Upgrade your "second home" with the help of our annual Parents' Best Family Cars shopping guide featuring the top minivans, SUVs, and sedans on the market for families in 2021.

By Karen Cicero
Updated April 06, 2021

They're more than vehicles: Our cars have turned into sanctuaries for ten minutes of solitude, socially distanced picnic spots for the kids to eat lunch, and the preferred way to travel on vacay. And if you're like us, you may be itching to upgrade after this past year. Enter these winners that make up our Parents' annual best cars list.

An image of little girls in front of a car.
Credit: Priscilla Gragg.

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, Abbie Patterson, certified passenger-safety technician and owner of Super Car Seat Geek, requested photos and measurements of the seats and safety-restraint systems for the contenders. Parents automotive expert and dad Rob Stumpf then test-drove 35 semifinalists to help make our list of winners.

Ready to find your next ride? Scan our winners then keep in mind these tips when it comes to how car shopping has changed during the pandemic:

Contact the dealer for a test-drive appointment. Depending on where you live, you may not be able to walk into a showroom and ask for one. Many test-drives take place without a salesperson in the car with you (a silver lining!).

Negotiate from home. When our car-seat expert bought a new minivan last year, she landed on a price after several rounds of back and forth via phone. Also ask about contactless signing; more than 400 Volkswagen dealerships, for example, have a digital signature program.

Look at trade-in options. Stumpf sold his car through Carvana. He snapped pics and answered questions to get an offer. They picked it up at his house. CarMax also gives online offers.


The stigma is real, but so are the perks: sliding doors that won't nick nearby cars, cargo space galore, and kid-friendly tech.

honda odyssey
Credit: Courtesy of Honda

Best Versatility: Honda Odyssey

$31,790+/19 to 28 mpg

The Honda Odyssey’s third-row seats easily fold down to create a hangout space.

How It Drives

The combo of its V-6 engine and ten-speed transmission give the Odyssey plenty of power. “It glides through highway lanes and on city streets,” says Stumpf. “You can also maneuver the 2½-ton vehicle into compact spaces.” New for 2021, some safety features, like automatic braking if a pedestrian walks in front, don’t cost extra.

Car-Seat Fit

With five sets of lower anchors and six tether anchors on the EX and above models ($35,190+), you have the versatility to install any type of seat anywhere in the second or third row. “It’s spacious enough for five to six seats,” says Patterson.

Wow Factors

The third-row seats fold down, leaving you with a roomy space. A built-in vacuum on 2021 models will suck up countless crumbs. (Grab it while you can—the perk won’t be included on 2022 models because of supply issues.)

Chrysler Pacifica
Credit: Courtesy of Chrysler

Best Handling: Chrysler Pacifica

$35,045+/19 to 28 mpg

How It Drives

“Refreshed inside and out for 2021, the Pacifica feels like you’re driving on a cloud,” Stumpf says. The all-wheel-drive system ($2,995 extra on some trim levels) gives you better traction in bad weather and helps make the minivan more stable in stop-and-go traffic. The brakes are nimble too.

Car-Seat Fit

You can put two kids in the middle row and two in the back. “Since the head restraints in the second row are more adjustable, that’s the easiest place to install most forward-facing car seats or high-back boosters,” Patterson says. Rear-facing seats or backless boosters can potentially go in any spot.

Wow Factors

How about eyes in the back of your head? The new FamCAM camera on the infotainment system shows you what kids are up to in the back. You can even zoom in on a specific seat. The wizardry is standard on the Pinnacle ($53,390+) and costs extra on the Limited edition ($48,390+).

Kia Sedona
Credit: Courtesy of Kia

Best Value: Kia Sedona

$30,400+/18 to 24 mpg

How It Drives

Whether you’re squeezing into your supermarket’s curbside parking or navigating a Starbucks drive-through line precaffeinated, the Sedona’s wheel is light and easy to maneuver. Kia’s innovative automatic transmission system powers the van’s front wheels, giving them a good grip on the road.

Car-Seat Fit

All Sedona trims now hold eight passengers and can accommodate up to five car seats—two in the back row and up to three in the middle row. Forward-facing seats may be easiest to put in the middle row behind the driver or the passenger.

Wow Factors

There’s a new Sedona design in the works for 2022, but in the meantime, the kids will be thrilled with the touch screens on the back of the front seats that are part of the rear entertainment package ($1,500). They can play games or stream their favorite shows.

Toyota Sienna Hybrid
Credit: Courtesy of Toyota

Best Eco Pick: Toyota Sienna Hybrid

$34,460+/up to 36 mpg

How It Drives

Toyota boldly discontinued its gas-powered Sienna and is making only a hybrid minivan. With upgraded steering, it’s more graceful around curves. An enhanced battery warranty covers 150,000 miles or ten years, whichever comes first.

Car-Seat Fit

The Sienna’s redesign increased its car-seat compatibility. “There’s an extra tether in the back row, and the seats are wider and not as inclined, making installation in any position easier,” Patterson says. You’ll fit four to five car seats if you opt for the version with bench-style seating rather than captain’s chairs.

Wow Factors

You can out-tech your device-happy kids with a built-in mic that transmits your voice through the rear speakers so you won’t have to shout, “What’s going on back there?” The Sienna is road trip–ready with up to 18 cupholders, seven USB ports, and climate controls for each row of passengers.

Three-Row SUVs

They give you loads of space with a sporty design.

Acura MDX
Credit: Courtesy of Acura

Best Luxury Redesign: Acura MDX

$46,900+/19 to 26 mpg

How It Drives

Skipping the 2021 model year, the 2022 MDX (out now) sports a ten-speed automatic transmission and larger wheels that crush it on winding mountain roads and looping drive-through lines. Its V-6 engine gives you the burst of speed you want for highway merging without feeling out of control.

Car-Seat Fit

The enlarged Acura holds up to three seats in the middle row and two in the back. Since there are tether anchors in all seating positions, you have a lot of options.

Wow Factors

There’s a genius storage compartment in the floor of the cargo area. When kids are snacking, flip the storage area’s lid from its carpeted side to its plastic side to make cleanup easier.

Kia Sorento
Credit: Courtesy of Kia

Best Redesign: Kia Sorento

$29,390+/24 to 29 mpg

How It Drives

The lowest-priced pick of the bunch got a glow-up with a mod-looking exterior, better gas mileage, and a choice of engines. The turbocharged version on the EX and SX trims ($34,990+ and $37,990+) gives a smoother, swifter ride than previous generations.

Car-Seat Fit

Opt for a model with captain’s chairs rather than bench-style seating if you need room for three car seats. Place high-back boosters and rear-facing seats in the second row, Patterson advises.

Wow Factors

All Sorentos now include safety tech that helps you stay in your lane and turns on your high beams automatically.

Nissan Pathfinder
Credit: Courtesy of Nissan

Best For Adventures: Nissan Pathfinder

How It Drives

Skipping over the 2021 model year, the 2022 Pathfinder (out this summer; the price was still being determined at press time) has a new nine-speed transmission for a smoother ride. Paired with its V-6 engine, it offers quick acceleration.

Car-Seat Fit

You may be able to fit up to three car seats or boosters in the second row and two in the third, Patterson notes. If you want to install a forward-facing seat in the third row, do it on the passenger side.

Wow Factors

The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds, giving you a lot of options for hauling a camper on a road trip. Plus, there are 14 color options.

Volkswagen Atlas
Credit: Courtesy of Volkswagen

Best Value: Volkswagen Atlas

$31,555+/21 to 24 mpg

How It Drives

The Atlas steers and brakes with ease. Heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, and other safety features come standard.

Car-Seat Fit

You can install two seats in the third row and up to three in the second if you opt for the model without captain’s chairs. Backless boosters and rear-facing seats fit better than forward-facing ones in the third row, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

Instead of a confusing instrument cluster, a “digital cockpit” behind the wheel on the SEL trims ($42,325+) has a high-res screen that displays your speed, navigation, and safety systems such as rear camera view. You can even customize it.

Subaru Ascent
Credit: Courtesy of Subaru

Best For Road Trips: Subaru Ascent

$32,295+/21 to 27 mpg

How It Drives

With a perfectly executed CVT transmission, it adjusts quickly to changing terrain. If you need to take unpaved back roads on a weekend getaway, the Ascent will come through with flying colors.

Car-Seat Fit

You can install up to five seats in the car—three narrow ones in the second row and two in the back. Use the LATCH system rather than the seat belt to place a car seat in the second row behind the passenger so kids can easily get to the third row, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

On any trim, you’ll snag LED headlights that move in the direction you’re steering so you can see better around corners at night.

honda pilot
Credit: Courtesy of Honda

Best Quiet Ride: Honda Pilot

$32,550+/20 to 27 mpg

How It Drives

The lighter-weight Pilot has the same V-6 engine as the Odyssey, so you’ll score a faster ride that’s quiet and smooth, Stumpf says.

Car-Seat Fit

You’ll fit two seats in each of the second and third rows. Forward-facing seats may work best in the second row, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

Three former add-ons now come standard: paddle shifters, to give you more control over the transmission in rugged terrain; dual-climate control; and an eco-friendly system that shuts down the engine if you’re waiting in traffic.

Volvo XC90
Credit: Courtesy of Volvo

Best Luxury Tech: Volvo XC90

$49,000+/21 to 30 mpg

How It Drives

It’s got game heading uphill thanks to twin-charged engines. Opt for all-wheel drive ($51,500+), and it’ll be easier to handle in bad weather.

Car-Seat Fit

You can install up to four car seats or boosters. If you need a forward-facing car seat in the third row, install it on the passenger side using the tether, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

You’ll score a wireless phone-charging plate in the console between the front seats, and sensors to help you park.

Mazda CX-9
Credit: Courtesy of Mazda

Best Braking: Mazda CX-9

$34,160+/22 to 28 mph

How It Drives

“The brake pedal is soft at slow speeds and firm when it needs to be, easily modulating just how much power you need to stop,” Stumpf says. Its four-cylinder engine supplies ample power and saves gas.

Car-Seat Fit

Four seats is typically the max for the Mazda; you can fit two each in the center and back rows. If you need to install a forward-facing car seat in the back row, put it on the passenger side.

Wow Factors

Refreshed last year, the interior with santos rosewood inlays and quilting on the first- and second-row seats feels shmancy. And a sensor that gauges the amount of rainfall on the windshield, turning wipers on and off automatically, is the bomb.

Two-Row SUVs

These models can fit two kids and all their stuff.

Chevrolet Equinox
Credit: Courtesy of Chevrolet

Best Steering System: Chevrolet Equinox

$23,800+/26 to 31 mpg

How It Drives

The Equinox’s engine steps up for the times you need to accelerate quickly. It steers well, leaving you feeling in control.

Car-Seat Fit

You won’t have to search for the lower anchors and tethers—they’re more obvious on the Equinox than on many other vehicles. Install a backless booster behind the driver or passenger side rather than in the center, Patterson suggests.

Wow Factors

The “following distance indicator” displays the gap in time between your car and the one in front of you.

Subaru Crosstrek
Credit: Courtesy of Subaru

Best Hybrid: Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

$35,345+/up to 90 MPGe

How It Drives

Easy steering and smooth braking make this hybrid fun to drive. It has a range of up to 480 miles using both the electric- and gas-powered engines.

Car-Seat Fit

If you need to squeeze in two car seats and a booster, putting two narrow car seats behind the driver and in the center seat will make it easier to buckle and unbuckle the seat belt for the booster, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

“When you’re using cruise control, the Crosstrek kicks in a lane-centering system that’s incredibly accurate,” Stumpf says.

Nissan Rogue
Credit: Courtesy of Nissan

Best Redesign: Nissan Rogue

$26,650+/27 to 35 mpg

How It Drives

The Rogue has upped its game, increasing the horsepower of its engine and its gas mileage. The handling also improved over the previous gen thanks to an updated platform and chassis.

Car-Seat Fit

If you need three car seats in the back, opt for narrow ones and install each with a seat belt to maximize space.

Wow Factors

The rear doors open to almost 90 degrees for easier access—sweet when you’re installing car seats or when the grandparents are along for the ride.

Ford Mustang Mach E
Credit: Courtesy of Ford

Best Electric: Ford Mustang Mach-E

$42,895+/94 to 108 MPGe

How It Drives

Ford’s all-electric SUV is a home run, accelerating almost twice as fast as some bulky SUVs, and gives a smooth, quiet ride. It goes for 211 to 305 miles without a charge, depending on the model.

Car-Seat Fit

You’ll likely be able to get three seats in the back, which is wide with lots of headroom. Put the narrowest seat in the center.

Wow Factors

Instead of an engine, a space the size of a 36-gallon cooler is built into the front trunk (aka the frunk). Fill it with ice and head to the park for the coolest picnic.

Subaru Forester
Credit: Courtesy of Subaru

Best For Road Trips: Subaru Forester

$24,795+/26 to 33 mpg

How It Drives

Symmetrical all-wheel drive comes standard so you don’t have to worry about the weather tripping up your weekend getaway. Bumpy terrain is no match for its high ground clearance.

Car-Seat Fit

You can fit two seats—put them behind the driver and passenger sides. Install a rear-facing seat on the side of the person who’s typically shorter.

Wow Factors

Score raised roof rails for kayaks and other gear on the premium trim ($27,795+).

Buick Envision
Credit: Courtesy of Buick

Best Quiet Ride: Buick Envision

$31,800+/22 to 29 mpg

How It Drives

The powerful engine and nine-speed automatic transmission pair up for plenty of acceleration in this refreshed model. The suspension system adjusts shock absorbers to deliver a smoother ride.

Car-Seat Fit

You can install three car seats in the back—woo-hoo! Avoid placing a backless booster in the center seat, Patterson says.

Wow Factors

Sound-absorbing insulation, an acoustic laminated windshield, and, on some models, special mics reduce outside noise.

Toyota Venza
Credit: Courtesy of Toyota

Best Eco Tech: Toyota Venza

$32,470+/37 to 40 mpg

How It Drives

Three electric motors supplement a four-cylinder engine, making the Venza seem peppy in around-the-town driving. Toyota also improved the suspension for a smoother, softer ride.

Car-Seat Fit

You can easily install seats behind the passenger and driver thanks to two sets of lower anchors.

Wow Factors

To prevent the backseat from getting too hot, you can switch the panoramic sunroof over the front and back seats from transparent mode (the usual) to frosted.

Family Sedans

For smaller families or city dwellers, or as second cars, these roomy sedans are good buys.

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Credit: Courtesy of Toyota

Best Sports Hybrid: Toyota Camry Hybrid


A fun second car that’s roomy enough to haul two kids on the weekend, the Toyota Camry Hybrid ($27,270+) packs more power than many similar sedans.

Lexus ES350
Credit: Courtesy of Lexus

Best Luxury Car: Lexus ES350


With an excellent suspension system and a plush interior, the Lexus ES350 ($40,000+) gives families of three or four a smooth ride. Onboard Wi-Fi comes standard on all trims.

Nissan Maxima
Credit: Courtesy of Nissan

Best Sporty Car: Nissan Maxima


Need a stylin’ car to offset your minivan? Enter the four-door Nissan Maxima ($36,990+), which supplies plenty of legroom even when you have two rear-facing seats installed in the back.

Honda Accord Hybrid
Credit: Courtesy of Honda

Best Value Hybrid: Honda Accord Hybrid


This zippy Honda Accord Hybrid ($26,570+) is an eco-friendly alternative to an SUV if you usually chauffeur around one or two kids. Packed with safety features, it’s also a great car to teach teens to drive. (Plan ahead; it goes fast!)

Subaru Legacy
Credit: Courtesy of Subaru

Best All-Weather: Subaru Legacy


Strong marks for steering plus symmetrical all-wheel drive make the Subaru Legacy ($22,895+) a good pick for small families who live in rainy or snowy climates. You can even fit three car seats in the back if needed.

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

An image of cars on a colorful background.
Credit: Art: Jillian Sellers.

Want more buying options? Check out our 2021 winners for teens learning to drive and our favorite luxury car picks for the whole family. Browse the Best Cars for Teen Drivers

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