Best Family Cars of 2015

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.

It's supposed to be just a means of getting you from here to there. But the family car is more than that. It's really like a moving home. For the eighth year in a row, Parents and Edmunds.com have scoured the market for the best new models so your next home-on-wheels is comfortable, safe, and fits your family's needs.

Best Budget Cars

Honda Fit

  • Starts at $16,470
  • MPG 33 city/41 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Honda Fit

Courtesy of Honda

The pint-size Fit sips fuel, parks anywhere, and zips around town with ease. Yet this redesigned model behaves like a much larger car. Smart engineering added 4.8 inches of rear legroom to this already spacious subcompact, a boon for tweens. Folding those backseats, a one-touch operation, creates enough cargo space for a home-improvement-store run. The 1.5-liter engine and variable automatic transmission yield 11 percent more power than last year's edition, while the fuel economy jumps by more than 16 percent. A Bluetooth link and backup camera are included in the base model, even as the gentle-on-the-eyes price tag stands pat.

"The Fit's handling is steadier on the highway than you'd expect. Plus, the storage space is amazing -- we have no problem carting our family of four plus two weeks of groceries." - Dalila Brosen; Jackson, New Jersey

Mazda 3

  • Starts at $17,765
  • MPG 34 city/41 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick +
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Mazda 3

Courtesy of Mazda

The 3 is more stylish, pleasurable to drive, and luxurious than other compacts -- not to mention practical, efficient, and technically advanced. Its direct-injected Skyactiv engine delivers impressive fuel efficiency and acceleration. Mazda Connect manages infotainment and vehicle functions seamlessly, allowing you to maintain focus on the road. For a budget car, the cabin is comfy, roomy, and inviting. The S Grand Touring trim line ($25,865) includes adaptive cruise control; blind-spot and lane-departure warnings systems; and Smart City Brake Support, which automatically halts the car when there's a risk of a fender bender.

Best High-Mileage Car

Volkswagen Golf TDI

  • Starts at $23,165
  • MPG 30 city/45 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Volkswagen Golf TDI

Courtesy of Volkswagen

The redesigned Golf, the 2015 North American Car of the Year, also comes in gas ($18,815), grand touring ($25,605), and electric ($34,270) versions. But we recommend the clean-diesel TDI, which logged 54 mpg in our highway testing -- better mileage than even the Prius hybrid. It drives and feels more like a German luxury vehicle than an affordable hatchback, with super-comfy seats and ultra-secure handling. Yet it's also family-friendly, with nice legroom in back (so your kids won't be kicking you from behind) and more trunk space than any midsize sedan. And the flat-folding rear seats let you stock up on baby supplies.

Best Crossovers

Honda CR-V

  • Starts at $24,325
  • MPG 27 city/34 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick +
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Honda CR-V

Courtesy of Honda

The redesigned CR-V has a pleasing new look and improved collision performance. Honda's new Earth Dreams Technology four-cylinder engine affords enhanced passing power, while the continuously variable automatic transmission conserves fuel. The low-slung cargo floor makes loading bulky gear a snap. So do the split 60/40 rear seats: Pull a lever and the headrests collapse, cushions pivot, and seats drop flat. Honda's LaneWatch beams a high-res view of the right-hand blind spot onto the display screen, while a collision-mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist are all available in the Touring version ($32,525).

Nissan Murano

  • Starts at $30,445
  • MPG 21 city/28 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick +
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Nissan Murano

Courtesy of Nissan

The all-new Murano pulls off a neat trick, mimicking the creamy ride and luxe features of models costing $10,000 more. It provides stretch-your-legs space for five, easy car-seat access, and storage for a weekend getaway (portacrib and stroller included). The fatigue-fighting "Zero Gravity" front seats are a blessing for long drives. The monitor beams 360-degree camera views, detecting and alerting you to moving objects in the parking lot, from bicycles to shopping carts to little kids. Spring for the Platinum edition ($41,485) and you'll get frills that include a built-in navigation system, heated and cooled front seats, and power-folding heated rear ones.

Car Negotiation Tips
Car Negotiation Tips

More Best Family Cars of 2015

Best Wagon

Subaru Outback

  • Starts at $25,745
  • MPG 25 city/33 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick +
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Subaru Outback

Courtesy of Subaru

With weather-conquering all-wheel drive, an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and ample storage for a camping trip, the Outback is a do-it-all wagon. This redesigned model is markedly quieter and more fuel-efficient at cruising speeds than last year's. One thing that (thankfully) didn't change: the low step-in height lets your kids pile in without assistance. They'll love the folding center armrest and separate rear climate control, while you'll appreciate the standard backup camera. Families who plan to tow a boat or a trailer might consider the six-cylinder engine. It's part of the $33,845 3.6R Limited package, which includes a camera-based EyeSight system that scans for potential collisions and automatically applies the brakes when needed.

"The Outback is built to handle tough weather conditions. My kids love the roominess, the cup holders, and the reclining rear seats. I like the user-friendly controls and great sound system." - Ron Marks; Delray Beach, Florida

Best Sedans

Hyundai Sonata

  • Starts at $21,960
  • MPG 28 city/38 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Hyundai Sonata

Courtesy of Hyundai

All new for 2015, the Sonata has more passenger space than its midsize competitors and a storage area that rivals any other. The biggest improvements are in its structure and suspension: The driving experience is quiet and smooth. Touch-screen controls for navigation, audio, and apps are as logical and simple to use as any you'll find. The center armrest in back has two cup holders, and the Smart Trunk opens automatically when you approach with the key fob, a blessing when you're juggling a kid in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other. The Eco version is worth checking out: For a $2,125 upgrade, you'll get a rearview camera, a color touch screen, and a tiny-but-overachieving seven-speed turbo engine.

"The Sonata handles bumps with grace. Installing our infant car seat was effortless, and there's still room for two adults in back." - Jenny Oh; Orange, California

Honda Accord

  • Starts at $22,925
  • MPG 27 city/36 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick
  • 5 passenger capacity
  • 2 car-seat capacity

Honda Accord

Courtesy of Honda

The standard of family sedans makes our list for the seventh time in eight years. Its ride is effortless and precise. The luxurious backseat has a center divider to give siblings their space, the cavernous trunk fits a week's worth of luggage, and the visibility is unmatched. Every Accord includes a rearview camera and Hill Start Assist, which prevents the vehicle from rolling backward on inclines. The $29,240 EX-L version has forward-collision and lane-departure monitors, along with a power moonroof. Welcome additions include a frugal hybrid that averages 45 mpg in the city ($30,125) and a plug-in ($40,570) that goes up to 13 miles before using any gas.

Best Minivan

Toyota Sienna

  • Starts at $29,485
  • MPG 18 city/25 highway
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2015 Top Safety Pick +
  • 8 passenger capacity
  • 5 car-seat capacity

Toyota Sienna

Courtesy of Toyota

The revamped Sienna moves atop our minivan ranking thanks to a quieter interior and many appealing features, from eight air bags to a standard backup camera to optional all-wheel drive (the only van that offers it). With the rear seats folded, the cabin is large enough to swallow a giant BJ's run. Intuitive controls include a single switch to reconfigure all three climate zones. The Premium version ($45,905) pampers rear passengers with a 16.4-inch screen that splits into two displays from separate sources. And you'll enjoy the Driver Easy Speak, which amplifies your voice in back so your kids can't pretend they didn't hear you.

"The Sienna can fit eight people and all their stuff -- with room to spare. The seats are comfortable all around, which keeps my three kids happy."
- Farhat Anwar; Orlando, Florida

Best SUV

Chevrolet Traverse

  • Starts at $31,870
  • MPG 17 city/24 highway
  • 8 passenger capacity
  • 5 car-seat capacity

Chevrolet Traverse

Courtesy of Chevrolet

For growing families, it's a common challenge: finding a trusty, large, affordable vehicle that maneuvers like a midsize. The Traverse is your solution. It offers a robust V-6, confident handling, Grand Canyon space, and nice creature comforts (up to 12 cup holders, tilting second-row seats, lots of storage nooks). An industry-first front-center air bag creates an extra layer of protection in side-impact crashes. Second-row seats slide with one-touch operation, so accessing the roomy third row is a breeze. The LTZ model ($43,685) includes leather seats, a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled front seats, and the latest protective gear, including monitors for blind spot, lane departure, forward collision, and rear cross-traffic.

Our picks for runner-up vehicles

Honorable Mentions

1. Kia Sedona

  • Starts at $26,995
  • MPG 18 city/25 highway

This surprisingly attractive minivan scores additional points with its easy-peasy controls and an SUV-style storage console between the front seats.

2. Toyota Prius

  • Starts at $25,025
  • MPG 51 city/48 highway

The king of hybrids rules on, thanks to its elite fuel economy, reliable ride, and interior and cargo space that can compete with many midsize vehicles.

3. Ford Fusion

  • Starts at $22,835
  • MPG 25 city/37 highway

Sportier than typical sedans, the taut-handling Fusion now offers inflatable seat belts ($190) for rear-passenger accident protection as well as standard front-knee air bags.

4. Jeep Cherokee

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

With a 4,500-pound towing capacity, a fuel-saving nine-speed automatic transmission, and a 4x4 system designed to tackle snow, sand, and mud, this is the rare SUV truly designed for off-road family adventures.

5. Honda Odyssey

  • Starts at $29,855
  • MPG 19 city/28 highway

From the most car-like feel of any minivan to the built-in, Cheerio-slurping HondaVac (on the top-end version), the Odyssey deserves a prominent place on any big family's shopping list.

Tips for Buying a Car

Cars that avoid crashes

Exciting news for safety-first parents: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) now issues crash-avoidance ratings. A model earns a Top Safety Pick + rating if its automatic-braking system substantially reduces the impact or avoids a collision entirely at tested speeds of 12 and 25 mph. Five vehicles on our list earned that honor, while four others are deemed Top Safety Picks. The lone absentee is the Chevrolet Traverse, which, as of press time, hadn't been tested completely. Either rating should instill confidence that the vehicle is safe for you and your family, though the presence of the latest safety technology might make you feel even more secure. See the entire list of IIHS winners at iihs.org.

Car-buying Checklist

  • Bring along your current car and/or booster seats. See how simple they are to install with the model's LATCH system and seat belts.
  • Pop the trunk to gauge how much gear will fit inside. Is there a pass-through to stow longer items?
  • Connect your cell and do a run-through of the phone, audio, and (if available) navigation functions. Some infotainment systems are a breeze, others a pain. Fold and raise seats to ensure they provide no-fuss operation. Sit in each one to gauge comfort.
  • Locate the spare tire, noting whether it's full-size or a smaller "doughnut." Try to avoid models equipped with run-flat tires unless they offer an optional spare.
  • Examine the various storage cubbies, consoles, and cup holders, and picture how they'll fit your family's needs.

Should You Lease Instead?

In terms of dollars and cents, buying wins hands-down. No lease deal can make up for the fact that you're essentially renting a vehicle (and building zero equity). Edmunds.com did the math with the 2015 Honda Accord, one of our 10 best models, using a six-year time frame -- the average time an owner keeps a car:

2015 Honda Accord EX ($24,985)

Buying
Down payment: $4,997 (20%)
Monthly payments: $396 x 60 (five-year loan, one year of no payments)
Total cost: $28,757
Less trade-in value: -$11,000
Net cost: $17,757

Leasing
Down payment: $0
Monthly payments: $339 x 72
Total cost: $24,408
Net cost: $24,408

There are still reasons to consider leasing. You'll drive home a brand-new car every few years rather than having to maintain an aging, (possibly) out-of-warranty vehicle. There's no need to haggle over a trade-in. Plus, most car leases require little or no money down. Lower monthly payments may also let you drive a model you couldn't afford otherwise. If you opt to lease, though, make sure you can stay within the standard 12,000-mile-per-year limit; you'll pay heavily for overages.

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. 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 2015 issue of Parents magazine.

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