Best Family Cars for 2009

Yes, money's tight. But it's an ideal time to shop for a car. We've picked 15 models (in five categories) with a winning mix of safety, value, performance, and family-friendly features.

  • Courtesy of Honda

    Great Deals on New Wheels

    In today's economy, a new car is probably at the bottom of your family's priority list. But here's a good reason to move it up: Dealers are desperate. So if your old vehicle has seen better days or you need more space (whether it's to accommodate a new baby or a carpool), this is the time to shop for bargains. To steer you toward the smartest picks for families, Parents teamed up with, the leading online resource for car buyers. Together we test-drove and compared dozens of new models. The 15 that made our list place a premium on safety. All come standard with antilock brakes and side-curtain air bags and most include stability-control technology, which prevents skids by automatically applying braking where it's needed. Each also scored four or five stars on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal and side-impact crash tests and (if tested) received at least a "good" safety rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Our winners also boast numerous fun features to make long rides with kids more manageable. There's no need to spin your wheels researching dozens of models. Just turn the page.

  • Courtesy of Honda

    Sedans: Honda Accord

    Exceptional handling makes this crowd-pleaser as maneuverable as a subcompact, yet there's plenty of room in back to secure car seats without straining. Thoughtful touches include a sliding center armrest (which adjusts to the driver's comfort), steering-wheel-mounted audio controls (which let you keep your eyes on the road), and a high-tech stereo system that can store your favorite music.

    Starts Price: $20,905
    MPG: 19 city/31 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Bluetooth capability available, Stability control standard, Dual climate control available
    Reader Review: "My three kids have room to stretch out, the trunk is large, and I like the automatic headlights and optional built-in garage-door opener." --Christopher Roy Chino Hills, California

  • Courtesy of Chevrolet

    Sedans: Chevrolet Malibu

    This handsome sedan has ample room in back for three kids to weather a long trip without starting World War III. The four-cylinder engine yields excellent mileage (an optional V-6 adds more power), and the extra-large rear-seat pockets hold lots of books or toys. Although this isn't a luxury vehicle, it will feel like one if you opt for heated seats and the remote-start option.

    Editor's note: At press time the future of parent company General Motors was uncertain. But we still feel comfortable recommending this car because the government has promised to honor all warranties if necessary.

    Starts Price: $21,605
    MPG: 17 city/33 highway
    Features: Bluetooth capability available, Stability control standard, Dual climate control available, Hybrid version available
    Reader Review: "I like the smart storage on top of the dashboard for holding house keys and sunglasses, the effortless car-seat LATCH installations, and the excellent rear legroom." --Amber Dinda Ontario, Canada

  • Courtesy of Mazda

    Sedans: Mazda 6

    The remodeled 6 is a blast to drive. But it's the cool features that will win parents over: a rear-center armrest with cup holders, audio controls on the steering wheel, heated seats, and a keyless entry (which lets you open the windows from your porch). There's also an optional blind-spot alert, which beeps when an unseen car in the next lane pulls close.

    Starts Price: $19,220
    MPG: 17 city/30 highway
    Features: Bluetooth capability, Stability control available, Dual climate control available
    Reader Review: "It has great pickup, and the ride is great. The roomy interior gives it an upscale feel and makes it simple to install my toddler's car seat." --Kristen Robinson State College, Pennsylvania

  • Courtesy of Mazda

    Budget Models: Mazda 5

    Call it a microvan or a mini-minivan if you like -- but definitely call it practical too. The 5 has seating for six, a foldout tray for your kids' snacks, comfy armrests for everybody, and a ride that belies its modest size. The dual sliding rear doors make it easy to load your kids. And you get a lot for your money: Even the deluxe version -- which includes heated leather seats and a navigation system -- comes in at around $23,000.

    Starts Price: $18,665
    MPG: 21 city/28 highway
    Features: Stability control optional, Bluetooth capability available, Dual climate control standard
    Reader Review: "The split fold-down third-row seats give me lots of cargo options, the lift gate is easy for a petite mom like me to close, and the high seating lets my toddler see out the window." --Christine Rovner Silver Spring, Maryland

  • Courtesy of Honda

    Budget Models: Honda Fit

    The refreshed '09 Fit offers perky handling, amazing economy (it has the lowest price and the best gas mileage of any model on our list), and a number of enhancements from the previous version: The instrumentation is simpler to eyeball, the seating is roomier, and the backseats fold into the floor (a trick you won't find in any other car this size), creating a generous storage area. Somehow designers managed to squeeze in ten cup holders too.

    Starts Price: $14,750
    MPG: 27 city/35 highway
    Features: Stability control optional
    Reader Review: "I park in spots no one else would even attempt. The LATCH system is the best I've used, and the trunk is big enough for a huge grocery store run." --Kevin Smith Upper Arlington, Ohio

  • Courtesy of Volkswagen

    Budget Models: Volkswagen Rabbit

    The Rabbit is equally agile on the open road and on city streets. Heated front seats, an adjustable driver's armrest, rear heat and A/C vents to keep your kids comfy, plus a foldaway key are all standard. The backseat is a squeeze for grown-ups, but it's fine for kids under 10.

    Starts Price: $19,340
    MPG: 20 city/30 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Stability control standard
    Reader Review: "I look forward to my daily commute in this sporty hatchback. The front is roomy enough for a tall driver (I'm 6-foot-3), and my kids, ages 7 and 3, are happy in back." --Eric Mortenson Charlotte, North Carolina

  • Courtesy of Honda

    Crossovers: Honda CR-V

    The CR-V is so smooth that your kids will have no trouble falling (and staying) asleep at naptime. Family-friendly features include two glove compartments, bins for storing games, reclining rear seats, and a center tray in front that folds away in case you need to stash a diaper bag. There's plenty of pep in the four-cylinder engine, and it will save you money at the pump.

    Starts Price: $21, 245
    MPG: 20 city/27 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, 4-wheel drive available, Optional backup camera, Stability control standard, Dual climate control available
    Reader Review: "The CR-V sits up high, giving me a better view of the road. There's also lots of space in back for my 3-year-old and all his stuff." --Jennifer Fantoni Louisville, Kentucy

  • Courtesy of Subaru

    Crossovers: Subaru Forester

    The redesigned Forester's high roofline is great for tall drivers -- and anyone who places a premium on 360-degree visibility. There's plenty of space for strollers, portacribs, and more in the cargo area, and the roomy back lets you install car seats without throwing out your back. Most models have reclining rear seats for the comfort of older kids, and the ergonomic controls make it easy to focus on the road.

    Starts Price: $19,995
    MPG: 19 city/27 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Standard all-wheel drive, Stability control standard
    Reader Review: "It's peppy yet handles bumps with ease. The lighted cup holders prevent spills, and the three plugs let you use multiple electronic devices." --Jodie Slothower Normal, Illinois

  • Courtesy of Toyota

    Crossovers: Toyota RAV4

    Crisp handling makes the RAV4 fun to drive even in traffic (well, almost). The backseats slide forward and back and also recline. The optional V-6 engine makes it a pleasure on the highway, and the RAV4 is the only car in its class with an optional third row, which boosts the capacity to seven.

    Starts Price: $21,500
    MPG: 19 city/28 highway
    Features: 4-wheel drive available, Optional backup camera, Bluetooth capability available, Stability control standard, Dual climate control available
    Reader Review: "My son finds it comfy, even on 12-hour trips to visit Grandma. I like the tight turning radius and terrific passing power." --Elizabeth Schmitz Fayetteville, Georgia

  • Courtesy of Ford

    SUVs: Ford Flex

    The boxy shape might bring to mind that wood-paneled wagon your parents rode around in as kids. But this cavernous cruiser has modern features such as slide-out storage bins and fold-flat seats. Nifty options include a mini fridge and the Sync system, which lets you operate a cell phone and MP3 player using voice commands.

    Starts Price: $28,550
    MPG: 16 city/24 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Optional backup camera, Optional power lift gate, Stability control standard, Dual climate control available
    Reader Review: "The Flex gets good mileage and has style to spare. Loading our twin babies is a cinch, and our older kids love using the Sync to play their favorite music." --Sara McNamara San Clemente, California

  • Courtesy of Mazda

    SUVs: Mazda CX-9

    This svelte seven-seater is the sports car of its class, with nimble handling and a spirited engine. The roomy second-row seats recline, and the third row, while a bit cramped, is fine for two young kids. Generous standard features include front and back climate controls, steering-wheel-mounted radio controls, and a cool retractable key.

    Starts Price: $30,490
    MPG: 15 city/22 highway
    Features: Optional backup camera, Optional power lift gate, Bluetooth capability standard, Stability control standard, Three-zone climate control standard
    Reader Review: "It corners like a much smaller vehicle. But the designers still put in plenty of storage bins and well-placed anchors for our car seats." --Jason Childers Seattle, Washington

  • Courtesy of Chevrolet

    SUVs: Chevrolet Traverse

    The Traverse is as practical as a minivan but has more panache. Interior refinements include rear-seat climate controls, sliding second-row seats (so you can easily hand your baby a Binky), and a third row that fits three comfortably, raising the capacity to eight. The storage space is everything you'd expect from a large SUV, but the precise handling is closer to that of a sedan.

    Starts Price: $28,990
    MPG: 16 city/24 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Optional backup camera, Optional power lift gate, Stability control standard, Three-zone climate control available
    Reader Review: "I love the heated seats and the remote start, while my kids like the wide second-row seats and separate rear audio system." --Colette de la Barre Fairfax Station, Virginia

  • Courtesy of Toyota

    Minivans: Toyota Sienna

    It has all the essentials: 14 cup holders, an array of storage nooks, and an optional center seat in the second row slides forward. But the Sienna has surprises too, such as optional laser cruise control (which slows you down automatically when you approach the car ahead) and optional all-wheel drive. Many of the seats fold flat, and the cargo well can hold a week's worth of luggage for seven.

    Starts Price: $24,540
    MPG: 16 city/23 highway
    Features: All-wheel drive available, Bluetooth capability available, Optional backup camera, Optional power lift gate, Stability control standard, Three-zone climate control available
    Reader Review: "Our car seats install easily, the trunk space is enormous, and the handling is fantastic, even in the snow." --Jennifer Peters Neenah, Wisconsin

  • Courtesy of Honda

    Minivans: Honda Odyssey

    The Odyssey is remarkably maneuverable for a minivan. But it's the clever cabin -- with its hidden storage well, two glove compartments, 13 cup holders, and third-row seats that fold down separately -- that will win over parents. The power sliding doors are a worthwhile add-on for families, and the optional second-row middle seat raises the capacity to eight -- and disappears into the floor when you don't need it.

    Starts Price: $26,355
    MPG: 16 city/25 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Optional backup camera, Optional power lift gate, Stability control standard, Bluetooth capability available, Three-zone climate control available
    Reader Review: "Navigating city streets is a breeze. There's room for all our gear, and I like being able to stay cool up front while our baby keeps warm in the back." --Jason Hicks Middle Village, New York

  • Courtesy of Hyundai

    Minivans: Hyundai Entourage

    The Entourage undercuts its competitors on price despite offering standard features they don't, including a front windshield wiper that de-ices and separate climate settings for the driver, the passenger, and the kids in back. The ride is nice, the safety package is complete, and you get all the storage bins and folding options you'd expect from a minivan. For an extra $6,000 you can drive home a model with heated front seats, power sliding doors, easy-to-clean leather upholstery, and other plush touches.

    Starts Price: $23,995
    MPG: 16 city/23 highway
    Features: IIHS Top Safety Pick, Optional power lift gate, Optional backup warning sensors, Stability control standard, Three-zone climate control standard
    Reader Review: "It's so quiet you barely feel the road. The backseat folds flat, and there's enough room for our three kids plus everything else we?ve ever needed to fit." --Linsey Grove, Bentonville, Arkansas

    Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Parents magazine.