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

By Karen Cicero

Thirty cars tested. Ninety car seats installed. Three hundred plus cupholders counted. Our winning models (selected from a field that aced the government’s safety tests) deliver enough muscle to effortlessly carry your squad – and all their stuff – for years to come.

The Best Minivans

Kia Sedona

This budget-friendly buy ($27,200+) got a makeover for 2019. A restyled bumper, cooler-looking headlights, and redesigned doors fight the mom-mobile stigma. It’s practical too: The seat fabrics are now stain-resistant, perfect for spilled juice and other, shall we say, liquids. The new eight-speed transmission gives the car as much power as its higher-priced counterparts. “Most families should be able to comfortably fit four to five child-safety seats in the Sedona,” says child-passenger safety technician Abbie Patterson, owner of Super Car Seat Geek. “Some of the narrower seats may even provide the option of having three seats across the center row.”

Toyota Sienna

The only minivan with all-wheel drive, the Toyota Sienna ($31,115+) will give you peace of mind if you’re caught in a downpour with the kids. “It improves traction and stability control in rain or snow, making you less likely to skid off the road,” says mom mechanic Rebekah Fleischaker, who owns a garage in Sherman Oaks, California. New standard features like automatic high beams and detection of pedestrians in the road help protect your family. You can expect to fit in four to five car seats or boosters, depending on their size. Families with special needs also appreciate the option of its unique factory-installed Auto-Access Seat. When you push a button on the door, the seat rotates to the outside of the van and lowers almost to street level, making it easier to transport a child or an adult with limited mobility. “My 2-year-old uses a walker, and we love that we can make our Sienna accessible as he gets older,” says Leah Trotter, of Athens, Georgia. “I can store his walker and stroller without putting down the third row of seats, and I have enough space to build a fort inside while we’re between doctor appointments.”

Honda Odyssey

For transporting a lot of kids in car seats or boosters, you can’t beat the Honda Odyssey ($30,190+). “You can comfortably fit up to six child-safety seats,” says Patterson. “It offers five sets of lower anchors and a tether for every seat in the second and third rows, which gives you so much flexibility for where you position your kids’ car seats or boosters.” Getting your crew’s attention won’t be hard either—even when they’re engrossed in “Baby Shark.” Thanks to the brand’s touch-screen CabinTalk system, a speaker projects your voice to the back rows so you won’t need to shout to break up a sibling squabble or ask if anyone needs to stop to use the bathroom. “I also like how easy it is to move the middle-row seats to let my son get to the third row,” says Melissa McFall, of Olathe, Kansas. Icing on the cake: The new safety package in EX models and higher ($34,160+) features brakes that activate if a collision is imminent, an upgrade to the cruise control (to be adaptive), and technology that steers you back into your lane if you drift.

The Best Two-Row SUVs

Ford Escape

This compact model ($24,105) is almost as easy to navigate in tight spaces as a sedan. And you’re not sacrificing space for drivability: “You can nicely fit two car seats in the second row and may get in a third if the seats are narrow,” says Patterson. Using Ford’s free app, you can speak to Alexa in your Escape, asking her to order diapers, start your playlist, or read your calendar, all while you’re waiting in the school pickup line.

Subaru Forester

This longtime favorite ($24,295+) got a modern makeover this year. Now standard, the brand’s Eyesight Driver Assist Technology prevents you from swaying into other lanes. A more powerful engine provides extra energy for speeding up when needed. Inside, you score tons of room for passengers and all your stuff. “You can get up to three car seats across the second row, if the seats are narrow,” says Patterson. And you won’t have to fill your tank as often because the Forester gets 26 to 33 mpg, the most of any vehicle on our list.

GMC Terrain

It’s small but mighty: Fold the rear seats and front passenger seat of a GMC Terrain ($25,000+) down flat and you can fit in an IKEA purchase up to 8 feet long. Put up the rear seats and you can squeeze in up to three narrow car seats or boosters. “It also offers an ample amount of legroom for many taller drivers even when a forward-facing car seat is installed behind them,” says Patterson. Innovative safety features include Rear Cross Traffic Alert. “It’s especially helpful if a child or even an animal runs behind your car in a parking lot after you’ve checked your mirrors,” explains Fleischaker.

The Best Three- Row SUVs

Volkswagen Atlas

One of the largest SUVs on our list, the Volkswagen Atlas ($30,895+) provides so much driver legroom and cargo space, even with up to five car seats or boosters installed. And despite its size, it doesn’t guzzle gas, offering an SUV norm of 22 mpg in the city and 26 mpg for the highway. Automatic headlights and heated side mirrors became standard for all models in 2019. Also included: a six-year, 72,000-mile warranty that’s bound to save you money in repairs.

Subaru Ascent

The newest SUV on the road, the Subaru Ascent ($31,995+) appeals to adventure-seeking families. Some models can tow up to 5,000 pounds (hello, camper!), and all come with raised ladder- type roof rails. Its EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes features like automatic braking if the vehicle senses a crash, comes standard. You’ll also appreciate 19 cupholders and a storage compartment behind the third row to stash weekend essentials. Five car seats or boosters can fit comfortably. “The head restraints are adjustable and removable and have minimal angling—the ideal combination for installing car seats,” says Patterson.

Nissan Pathfinder

You don’t have to worry about accidentally leaving your sleeping baby or toddler in the back of a Nissan Pathfinder ($31,230+) thanks to a patented rear-door- alert system designed by two mom engineers: If you open the back door before a trip but not after you arrive, the system honks automatically, helping to prevent the death of dozens of children every year in hot cars. Another safety win: The Pathfinder’s Intelligent Around View Monitor gives you a 360- degree view, allowing you to see objects (like your kid’s bike or a shopping cart) on the side that might otherwise be in your blind spot. Expect to fit four to five car seats, depending on their size.

Honda Pilot

Like everything about the Odyssey except for the fact that it’s a minivan? The newly redesigned Honda Pilot ($31,450+) offers similar cool tech features, such as CabinTalk, and almost as much room. If you don’t opt for captain’s chairs, you’ll likely fit three narrow car seats across the center row and two in the back—one shy of the Odyssey, Patterson says. On the Touring model and above ($42,520+), you can open the truck by kicking your foot under the rear bumper.

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Comments (1)

Anonymous
April 3, 2019
Great overview, Karen. I write for a lot of automotive publications and you nailed this list.