Let's talk tech
Last year’s list of Best Family Cars was our first without a single sedan, a reflection of changing consumer preferences and sales trends. This year we welcome four new SUVs to the list, while sedans are once again relegated (lovingly) to the kids’ table.
The biggest news this year might be the mass proliferation of safety, assist and entertainment technologies across these mainstream people movers. Most of the SUVs and minivans on the list offer smart cruise control and automatic emergency braking, for instance. A smaller number offer teen-driver monitoring, wireless phone charging and lane keeping assist. And exactly two, the Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica minivans, offer built-in vacuum cleaners.
But a long list of cool tech isn’t enough to claim a spot on our annual list of Best Family Cars. For a look at the qualities and characteristics we considered when naming this year's family favorites, keep reading below. But let's start with what you came for, the 12 Best Family Cars of 2018.
Best 2-Row SUVs for Families
In alphabetical order
2018 Chevrolet Equinox
Totally redesigned for 2018, the roomy and feature-laden new Equinox checks all the family boxes. Read more
2018 Honda CR-V
There’s almost nothing our Compact SUV Best Buy of 2018 doesn’t do well. Read more
2018 Subaru Outback
Half wagon and half SUV, the Outback is an amazingly capable and versatile choice for active families. Read more
Best 3-Row SUVs for Families
In alphabetical order
2018 Chevrolet Traverse
The all-new 2018 Traverse is among the roomiest, most feature-packed SUVs in the segment. Read more
2018 Honda Pilot
The roomy and clever Pilot is the minivan of midsize SUVs, and our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2018. Read more
2018 Toyota Highlander
A little smaller and a little older than the other SUVs in this group, the Highlander remains a functional and financially savvy choice. Read more
2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Volkswagen’s first 3-row SUV, the all-new Atlas boasts the most room and the best warranty in this bunch. Read more
Best Full-Size SUVs for Families
In alphabetical order
2018 Chevrolet Tahoe
The lead workhorse of the active American family, the Tahoe combines available seating for 9 with the ability to tow the family’s biggest toys. Read more
2018 Ford Expedition
With the best third-row, the best driving manners and the best interior in the segment, we also named the new 2018 Expedition this year’s Full-Size SUV Best Buy. Read more
In alphabetical order
2018 Chrysler Pacifica
Now in its second year, Chrysler’s replacement for the Town & Country is a pleasure to drive and packed with cool features. Read more
2018 Honda Odyssey
We called it the best family car in the world even before we named it our Minivan Best Buy of 2018. Read more
2018 Toyota Sienna
Lightly enhanced for 2018, the aging but proven Sienna remains the only minivan available with all-wheel drive. Read more
What Makes a Good Family Car?
Here's a look at the key elements we consider when choosing our annual list of top family cars, most of which should also factor into your selection process.
Everyone wants a safe car, but family car shoppers are even more safety-minded. We pay special attention to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, and every rated vehicle on this year’s list has the highest Overall Safety Rating rating available in the class.
Many of these vehicles are the very best in class in terms of our 5-Year Cost to Own calculations. By considering a vehicle’s Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price, predicted resale value, insurance, fuel and maintenance costs, our 5-Year Cost to Own figures make it easy to compare actual vehicle costs over a full buy-own-sell ownership cycle. Quite often, spending a little more on the right car can save you thousands in the long run over going for the big rebate on another car. Our 5-Year Cost to Own figures make it easy to see the big picture and make the smart decision.
And while there are plenty of excellent, family-focused luxury SUVs to recommend, we focus strictly on mainstream brands for this annual collection. Starting prices for the SUVs and minivans above range from the mid-$20,000 range to the low $30,000 range, with only the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Expedition exceeding a $40,000 starting price.
Most of the models on this list have been around a long time and have earned strong reputations for durability and reliability. In the case of the only all-new nameplate on the list, the Volkswagen Atlas, its overall appeal and class-leading 6-year/72,000-mile warranty helped it earn a spot in lieu of an established track record. In most cases, however, a few-year-old version of most of the SUVs and minivans on this list would make excellent used cars as well. In fact, several of them are indeed on our most recent list of the 10 Best Used Family Cars Under $15,000.
Even in a vehicle designed primarily to get you and yours from Point A to Points B, C and D on a daily basis, good steering and pedal feel can make a big difference. A vehicle that goes, turns and stops smoothly and as expected is more satisfying and less fatiguing than one with acceleration delays or non-linear braking response, for instance. Good outward visibility and parking-lot finesse also contribute to stress reduction for the driver.
Comfort and Convenience
A smooth ride, quiet cabin and comfortable seats all help keep a family happy while on the move. Convenience features also make a big difference in the overall experience. The sliding doors on some Chrysler Pacificas can be opened with a wave of your foot when your hands are full. The second-row seats on some Honda Pilots will fold and slide forward with the push of a button, granting easy access to the third row. And the new Honda Odyssey offers second row seats that slide not only forward and back, but also side to side. With all the loading and unloading that happens in a busy family car, the benefits of small touches like these can really add up over the years.
Minivans and SUVs are the cargo-friendliest family vehicles on the road, but some are friendlier than others. Usable volume is a key differentiator, but we’re also looking for advantages like low load floors that ease loading and unloading of bulkier items, as well as second- and third-row seats that fold and redeploy with minimal thought or effort.
Child car safety seats are a hugely important consideration for car shoppers with infants, toddlers or both. Is there enough distance between the front seat and the back seat to accommodate both the seat and the child? Can you fit all the seats you need? Are the LATCH mounting points easy to access? Can you access the third row when two car seats are mounted in the second row? Do the vehicle’s seat height and door opening make it easy to buckle the child in and lift them out? Our quiver of test equipment includes popular child seats from Graco and Safety 1st, which we’ve installed in countless vehicles over the years. While all these vehicles are among tops in their respective segments when it comes to car seats, we strongly recommend taking your child car seats and boosters along with you when shopping. How well they fit could make or break your decision. If you're in or near the child car seat stage, be sure to check out the accompanying car-seat guide with useful tips and specific details regarding the car-seat strengths and weaknesses of each of the this year's 12 Best Family Cars.
Technology is an increasingly significant factor in new vehicles, and for many buyers it’s the most exciting part. This is the fun stuff. Bluetooth phone connectivity and USB ports are almost standard fare at this point, while rearview cameras, keyless entry and push-button start are heading in that direction. From the driver’s perspective, we look for capable and easy-to-use infotainment systems, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability leading the way here. Features like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assists are both helpful and comforting in town and on the highway, while backup cameras/sensors and rear cross-traffic alerts greatly enhance parking lot navigation.
The Kelley Blue Book editorial staff drives hundreds of new cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans every year, so our testing never stops. For this year’s Best Family Cars we compiled a list of last year’s winners and the best of the new and redesigned 2018 models and brought them all together for a back-to-back testing regimen. Our group includes several parents responsible for a dozen offspring spanning a full range of ages including an adorable toddler, elementary, middle, high school and college students, and even a couple who’ve made it out into the real world. We put family cars under a group microscope once a year, but we live with them every day.
This article originally published on KBB.com