Kia Sportage

Totally redesigned for 2017, the roomier new Sportage checks all the right boxes for families. Read more

2017 Honda HR-V

The most affordable entry on this list outshines its subcompact SUV competitors in roominess, refinement and flexibility. Read more

 

Best 3-Row SUVs for Families
In order of sales volume

2017 Toyota Highlander

Updated and enhanced for 2017, the clever and reputable Highlander is among the industry standards in three-row transportation. Read more

2017 Honda Pilot

Positively minivan-like in family-friendly features and amenities, the Pilot is also our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2017. Read more

2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Boasting an impressive array of enhancements for 2017, the Pathfinder maintains its position among the most family-oriented SUVs available. Read more

2017 Chevrolet Tahoe

The lead workhorse of the active American family, the Tahoe combines available seating for 9 with the ability to tow the family’s biggest toys. Read more

 

Best Minivans
In order of sales volume

2017 Toyota Sienna

The only minivan with available all-wheel drive, the Sienna has been further improved for 2017. Read more

2017 Honda Odyssey

Even in its last model year before a full redesign, the Honda Odyssey remains a slam-dunk minivan standout in almost every aspect. Read more

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

The all-new Pacifica is the best-driving minivan on the road and offers the longest, most impressive list of cool features. Read more

2017 Kia Sedona

Sedona strengths include an attractive, intuitive interior and the peace of mind of the segment’s very best warranty. Read more


 

Here are the key elements we considered when choosing this year's top family cars, most of which should also factor into your selection process.

Safety

Everyone wants a safe car, but family car shoppers are even more safety-minded. With the exception of the 4-Star Chevrolet Tahoe, every vehicle on this list has earned a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While the redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V has yet to receive an official rating as of this writing, its predecessor was a 5-Star vehicle and we fully expect the new model to be even safer.

Value

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.

Reputation

Most of the models on this list have been around a long time and have earned strong reputations for durability, reliability and simply treating their owners right. In the case of the only all-new nameplate on the list, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, its overall appeal helped earn it a spot on the list in lieu of an established track record. 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.

Driving Manners

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. The passenger-side second-row seat in the Nissan Pathfinder can provide access to the third row even when there’s a child car seat installed. 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.

Cargo Versatility

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 Seats

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? Our quiver of test equipment includes popular child seats from Graco and Safety 1st, which we’ve installed in countless vehicles over the years. While all these vehicles are among tops in their respective segments when it comes to car seats, we strongly recommend taking your child car seats and boosters 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 guide with useful tips and specific details regarding the car-seat strengths and weaknesses of each of the this year's 12 Best Family Cars.

Technology

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 rearview cameras, 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, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability leading 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 alerts greatly enhance parking-lot navigation.

Testing Procedures

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 2017 models and brought them all together for a back-to-back testing regimen. Ten editors spent two weeks driving, poking, prodding and researching all these vehicles. Our group includes several parents claiming a total of eleven children 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 them every day.

 

More SUVs and Minivans


 

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