Best Family Cars of 2010

Been holding off on buying a new car? Your wait is finally over. Our 15 top models are packed with performance and safety technology -- plus lots of cool features that will pamper your kids (and you).

  • Scott Jacobs

    Your current car is a total clunker. There's not enough room for the kids. It doesn't have the latest safety gear. Whatever your reason for being in the market for a 2010 vehicle, here's some welcome news: Despite the recession, carmakers have continued to unveil appealing family-friendly models. To steer you toward the top picks, Parents teamed up with Edmunds.com, the leading online resource for car buying. We've only included models equipped with antilock brakes and front, side, and side-curtain air bags. But these rides also offer great handling and nice conveniences, from sliding rear seats to smart storage for toys. We've done all the research; you just need to cruise through this guide.

  • Scott Jacobs

    Sedans: Volkswagen Jetta TDI

    Forget dirty diesels. The Jetta's direct-injection engine and self-cleaning filter reduce noxious emissions by up to 95 percent. Its turbocharged engine lends extra power while delivering mpg that surpasses most compacts. Premium accoutrements -- heated front seats, a touchscreen sound system, three power outlets, and rear heat and A/C vents to keep your kids comfy -- make this one of the best bargains in any showroom. The engine is a bit noisy, but parents who value the feel of a sporty sedan won't mind the trade-off.

    Starting Price: $22,830
    MPG: 30 city/41 highway
    Special Features: Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Sedans: Honda Accord

    There are plenty of strong sedans, but the Accord ranks above all of its comparably priced rivals. Its backseat is among the biggest, a major plus for families with two kids in car seats or rapidly growing tweens. Yet this model is also quite nimble in parking lots and brisk on the highway. The sliding center armrest adjusts to the comfort of drivers of every size, and a remote key lets you vent the car before you get in, a nice benefit on hot days. Most drivers will be content with a four-cylinder engine, but there's also a speedy V-6 available if you want superior passing power. A new high-end hatchback version, called the Crosstour, starts at about $30,000.

    Starting Price: $21,055
    MPG: 19 city/31 highway
    Special Features: Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Sedans: Subaru Legacy

    If you drive a lot in the snow, take note: The redesigned Legacy comes with all-wheel drive. Its rear seat is large enough for adults (or up to three kids), and the trunk has a wide, low opening, which minimizes back strain when you're leaning in to fetch a stroller. Still, this car takes to the road like a sprightly coupe. Subaru also makes it easy to pick the extras you really want without having them bundled with those you don't. So a jazzed-up model that has a leather-trimmed interior, heated seats, alloy wheels, and a rocking audio system clocks in at a reasonable $25,000.

    Starting Price: $19,995
    MPG: 18 city/31 highway
    Special Features: Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard, IIHS Top Safety Pick

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Budget Cars: Mazda 5

    Despite its small footprint, this micro-minivan holds six passengers in three rows. Your kids will fight over the cushy second-row captain's chairs, which have separate storage compartments and a tray that folds out for games, books, or mini meals. The third row, while snug, is fine for anyone under 10. There's minimal cargo room, but folding down the third row creates ample space for your weekly groceries. If you want to fine-tune the ride, you can opt for a 5-speed manual transmission, something no other van offers.

    Starting Price: $18,745
    MPG: 21 city/28 highway
    Special Features: Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Budget Cars: Kia Soul

    This funky new hatchback is sure to turn heads -- and it's a worthy choice for young families. SUV fans will like the Soul's command seating. The boxy profile means you'll be less likely to bang your head while tucking your toddler into his car seat. Durable upholstery makes cleaning up spills a snap. While the base model is spartan, you can upgrade to the Sport version and get a leather steering wheel, keyless entry, alloy wheels, and door-mounted speakers with pulsating lights for about $18,000.

    Starting Price: $13,300
    MPG: 24 city/31 highway
    Special Features: Stability control standard, IIHS Top Safety Pick

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Budget Cars: Honda Fit

    Few things in life are sensible and delightful at the same time, which is why this cute little hatchback has been a hot seller in the weak economy. The cabin is an engineering marvel, squeezing in a storage tray, 10 cup holders, and a glove box big enough to tuck away bottles and snacks for your kids. The rear seat fits two adults comfortably, splits in two, and folds into the floor, creating as much cargo space as some SUVs have. Parking is an absolute pleasure, and the perky engine makes the Fit a blast to drive. Our one major gripe: Stability control is only available on the Sport version, which checks in at around $19,000.

    Starting Price: $14,900
    MPG: 27 city/35 highway

  • Scott Jacobs

    Crossovers: Chevrolet Equinox

    GM is back from bankruptcy and building desirable cars again. The four-cylinder version of the redesigned Equinox gets the best gas mileage of any crossover --26 MPG in combined city and highway driving -- while still offering more than ample oomph on the highway. Big tires and high seating make it feel like an SUV, yet it's surprisingly maneuverable in traffic. The rear seats slide forward so you can keep your little one within easy reach. And remote start (which lets you cool down or warm up the vehicle before you get in) is included on some trim lines and part of a very reasonable $495 package on others.

    Starting Price: $22,615
    MPG: 17 city/32 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard, Power lift gate available

  • Scott Jacobs

    Crossovers: Honda CR-V

    Call it a compromise-free crossover. The CR-V has a breezy, carlike feel and excellent handling. Its cozy cabin has two glove boxes and handy under-seat compartments to keep all your kids' stuff organized. The rear seats fold down in various configurations, with minimal effort, to fit double strollers and science projects, and loading bulky gear is less laborious thanks to the superlight lift gate and low rear deck. We also like that even the base model comes with a folding center storage tray, front and rear power outlets, and a conversation mirror (which lets you see what's going on in the backseat without having to turn around).

    Starting Price: $21,545
    MPG: 21 city/28 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard

  • Scott Jacobs

    Crossovers: Toyota RAV4

    Among the RAV4's many selling points: Sleek styling, crisp handling, and (unique to this category) an optional third row that raises the seating capacity to seven. It's one of the few crossovers with a full-size spare tire, which is mounted on the back. Some parents may find the side-swinging rear door awkward, but they'll appreciate the generous cargo area. The second-row seats slide forward and back and recline for older kids who need a nap, and there are clever compartments for concealing wipes, books, and toys. Editor's note: Toyota has addressed the accelerator problem (which resulted in a recall for this model last January) in all new RAV4s being sold; we feel confident recommending it.

    Starting Price: $21,675
    MPG: 19 city/28 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Hybrids: Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Looking for a larger, plusher hybrid? Try the new Fusion, which was named 2010 North American Car of the Year at the Detroit auto show. The ride is luxurious, and the snazzy cabin has power seats and soft ambient lighting. Your kids will love the voice-activated Sync audio system, which plays music on command. You'll appreciate the capless gas tank, which keeps your hands clean when you refuel. If you want to spend less, the non-hybrid Fusion starts at an affordable $20,000.

    Starting Price: $27,625
    MPG: 41 city/36 highway
    Special Features: Backup sensors standard, Dual climate control standard, Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard

  • Scott Jacobs

    Hybrids: Toyota Prius

    The industry's reigning gas-mileage champ is a practical pick for young families. It has room for three in back -- plus a middle armrest to separate squabbling siblings. A smart key unlocks the car as you approach, leaving your hands free to carry a baby, a purse, or a diaper bag (or all three at once). And the hatchback design makes for a flat cargo area, so it's easy to slide a stroller in and out. Editor's note: Toyota has addressed the braking issue (which resulted in a recall in February) in all new Prius models being sold; we feel confident recommending it.

    Starting Price: $22,800
    MPG: 51 city/48 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Stability control standard

  • Scott Jacobs

    Hybrids: Honda Insight

    This hybrid newcomer strongly resembles the Prius and is designed to go head to head with it. The Insight is a bit smaller (you can get two car seats in back, but trying to wedge in three kids is asking for trouble), but it's also $3,000 cheaper. Although the mpg doesn't quite match up, it's still among the most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road, and it has a quick, responsive ride. Since the base model (LX) doesn't have cruise control, you should consider the better-equipped EX, a cozy $21,000 family car with plenty of storage pockets and a convenient rear hatch.

    Starting Price: $19,800
    MPG: 40 city/43 highway

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Big Cars: Ford Flex

    The throwback styling may evoke an early-'70s station wagon, but this smooth-riding seven-seater is thoroughly contemporary. Each row has separate heat-AC vents, a feature that usually costs extra. A "power fold" button motors part of the second row forward so kids can scamper to the back. The Flex has endless storage space and nice touches, including elbow-high bottle holders that are easy for kids to reach, a capless gas tank, and an optional mini fridge (part of a $3,600 package) for the ultimate in cruising comfort.

    Starting Price: $28,950
    MPG: 16 city/24 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard, Backup sensors standard, Steering-wheel audio controls standard, Power lift gate available

  • Scott Jacobs

    Big Cars: Chevrolet Traverse

    It's just as versatile as a minivan, but this sporty SUV has way more street cred. The Traverse is remarkably spacious, with seating for up to eight passengers and a third row that's comfy even for grown-ups. The second-row seats slide forward (perfect positioning for handing your kid his sippy) and back (for tweens who need more legroom). You can get a week's-vacation worth of luggage into the rear cargo well, and with the seats folded down this vehicle could almost double as a delivery van. Still, the sure handling will make you forget all about its size.

    Starting Price: $29,224
    MPG: 16 city/24 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard, Power lift gate available

  • Kurt Niebuhr

    Big Cars: Honda Odyssey

    The lone minivan on our list, the Odyssey, warrants inclusion for its outstanding interior space, maneuverability, and flexibility. It has a retractable center tray, 13 cup holders, and a hidden storage bin in the floor that can stash a diaper bag. The rear cargo well can readily accommodate a portacrib and bags for a weekend getaway, and you can make more room by stowing seats with a single flick. Coolest of all is the optional PlusOne seat in the second row, which pops up between the two captain's chairs when you need room for eight, then disappears when you don't.

    Starting Price: $26,805
    MPG: 16 city/24 highway
    Special Features: Backup camera available, Stability control standard, Power lift gate available

    Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Parents magazine.