Imagine driving across the country with a carload of children. Now imagine doing that twice, every year. CarGurus surveyed families to determine which cars best meet their needs, and among other findings, 1 in 3 parents reported driving his or her kids at least four hours per week. Cumulatively, that equals two round trips between Boston and San Diego per year. We’ve all lusted after a Mazda MX-5 Miata or Dodge Challenger at least once in our lives, but if kids are in the picture, the shortcomings of a sports car become readily apparent.
Moms and dads identified price, safety, fuel economy, and cargo space as the four most critical elements when considering a new car purchase. We looked at CarGurus listing prices, rather than MSRP, to accurately gauge pricing, and the website’s database supplied cargo volume figures. Vehicle safety ratings were supplied by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and we examined fuel-economy numbers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Using this data, CarGurus compiled its choices for Best Family Cars of 2016.
Sub-$30,000: 2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen
$18,744 – $31,820
30.4/66.5 cubic feet
A good price was paramount in choosing a family car, and perhaps no car offers more for the money than the 2016 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen. Though 2016 was a shrouded year for the world’s second-largest automaker, don’t let Dieselgate dissuade you from looking at Volkswagen’s only 2016 wagon. The Golf Sportwagen earns 5 stars from NHTSA and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+. It delivers impressive combined-driving fuel economy at 31 miles per gallon, and its 66.5 cubic feet of total cargo space will swallow up any number of suitcases or sports equipment. George Kennedy was left impressed by the car’s capacious trunk, scoring it a 10-out-of-10 for Form and Function. Considering its listing prices on CarGurus range from $18,744 to $31,820 fully loaded, it’s no wonder the German wagon also earned a 9-out-of-10 in cost effectiveness.
Sub-$40,000: 2016 Subaru Outback
$25,119 – $40,125
35.5/73.3 cubic feet
If your budget stretches toward $40,000, you can find nearly all the Golf Sportwagen has to offer, plus all-wheel drive and even more space, in the 2016 Subaru Outback. CarGurus listing prices range from $25,119 to $40,125 for new Outbacks, but regardless of price, all-wheel drive is standard on all trims. Anyone living in a wintry region will appreciate the extra traction, even if the added weight and drivetrain friction knocks fuel efficiency down to 29.4 mpg in combined driving. Chris Wardlaw was certainly appreciative of the Outback’s 35.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row (and 73.3 cubic feet with that row folded) when he packed his test vehicle for a ski trip–but even the Outback’s form and function paled in comparison to the level of safety it delivered. When he tested the Outback for CarGurus, Wardlaw was so impressed by the wagon’s EyeSight and driver-assistance systems that he awarded it a 10-out-of-10 for safety.
Sub-$50,000: 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
$44,625 – $55,461
13.8/83.2 cubic feet
When looking at the best family cars priced as high as $50,000, we were a little surprised to see a Toyota tick all the boxes. But as Clifford Atiyeh noticed in his review for CarGurus, few midsize SUVs come better equipped than the 2016 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. In truth, prices on the Highlander Hybrid reach a bit above the $50,000 threshold, as CarGurus listing prices climb above the Limited Platinum trim’s $50,485 MSRP, to $55,461. On the bright side, Highlander Hybrids can be found priced as low as $44,625, and all versions pack the same impressive (for a nearly-5,000-pound SUV) 27.5 combined mpg and 83.2 total cubic feet of cargo with all rows folded. The Highlander Hybrid managed 5 stars from NHTSA and was named a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS. Add in the ability to seat 7, and it’s hard to compete against this midsize SUV.
Minivan: 2016 Honda Odyssey
$25,836 – $49,920
38.4/93.1/148.5 cubic feet
In good conscience, we couldn’t write a list of top family cars without including a minivan. Parents responding to CarGurus’ survey listed cargo space as very important criteria in their car search, and no other body style provides the cavernous interior (and exterior) volume that made the minivan a staple of the American driveway. The 2016 Honda Odyssey offers plenty of space, with 38.4 cubic feet behind the third row, and its 148.5 total cubic feet more than doubles the Subaru Outback’s max. Because it lacks autonomous braking, the Odyssey only manages a Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS, but it does carry a 5-star NHTSA safety rating and its 24 combined mpg is competitive in the segment. CarGurus listing prices start at $25,836, with helpful options like a built-in vacuum and rear-seat entertainment system driving prices toward a $49,920 ceiling.
Luxury: 2016 Volvo XC90
$42,995 – $92,895
15.8/41.8/85.7 cubic feet
Luxury cars are expected to deliver all the bells and whistles, and no family car provides more safety tech than the 2016 Volvo XC90. Nicole Wakelin awarded the XC90 a 9-out-of-10 in safety thanks to Volvo’s decision to provide collision avoidance, lane-departure warnings, road-sign information, and roll stability control as standard features on the model, with a surround-view camera, adaptive cruise control, cross-traffic alerts, and a lane-keeping aid joining an impressive list of options. Let it be known: the XC90’s 5-star NHTSA rating and IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award come as no surprise. Next to the safety tech, the SUV’s impressive 85.7 cubic feet of max cargo volume registers as an afterthought, and the 23.6 mpg in combined driving can be forgiven considering the vehicle’s size. Listing Prices range from $42,995 to $92,895, and the quality of the cabin, the practicality of the design, and the overwhelming safety technology all wrapped up inside help to justify even the highest-priced trims.
What car would be your perfect family vehicle?
Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.
Used Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen
Used Subaru Outback
Used Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Used Honda Odyssey
Used Volvo XC90
Emily B. says
What a great article,with such an informative information on great family cars. An older Diesel suburban might fit the bill. Still not cheap, but they seem to last forever if taken care of, can tow a house (trailer), and get pretty good mileage. With dual tanks, being able to go 700 or 800 miles on a big gulp of Diesel isn’t bad, either. Also, don’t forget those full-size vans. You can get a big family inside, all their stuff, tow a trailer, and still get that Diesel mileage.