Best Family Cars of 2014

With high-tech performance, safety, and convenience features available at all price levels, it's easier than ever to choose a model that's built for your family's needs.

Parents demand so much from a vehicle -- no breakdowns, no safety worries, and every speck of space, performance, mileage, and technology that automakers can pack inside. Did we mention a great price? With shoppers facing so many choices, Parents and Edmunds.com analyzed the field to select the ten top cars for 2014. These models are made for hectic commutes, soccer car pools, gear-packed vacations, and long trips to Grandma's. Your family's security comes first, with every pick featuring multiple air bags and built-in stability features. Many also offer electronic watchdogs, including blind-spot monitors and collision-avoidance systems that, until recently, were the exclusive domain of luxury models. And all provide a winning mix of good looks and cool features that make the journey as satisfying as the destination. Recognizing that every buyer has his or her own priorities, we've included city-friendly subcompacts, spacious SUVs, and everything in between. Whichever one you pick is sure to become a trusted, cherished member of the family.

Best Budget Cars

Mazda 3

  • Starts at $17,740
  • MPG 30 city/41 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Mazda 3

Mazda

You'll be proud to display this small stunner in the driveway. The revamped 3 couples a sophisticated drive with a comfy and highly designed cabin. Its direct-injection engine provides outstanding fuel economy with no sacrifice in acceleration. A $2,600 technology package adds radar adaptive cruise control (which automatically keeps a safe distance from the cars ahead) and lane-departure and forward-obstruction warnings. In case you're distracted by backseat shenanigans, it also includes Smart City Brake Support, a laser-based system that stops or slows down the car when there's a risk of a collision at speeds below 18 mph. And Mazda Connect, an infotainment and connectivity system, is blessedly easy to operate.

Ford Fiesta

  • Starts at $14,925
  • MPG 32 city/45 highway
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Ford Fiesta

Ford

Forget the chintzy economy cars of yore. The Fiesta isn't merely affordable but Euro-chic fashionable and surprisingly roomy in back, even for grown-ups. The ride is notably quiet for a subcompact, with zippy handling. Unexpected standard features include a driver's knee air bag. The optional three-cylinder EcoBoost engine delivers the best mileage of any gas-powered car sold in America. Should you decide to move up to the $19,125 Titanium version, you'll also get heated exterior mirrors (to boost vision on icy mornings) and leather seats and steering wheel.

"I love the way my Fiesta drives, the fact that my 3-year-old can get in and out with little assistance, and the roominess in back and in the trunk." - Jennifer Metcalf; Pleasant Hill, Missouri

Best Hybrid

Toyota Prius

  • Starts at $25,010
  • MPG 51 city/48 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Toyota Prius

Toyota

Open that college fund: The Prius can save you $6,250 in fuel bills over five years compared with the average new car. The world's best-selling hybrid offers a reliable ride and packs impressive interior space into a compact footprint, so installing bulky car seats is no hassle. Interactive display screens coach the driver to maximize mileage: Topping 50 mpg has never been this much fun. Hate getting into a hot car? The cutting-edge Solar Roof Package (a $1,500 add-on available on all but the entry-level model) generates electricity from sunlight to cool the car while it's parked.

Best Sedans

Mazda 6

  • Starts at $21,785
  • MPG 28 city/40 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Mazda 6

Mazda

The all-new 6 makes you feel as if you're getting away with something: No car this practical and inviting to rear passengers (including toddlers in car seats, teens, and even grandparents) should be such a blast to drive. Its "commander" knob lets you manage both the navigation and the entertainment system while minimizing eyes-off-the-road time. The four-cylinder engine supplies brisk power. The Grand Touring version ($30,490) offers a $2,080 package that includes the i-ELOOP system (which captures braking energy and boosts this model to class-best highway mileage) as well as adaptive cruise control (to prevent you from closing in on the car ahead of you) and lane departure and forward-collision warnings. Rear seats fold individually to accommodate your kids and bulky gear as well; a backup camera comes standard.

Honda Accord

  • Starts at $22,745
  • MPG 27 city/36 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Honda Accord

Honda

It's easy to see why the Accord has been a longtime family-favorite sedan. Drivers love the airy views and impeccable road manners, while the standard four-cylinder engine combines silken operation with solid efficiency. Gear-toting parents will appreciate a trunk that swallows two suitcases plus a stroller and a Pack 'n Play. Even the entry-level version includes a backup camera. Cutting-edge safety technologies, including lane departure and forward-collision warning systems, are available on the $29,060 EX Leather trim line. And Honda's new LaneWatch (standard on the $25,670 EX model) brings peace of mind: Flick the right-hand turn signal and a brilliant image of the right-side roadway beams onto the touch screen, showing cars, pedestrians, or bicyclists you might not otherwise see.

Car Negotiation Tips
Car Negotiation Tips

More Best Family Cars of 2014

Best Wagon

Subaru Outback

  • Starts at $24,320
  • MPG 24 city/30 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Subaru Outback

Subaru

Versatility, thy name is Outback. This wagon hauls gear and maneuvers in rough weather like an SUV, but it also hugs the road like a fuel-efficient sedan. The passenger and cargo space outstrip that of most compact SUVs. For family adventures, there's standard all-wheel drive and generous ground clearance, with a low step-in height even toddlers can handle. Sliding roof rails expand to hold bikes, kayaks, and other recreational gear. And even if you don't need up to 3,000 pounds of towing power, the optional H-6 engine on the loaded top-end model ($32,920) makes quick work of highway entrance ramps.

"I love the Outback's traction control for snowy, icy conditions. The backseats have plenty of space for a rear-facing car seat, and we use the well-thought-out cup holders all the time." -- Katie Pierce; Rolling Meadows, Illinois

Best Crossover

Nissan Rogue

  • Starts at $23,650
  • MPG 26 city/33 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 7 passenger capacity
  • 4 car-seat capacity

Nissan Rogue

Nissan

Many families outgrow small crossovers. But the redesigned Rogue has a trump card -- an available third row that boosts the occupancy to seven. Nissan made lots of other improvements too: This version is dramatically quieter, smoother-riding, and more fuel-efficient than last year's. Every seat save for the driver's folds flat, enabling this vehicle to hold an 8-foot ladder. Second-row seats slide forward individually by up to 9 inches (for easier access to your baby) and back (to give your big kid extra legroom), while under-floor storage holds their numerous car toys. Parking is a snap thanks to the Around View Monitor (standard on the $29,140 SL model), which provides 360-degree camera views on a large color screen.

Best Minivan

Honda Odyssey

  • Starts at $29,655
  • MPG 19 city/28 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2014 Top Safety Pick+
  • 8 passenger capacity
  • 5 car-seat capacity

Honda Odyssey

Honda

Reassurance is what the Odyssey affords best, from its confident carlike handling to its terrific resale value. A new six-speed automatic transmission pairs with a brawny V-6 that shuts down up to half its cylinders during cruising for top-notch fuel economy. A backup camera is standard on every version. Second-row captain's chairs can slide sideways for sibling separation and easier child-seat installation. This minivan also triumphs over messy toddlers with the groundbreaking built-in HondaVac, which reaches every nook and cranny of the spacious, stylish cabin. (It's available on the $45,280 Touring Elite model, which also features a blind-spot information system for safer lane-changing, a deluxe DVD player, and a premium audio system.)

"I like the Odyssey's quiet ride, exceptional turning radius, responsive engine, and huge trunk. It's also easy to install car seats -- a big plus since we have four kids." -- Jeff Brown; Liberty Township, Ohio

Best SUVs

Hyundai Santa Fe

  • Starts at $30,750
  • MPG 18 city/25 highway
  • 7 passenger capacity
  • 4 car-seat capacity

Nissan Pathfinder

Courtesy of manufacturer

With striking features for the dollar, the Santa Fe warrants prime placement on any big family's shopping list. The V-6 engine has excellent giddyup for passing, while this model's tight turning circle makes for an effortless driving experience. It has cavernous room for your kids and all their gear. The 40/20/40 rear-seat split lets two sit on the sides while skis slide down the center. Standard Downhill Brake Control lets you negotiate steep descents with no need for pumping. Your little ones will cozy up to the optional heated rear seats on the $34,650 Limited model, which also includes keyless entry, a handy power lift gate, a backup camera, and lots more.

Chevrolet Traverse

  • Starts at $31,670
  • MPG 17 city/24 highway
  • 8 passenger capacity
  • 5 car-seat capacity

Chevrolet Traverse

Chevrolet

Despite its behemoth size, the Traverse negotiates traffic like a far nimbler midsize car. Its V-6 engine mates power with solid fuel economy. This SUV can fit seemingly an entire Home Depot aboard: Even full up with passengers, the storage in back beats that of most sedans. Ten (or more) cup holders make quenching thirst from any position a breeze. Second-row seats tilt for big-kid naps and slide with one-touch operation for easy third-row access. Unlike that of many rivals, the third row welcomes adults, making this an especially in-law-friendly pick.

"The Traverse rides so smoothly that my 18-month-old, who usually hates being in a car, falls asleep all the time. It has great pickup and the roominess is simply incredible." -- Shayla Newman; Napa, California

Car Seat Installation Tips
Car Seat Installation Tips

Our picks for runner-up vehicles

Honorable Mentions

While these vehicles narrowly missed the final cut, they deserve serious consideration from families in the market for new wheels.

1. Kia Soul

  • Starts at $15,695
  • MPG 24 city/30 highway

With its funky styling and sophisticated, space-efficient cabin, this subcompact proves that practicality doesn't have to be boring.

2. Nissan Altima

  • Starts at $22,980
  • MPG 27 city/38 highway

This sedan offers precise handling, standard amenities galore, and mileage on a par with that of many smaller cars.

3. Ford Fusion

  • Starts at $22,795
  • MPG 25 city/37 highway

Sporty, roomy, and versatile, the Fusion is a first-rate sedan with plenty of room in both the backseat and the trunk.

4. Chevrolet Impala

  • Starts at $27,670
  • MPG 25 city/35 highway

This totally redesigned model combines big-sedan virtues with striking looks and a luxurious ride.

5. Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

  • Starts at $21,815
  • MPG 30 city/42 highway

If all wagons were as much fun to drive as the slick Jetta, they might make a big comeback in this country.

6. Ford Escape

  • Starts at $23,505
  • MPG 23 city/32 highway

From a hands-free lift gate that opens with the waggle of your foot to a cool auto-park feature that takes the guesswork out of parallel parking, this tech-laden crossover is a winner.

7. Honda CR-V

  • Starts at $23,775
  • MPG 23 city/31 highway

Trusty operation, a roomy interior, and virtuous mileage have made this crossover a long-standing best-seller.

8. Toyota Sienna

  • Starts at $27,780
  • MPG 18 city/25 highway

It's the only minivan available with all-wheel drive, and the standard V-6 engine makes highway cruising a pleasure.

9. Nissan Pathfinder

  • Starts at $29,970
  • MPG 20 city/26 highway

This family bus has a buttery ride and a roomy interior that can accommodate your kid's whole sports team.

10. Jeep Cherokee

  • Starts at $23,990
  • MPG 22 city/31 highway

The reborn Cherokee boasts off-road capability and SUV polish for everyday driving.

Tips for buying a car

Look beyond sticker price

It's easy to be lured by a low price tag only to discover, too late, that a cheaper car may actually cost more in the long run because it's pricey to service or gulps gasoline. Edmunds.com True Cost to Own reveals all the anticipated expenses of owning and operating a new vehicle on the market over a five-year stretch, including depreciation, fuel, insurance, maintenance, interest payments, and taxes. Plug in a make, model, and year, and you'll get a reliable tool for comparing the total cost of different cars -- one more way to ensure you make the right choice.

Steps to a great deal

Filing taxes. Cleaning gutters. Dental surgery. Even these can't match the anxiety sparked by shopping for a new vehicle. Still, if you do your homework, you'll have the leverage you need to get the ride you want at the right price.

1. Talk about budget
We recommend spending no more than 15 percent of your take-home pay per month (for young families burdened by child-care or preschool costs, less is even better). Buying almost always costs less in the long run, but leasing is convenient and requires less money down up front. Go to Edmunds.com/car-leasing for calculators and more information.

2. Start wide, then narrow the field
Some consumers settle on a model too quickly. While the familiar can be a fine (and often the best) choice, it's worth studying all the key players in your desired class. Also, ignore the unsolicited advice of relatives and friends (unless they own a model you're considering).

3. Get ready to negotiate
Before you set foot in a dealership, get pre-approved for financing with your bank so you know your interest rate. If a dealer can beat it, great. Also think of the loan, the price of the new car, and your trade-in (if there is one) as separate things. Dealers often bundle them together and tell you there's no wiggle room. There always is.

4. Take a test drive
Many dealers let you book in advance via their website, which reduces sales pressure. Then put that baby through its paces, including a freeway merge, tight turns, a parallel park, and a hard stop. Try the nav system and other controls. Climb in and out of the back, and bring your car seat to gauge how easy it is to install. Take two or three contenders for a ride, not only your favorite. This process usually produces a clear winner and eliminates second-guessing.

5. Come prepared
Savvy shoppers can often shave $1,000 or more off the sticker price. Edmunds.com True Market Value lists what consumers in your area are paying for your exact model, right down to the color and specific options. Let a salesperson know you're informed and ready to shop elsewhere if he won't meet your price.

6. Avoid penny-pinching
Some car buyers are determined to squeeze that last $100 from a $25,000 transaction. In the process, you can end up settling for a lesser model. Of course you want a fair price, but this vehicle will be part of your family for years.

Always read the fine print!

Car prices listed are for entry-level trim lines and include destination charges but not optional equipment or other fees. Some photos may represent models with optional equipment. Mileage ratings represent the most fuel-efficient versions of each model and may differ depending on engine and transmission choices. Car-seat estimates are based on our measure of how many would fit comfortably in each vehicle (some models may technically have the capacity for more). Maximum passenger capacity is based on the number of seat belts and includes optional third rows and extra seats. For the most up-to-date car-safety ratings, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (safercar.gov) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (iihs.org). If you made it all the way through this fine print, you're sure to make a smart car-buying decision!

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Parents magazine.

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