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.
Americans parked a record 17.5 million new vehicles in their driveways last year. Looking to join them? Parents is here to help. Together with Edmunds.com, the destination for car shopping, we’ve selected the 10 cars on the following pages. They are standouts in their class, blessed with style, substance, driver- and kid-friendly features, and lots of bang for the buck (three start under $20K). Whether you have a new baby or a carload of grade-schoolers to chauffeur to soccer practice, you’ll find a model with the size, capabilities, and price you need to keep your family on the move—and the ride fun.
Best Budget Vehicle
Starts at $15,800
MPG 24 city/30 highway
The Soul’s smart design and great value make it an ideal starter model. Its cabin includes niceties such as six speakers with dash-mounted tweeters, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, and a 60/40 splitfolding rear seat. We prefer the Soul+ ($19,300), which has a larger 2.0-liter engine that adds 34 useful horsepower. That version also includes an 8-inch navigation screen and the Uvo eServices system, which links smartphone apps such as Pandora to the onboard display, keeping Taylor Swift at your kids’ beck and call. Despite its tiny footprint and playful ride, the Soul loves to pretend it’s an SUV: Folding the split rear seats creates cavernous cargo space, while the soaring roof swallows tall, bulky gear with ease.
Best Green Car
Starts at $25,720 (after $7,500 federal tax credit)
MPG equivalent combined 106 on electricity; 43 city/42 highway on gas only
Faster, roomier, less expensive, and more efficient than its predecessor, the redesigned Volt is a tour de force. This plug-in hybrid can now travel up to 53 miles on a single charge (about a 40 percent gain), meaning parents with a modest commute can do a daily round trip without ever filling up. But it’s no mere novelty: This sleek vehicle switches to gas operation automatically and boasts a fuel range of up to 420 miles, making lengthy road trips possible. And the comfortable ride supports such ventures, provided your bags fit into the modest-size trunk and you have no more than two kids in back (the rear-center perch is tight).
Starts at $18,545
MPG 30 city/41 highway
This hatch has international flair: Italian curves, German handling, and the practicality you’d expect from a Japanese maker (no squeezing to install car seats). The 2016 version includes a rearview camera, as well as Mazda’s dashmounted infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen. Fold the split 60/40 rear seats and it holds a ginormous Costco run. Few models in this class have comparable safety options, including a $2,600 package (available on the $25,445 Grand Touring’s trim) that features radar-based cruise control so you don’t trail too closely; lane-departure and forward-obstruction warning systems; and Smart City Brake Support (which automatically applies the brakes at low speeds if a collision is imminent).
Best Small Sedan
Starts at $18,640
MPG 31 city/41 highway
The reworked Civic is a blast to drive, with enhanced handling and plenty of pizzazz. Its slope-roofed body wraps a decidedly richer and more accommodating cabin. The lower windshield provides outstanding driver visibility. Even the base model includes a rearview camera with three viewing angles. You’ll appreciate the extra-large center console, while your kids will like the fold-down cup holders in back. The new continuously variable automatic transmission boosts the fuel economy. And an extra $1,000 nets you Honda’s impressive safety suite, including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, and more.
Starts at $21,990
MPG 25 city/37 highway
Who said a family car has to be boring? The refreshed Optima is striking inside and out, with sleek lines, pleasing ergonomics, smart controls, a smooth ride, and enhanced fuel efficiency. Even the base model includes a rearview camera and remote keyless entry. This sedan has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which integrate your smartphone with the Uvo eServices infotainment system via voice, screen, or steering-wheel controls. Consider springing for the EX version (an extra $3,000), which has dual-zone temperature control, heated front seats to combat frosty mornings, woodgrain interior accents, and a push-button start.
Starts at $24,995
MPG 25 city/33 highway
Wagons may seem out of fashion, but this one offers key advantages over most crossovers, from its excellent handling in ice and snow to its top fuel economy to its lower step-in height. All-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance make the Outback game for every type of family adventure. And it feels deluxe, with a rear-vision camera, a tilt/ telescoping steering wheel, and vacation-ready roof rails. Opt for the 2.5i Limited version ($30,395) for a package that includes blind-spot detection, a rear cross-traffic alert, pre-collision braking, and adaptive cruise control—not to mention rear climate control and reclining heated rear seats that keep your kids happy.
Starts at $22,700
MPG 23 city/31 highway
If you’re in the market for a do-it-all crossover, put the Tucson on your list. Shapely and sculpted, it has a tranquil ride and a refined, spacious interior. Your kids can stretch out and kick back, thanks to the clever two-stage reclining seats and best-in-class rear legroom. For parents whose hands are always full, the Tucson offers an innovative tailgate that swings up automatically when you approach with the key in your pocket. Move up to the Limited version ($29,900), and you’ll get 19-inch sport alloy wheels, leather seats, an 8-inch touchscreen navigation system, and an optional $2,750 safety package that includes hill-descent control, lane-change assist, and blind-spot monitors.
Starts at $29,660
MPG 21 city/28 highway
Despite its whimsical appearance, the redesigned Murano is a serious family vehicle. The tranquil cabin has terrific passenger and cargo space, including super-comfy contoured rear seats that kids—and even adults—will appreciate. All models except the base include an 8-inch touchscreen. An optional Around View monitor (standard on all models beginning with the $37,950 SL) provides 360-degree camera views that make parking a breeze, along with a moving-object detector that chimes if a pedestrian darts into your path as you’re pulling out. A V6 engine supplies excellent pickup, the continuously variable automatic transmission improves the mpg, and the buttersoft ride and utter lack of cabin noise ensures that your little one’s nap won’t be disturbed on the drive.
Starts at $28,850
MPG 18 city/25 highway
The endlessly roomy Sienna stands above its competitors for two reasons: It’s the only one with available all-wheel drive, and the especially user-friendly controls help you stay focused on the road. Its library-quiet cabin makes for a soothing ride, while a powerful V6 supplies quick acceleration. The Limited version (which starts at $41,900) features second-row captain’s chairs with reclining chair–style footrests, along with a rear-seat entertainment system that eliminates bickering by allowing siblings to watch two different media sources at the same time. And if you need to bring the thunder, the optional Driver Easy Speak system broadcasts the driver’s voice through the rear speakers.
Starts at $30,145
MPG 19 city/27 highway
The revamped Pilot jumps to the top of the family-size SUV pack. Less boxy, nearly 300 pounds lighter, and more responsive than its predecessor, it sports a peppy V6 that makes short work of freeway on-ramps. The cabin is serene and spacious, with a third row that’s roomy enough for adults; when folded down, it’s almost impossible to fill (though you’ll have fun trying). Generous standards include keyless push-button start, capless fuel filling (which reduces the likelihood of gas getting on your hands), and a multi-angle rearview camera. And the $1,000 Honda Sensing package has every smart safety system you can list, including a steering wheel that vibrates when you veer out of your lane.