The Best Family Cars of 2022
Our cars are our havens, family pods, a respite from the outside world. They're where we connect, catch up and sing our hearts out, whether driving to the playground or the Grand Canyon. But cars are changing as quickly as our kids do, and with each new model year there is a lot to consider. So Parents' car experts, including Scotty Reiss, founder of A Girl's Guide to Cars, dug deep and did the research on what's new and what's next, considering all the things families need to know if they plan to buy a new car in 2022.
Here's how we made our picks: The pandemic required us to get creative, but we tested each car thoroughly. After checking safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Parents team requested photos and measurements of the seats and safety-restraint systems for the contenders. Parents automotive experts test-drove more than 35 semifinalists to help make our list of winners.
What You Need to Know For 2022
Technology has evolved greatly over the last few years, giving cars even more capability on the road and more function inside. Here are some common details that you'll see in most new cars:
- ADAS, or advanced driver assist systems: Designed to watch and warn the driver for things like traffic speed, pedestrians, and impending crashes, these systems also help to reduce driver stress. They work in concert and are the precursor to self-driving cars. Most come as a standard suite, though some functions are offered as an option. Systems typically include adaptive cruise control, adaptive high beam headlights, pre-emergency braking, lane departure warning and assistance, blind spot warnings, and pedestrian detection.
- More horsepower, smaller engines, better fuel economy: Car makers have finessed the amount of power generated by smaller engines. But HP is still an important measure of how competently a car will perform merging into traffic and on the highway, especially with a full load of passengers and gear.
- More and more cars have an electrified version: the three most common versions are the hybrid, the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), or the full electric. Each offers different mileage ranges, charging times and benefits, though electric cars tend to be roomy and powerful due to the battery design, which is typically stored under the passenger cabin between the wheels.
- Most electric car buyers charge their cars at home, and they can be charged via a standard household outlet (typically gaining about 6 miles per hour of charging), on a 220V or 240V household outlet, similar to a clothes dryer outlet (typically gaining about 20 miles per hour of charging), or at a DC fast charge station (typically charging the battery to 80 percent in 40 minutes or less). Each model has a user app, there are charge station apps, and models have built-in systems to assist drivers with charging.
- There are tax incentives for electric cars and PHEVs, but check with a tax professional to understand the savings.
Also, when considering your children's car seat needs, keep in mind:
- Children's car seats are designed to install with either the LATCH system (lower anchor and tethers for child passenger car seats) or a seatbelt, but not both, and LATCH systems have a weight limit of 65 lbs (seats + passenger). Installation of a child passenger car seat with a seatbelt meets federal standards as long as the seat is tightly installed and can't move.
- Car seat LATCH systems are great, but complete systems are not required for every seat: Tethers are found on the shoulder or rear of the vehicle's seat and are required for every second and third row seat; lower anchors are not required for all seats, so they often are found only in the center row and sometimes in one or two third row seats. We note where they are for each car detailed here.
When car shopping, have an open mind and focus on the details that matter most to you and your family. The shortage of cars and their components continues, so having options for first, second, and third choices can save frustration and heartbreak.
Scan our winners and keep in mind these tips when it comes to how car shopping has changed during the pandemic:
Make an appointment for a test-drive. It's critical to try before you buy, but due to pandemic restrictions and supply issues, you might not be able to just walk into the showroom and ask for a trial run, so call to make an appointment and check vehicle availability. Keep in mind, too, that some dealers may actually offer to bring the car to you for a test drive.
Know your budget and pricing expectations. Short supply has made it more difficult to meet demand, so while it may be more difficult to score a bargain, it's still smart to do your research and have solid expecations about pricing. It's always worth negotiating to land on a price and payment plan you're comfortable with. And while your dealer may not budge much on the price, you can still negotiate for extras and take advantage of options like contactless signing and delivery.
Check your trade-in value. Do your research and set realistic expectations when trading in your used car, especially as supply chain issues have increased values across the board. Keep in mind that you don't have to trade your old car in to the same dealership where you plan to buy. Services like Carvana and CarMax mean both buyers and sellers have more options than ever before.
- RELATED: Best Cars for Teen Drivers
Ready to find your next ride? Here are our Best Family Cars for 2022.
Despite the frumpy minivan image, these are still a staple in many driveways for their unbeatable utility, convenience, and flexibility. When it comes to space for kids, friends, gear, luggage, and more, minivans just can't be beat.
These are not just cool and capable family cars, they are make-or-break vehicles for the automotive industry too, which is why the competition to make more of these, and make them better, continues. That makes them a great bet for families looking for space, utility, and a smooth ride.
Not every family needs a three-row SUV, and for those who don't, a 5-passenger SUV can offer ample cargo space and is easier to drive and park.
While sedans are popular among drivers, especially those who are budget-focused, they can be tough for daily family driving. Though sedans are easier for kids to scramble into, lifting a toddler into a child passenger car seat and securing the harness can be murder on an adult's back. Sedans are better suited for older kids who don't need help buckling in.
Cars With a Tax Advantage
Buying a plug-in hybrid or electric car may qualify you for a federal tax credit of several thousand dollars. Search fueleconomy.gov for a list of eligible makes and models (including some of our winners).
Browse More Best Car Winners
Family small cars combine excellent fuel efficiency with ample interior room in a compact size. Even if the greatest examples are excellent all-rounders with a decent combination of characteristics, many customers may want the additional room provided by a big family vehicle or SUV. While you'll benefit from increased rear extra legroom, a larger cargo, and improved long-distance convenience, the price will be slightly higher and more gas mileage.Read More
Cleaning our car is my bonding time with my dad.Read More
Great overview, Karen. I write for a lot of automotive publications and you nailed this list.Read More