Family Transportation for the Modern Age

As time goes on, sales trends and consumer preferences show that more shoppers are looking to SUVs instead of sedans. That trend has been reflected in this year’s list of Best Family Cars, which doesn’t have a single sedan on the list.  

Another trend we’ve noticed this year is the expanded amount of advanced safety, such as adaptive headlights and rear cross-traffic alert; driver-assist features; and modern connectivity and entertainment technology. Many of these features, once exclusively available on luxury models, are now offered in vehicles that cost less than $30,000. Among the SUVs and minivans on the list, several offer smart cruise control and automatic emergency braking. Other standout features include teen-driver monitoring, wireless phone charging, and an exit warning that alerts you if there’s a bicycle approaching. And exactly two, the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica minivans, offer built-in vacuum cleaners.

But impressive tech is just the start. To earn a spot on our annual list of Best Family Cars, there are many qualities and characteristics we considered when naming this year's family favorites. Keep reading below to see which elements we considered. But first, let's start with the 12 Best Family Cars of 2019.

Best 2-Row SUVs for Families

In alphabetical order

2019 Honda CR-V

Honda's well-rounded CR-V is safe, reliable, and practical -- it's the complete package. Read more

2019 Hyundai Santa Fe

The totally redesigned Santa Fe is larger than a typical compact SUV. Spacious and quiet, the interior is user-friendly and loaded with features. Read more

2019 Subaru Forester

All-new for 2019, the Forester offers comfortable, nicely equipped way to explore the outdoors -- or get to your neighborhood coffee house. Read more

Best 3-Row SUVs for Families

In alphabetical order

2019 Chevrolet Traverse

Roomy, versatile and comfortable, the Chevrolet Traverse is the modern-day version of the family station wagon. Read more

2019 Honda Pilot

Loaded with thoughtful features and clever storage solutions, the Honda Pilot is as nearly as versatile as a minivan, and is our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2019. Read more

2019 Subaru Ascent

Subaru's foray into the 3-row midsize SUV segment offers the practicality, space and features a family wants, while retaining Subaru character and spirit. Read more

2019 Toyota Highlander

It may be a little older than the other SUVs in this group, but the Highlander remains a reliable, functional, financially savvy choice. Read more

2019 Volkswagen Atlas

Volkswagen's 3-row Atlas offers the most room, as well as the best warranty of the group. Read more 

Best Full-Size SUV for Families

2019 Ford Expedition

The Expedition has the best third row, the best interior, and the best driving manners in the segment. It's also our 2019 Full-Size SUV Best Buy. Read more

Best Minivans

In alphabetical order

2019 Chrysler Pacifica

The Chrysler Pacifica is a pleasure to drive, is packed with class-leading technolgy, and is the only minivan available as hybrid. Read more

2019 Honda Odyssey

Still the benchmark among minivans, we called the Honda Odyssey the best family car in the world and named it our Minivan Best Buy of 2019. Read more

2019 Toyota Sienna

The aging but proven Sienna continues to be a terrific family hauler, and remains the only minivan available with all-wheel drive. Read more

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 which should also factor into your selection process.

Safety

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, and every rated vehicle on this year’s list has the highest Overall Safety Rating available in the class.

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.

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.

Reputation

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.

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. 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.

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.

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 2019 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

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10 Best Used Family Cars Under $15,000

If a new family car is out of your budget, consider these excellent used SUVs and minivans. Read more

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Five Road Trip Tips

Want to keep the kids engaged while on your next highway adventure? Check out these five screen-free ways to make the hours breeze by. Read more

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