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Best Family Cars for 2021

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The best family cars usually have a big thing in common: space. Roominess is essential for car seats and car pool arrangements, wiggly toddlers and growing teens. Yes, most of the cars on this list are SUVs, but even compact vehicles have well-designed spaces for a (small) crew and gear. All of our picks take safety, reliability, price, warranty and style into account as well.

Best Family Cars for 2021
Model Score Best for
Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4.65 Eco-friendly midsize
Kia Telluride 4.63 Budget-friendly full size
Ford Expedition 4.58 Full size
Mazda CX-9 4.52 Stylish midsize
Subaru Forester 4.52 AWD compact
Hyundai Palisade 4.50 8-passenger midsize
Volvo XC90 4.40 Luxury midsize
Honda Odyssey 4.14 Minivan

How we chose the best family cars

Before we scored them, these best family cars had to receive a 5 out of 5 overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). We then ranked them according to how well they performed on expert and consumer reviews through Kelley Blue Book (KBB) and Edmunds. Out of about two dozen vehicles considered, we narrowed them down to seven high-scoring SUVs and one minivan across four categories.

Best midsize family cars

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

  • 4.65 out of 5
  • $38,200 starting MSRP
  • 36/35/36 MPG

A 2021 model has rolled into showrooms but with few changes from its full redesign a year earlier, we opted for the version with the longer track record, the 2020 Highlander Hybrid. Now that Toyota has given the hybrid version of the popular SUV a four-cylinder engine rather than a V6, it achieves even greater mileage. Toyota Safety Sense™ 2.0, including automatic emergency braking, dynamic cruise control, lane keep assist and more are standard. Depending on the trim, it can seat up to eight people, and tow up to 5,000 pounds. If you prefer the latest model, the 2021 does have a new sport-focused trim and some upgraded safety features in Toyota Safety Sense™ 2.5+, which is tuned to better avoid pedestrian collisions.

Volvo XC90

  • 4.40 out of 5
  • $48,350 starting MSRP
  • 21/30/25 MPG

Refreshed in 2019, the XC90 offers three trims and a plug-in hybrid model. Regenerative braking is available even on nonhybrid models to improve MPG. Seating configurations accommodate four to seven people and while the third row doesn’t offer a lot of legroom, each rear-most passenger has an adjustable air conditioning/heating vent, cup holder and cubby. There aren’t major changes for the available 2021 XC90, but the models have a plethora of standard equipment that you’d expect in a luxury car, including wireless smartphone charging, 19-inch wheels, 12.3-inch digital driver display, integrated roof rails and front park assist.

Hyundai Palisade

  • 4.50 out of 5
  • $31,975 starting MSRP
  • 19/26/22 MPG

The three-row 2020 Hyundai Palisade rolls down the road with standard seating for eight passengers. It also comes standard with an 8-inch media touchscreen, Android Auto™ and Apple CarPlay®, and safety features such as emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Available features include a one-touch release on the second-row seats for easy access to the third row, reclining seats and USB ports in all three rows. Hyundai also offers one of the best warranties from any automaker: a five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. A 2021 model is out now for a starting price of $32,525, but little has changed with the exception of a new trim line called the Calligraphy and some upgrades like standard wireless charging and LED headlights.

Mazda CX-9

  • 4.52 out of 5
  • $33,890 starting MSRP
  • 22/28/24 MPG

Mazda’s catchphrase is “zoom-zoom” and its three-row SUV doesn’t disappoint. Praised for its handling, this stylish crossover can fit seven occupants and has standard active safety features like blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist. The 2020 model, which we focus on here, comes with a standard turbo four-cylinder engine that gives 250 horsepower. The available 2021 model sacrifices 23 of those horses for slightly better MPG but adds a 10.25-inch display screen and the new Carbon Edition trim.

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Best full-size family cars

Kia Telluride

  • 4.63 out of 5
  • $31,990 starting MSRP
  • 20/26/23 MPG

With comfortable seating for eight passengers and their luggage, thanks to the more than 21 cubic feet behind the third row, this 2021 full-size SUV lets you take everyone and the kitchen sink on vacation. It comes standard with active safety features including blind spot detection and auto-emergency braking and the longest warranty in its class. As a sister company with Hyundai, it offers the same warranty: a five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty and a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Ford Expedition

  • 4.58 out of 5
  • $52,810 starting MSRP
  • 17/23/19 MPG

The 2020 Ford Expedition has a significantly higher starting price than the Telluride, but it’s also earned the Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Award for a full-size SUV. Slightly larger than the Kia Telluride, it comes with standard and optional active safety features like automatic emergency braking (though not as many as the Explorer). Power-folding third row seats and a Wi-Fi hotspot are standard to boot. It’s also not short on power. It can tow up to 15,300 pounds with the properly equipped Max version compared to the Telluride’s max towing capacity of 5,000 pounds. A 2021 Expedition, not available as of press time, brings a new trim line with a five-seat configuration.

Best compact family cars

Subaru Forester

  • 4.52 out of 5
  • $24,495 starting MSRP
  • 26/33/29 MPG

A good fit for smaller families, especially if you live in a rainy or snowy area, the 2020 Subaru Forester comes with standard all-wheel drive and the lowest starting price on this list. Active driver safety features are also included in the base price, but if you bump up at least one trim level, there are many nice features that may be worth the price increase such as a power panoramic moonroof and 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability. The 2021 Forester out now adds even more standard safety features such as steering-responsive LED headlights, automatic high beams and a rear seatbelt reminder, but few major changes.

Best minivan for families

Honda Odyssey

  • 4.14 out of 5
  • $30,790 starting MSRP
  • 19/28/22 MPG

The 2020 Honda Odyssey has been recognized for its safety credentials from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which gave it a Top Safety Pick award. But there’s good reason to consider the slightly pricier 2021 model which upped the ante to earn a Top Safety Pick+ and adds the Honda Sensing® safety suite of driving aids as a standard feature on all trims. That’s in addition to exterior changes such as a restyled grille, front bumper and lighting. Parents will appreciate such touches as a built-in vacuum and CabinWatch® camera that allows front passengers to see the rear seats, even in the dark, but they do require upgrading to higher trim levels.

Ways to finance the best family cars

It’s important to understand all of your financing options before going into a dealership. While many people finance through the dealer without researching other lenders, doing so can put you at a disadvantage. By contrast, getting your own financing through a bank, credit union or online lender gives you more power at the negotiation table. Best of all, you can compare auto loan offers online from lenders in just a few minutes.

The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and other fees mentioned in this article are accurate as of the date of publishing.

 

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