Dad Putting Son In Car

The Best Cars For Families Who Want Safety And Fun

Hanna Kielar8-minute read
UPDATED: December 12, 2022


Choosing a car takes on a whole new meaning when you're a parent, whether you are expecting your first child or already have a busy family. The best cars for families should provide versatile seating and cargo configurations, four doors and an automatic liftgate/trunk, a multi-access entertainment system, and of course lots of room. Perhaps most important of all, your family car should have the best safety features available to that model. 

Of course, each family has a varying list of priorities, which is why we've compiled the following list of eight great family cars in key categories:

Table Of Contents

    What Matters Most For Good Family Cars

    In assessing which vehicles are a good bet for busy families, here are some of the key criteria we deemed most important: 

    • Safety ratings: Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests and grades a variety of makes and models of cars to offer consumer transparency on how a vehicle protects the people inside in the event of a crash. These tests also evaluate advanced crash avoidance technology systems when applicable.
    • Automatic features:Automatic braking, adaptive cruise control and adaptive headlights play an invaluable role in preventing car crashes in inclement weather and other difficult conditions. 
    • Electronic safety features: Lane change warnings, blind spot detection, precollision systems and other driver-assist features help drivers avoid crashes and other incidents. 
    • Adequate size: A car needs to be the right size for the family that intends to drive it, and it should be able to carry one person per seat without feeling too cramped. Consider whether you need room for frequent day trips, longer vacations or even big grocery trips. Pay attention to the cargo space that’s left over when all seats are occupied.
    • Entertainment systems: Built-in screens, Wi-Fi support, electrical outlets to charge devices and other features can keep your kids entertained and allow drivers to stay focused and relaxed.

    Our Methodology

    Safety is the top priority for any family, which is why each vehicle on our list has the NHTSA gold standard 5/5 rating or higher. Likewise, core safety features such as autonomous or anti-lock braking are also prominent. While these two braking features function differently, they both serve to mitigate crashes, spinouts, and loss of control. In recent years, advances in technology have greatly improved driver-assist features, such as blind spot monitoring and crash warning, so we focused on cars that offer these options.

    However, a great family car isn't just about safety. We also considered comfort, roominess, storage and entertainment. On long car trips in particular it can help if everyone in the car has access to their favorite electronic devices, as well as the ability to keep them charged.

    Best Value Family Car

    2017 Toyota Prius

    Best for: All-around value

    MPG: 55 City | 53 Highway

    Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

    The Prius is famous for its superb fuel economy and the impressive reliability that car buyers expect from Toyota. This model fixed some safety shortcomings that previous Prius models experienced, earning a 5/5 ranking on all fronts from the NHTSA. However, crash resilience is just the beginning of what makes this small family car suitable for small families. It's brimming with safety features, including blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights and collision warnings for cars and pedestrians.

    The 2017 Toyota Prius has also become considerably more affordable with the passage of time. With fantastic fuel economy (54 mpg combined) and a very reliable performance record over many years, a pre-owned Prius can be an exceptional value. While lacking some of the best modern entertainment features, the 2017 Prius is still a great value for small families on a budget.

    Best Luxury Family Car

    2021 Volvo S60

    Best for: Luxury comfort

    MPG: 26 city | 35 highway

    Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

    In 2016, the CEO of Volvo declared that by 2020, its new models would be death proof. While perhaps hyperbole, the statement attests to Volvo’s longstanding commitment to building cars that are as safe as possible. The Volvo S60 provides a full array of modern safety features, including lane departure warning and blind spot monitor, along with multiple front and side air bags. In the event of an accident, the vehicle’s passenger “cage” is built of extremely strong boron steel. Beyond safety, the Volvo S60 offers an impressive level of luxury to the family sedan with Nappa leather upholstery, massaging front chairs, heated and ventilated seating and an optional 15 speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system. The car can even connect directly to the internet and provide hotspot connections for your whole family.

    Best Car For A Family Of Four

    2020 Genesis G80

    Best for: Practical performance

    MPG: 23 city | 32 highway

    Drivetrain: All-wheel drive| Rear-wheel drive

    The 2020 Genesis G80 drives like a sports car, with superb handling and performance, but also functions as a good family car. It has an impressive array of safety features, with automatic headlights and braking as well as pedestrian detection, lane assist, driver drowsiness monitoring and smart cruise control.

    There's ample room in the cabin as well as superior visibility, with more than 13 cubic feet of cargo space available for big trips to the grocery store or packing for a family getaway. Both of the two front seats have a rear-facing infotainment screen for backseat occupants. A safe, practical vehicle with a touch of luxury, the Genesis G80 is a smart choice for a family of four.

    Best Car For A Family Of Five

    2021 Toyota Avalon Touring

    Best for: All-season smooth rides

    MPG: 22 city | 31 highway

    Drivetrain: All-wheel drive | rear-wheel drive

    The Toyota Avalon is an excellent car in general and as a plus-sized sedan, it is good for a family of five. The Avalon boasts superior safety features, with good design and side-mounted airbags helping it earn the top crash test rating from the NHTSA. The 2021 Avalon was the first to have all-wheel drive (which enhances stability control and better traction in ice and snow). All-wheel drive was only available, however, on the XLE and Touring trim models, which have a smaller 2.5-liter, 205-hp engine than the 305 hp V6 engine offered in the other packages.

    The Avalon is well-equipped to meet the needs of a modern family, with four USB charging ports, two front cup holders, two rear cup holders, and two rear door bottle holders.

    Best Car For Big Families (6 Or More)

    2021 Ford Expedition XLT

    Best for: Recreation

    MPG: 17 city | 23 highway

    Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive | Four-wheel drive

    The Ford Expedition XLT can comfortably transport up to eight people thanks to three-row seating with customizable legroom. The second row’s 40/20/40 CentreSlide arrangement allows you to adjust seating forward or backward by 11 inches.

    The Expedition may have slightly less cargo space (57.5 cubic feet) than its rivals, but its 5-star NHTSA crash safety rating more than makes up for it. If cargo space is important to you, consider searching for the extended-length Expedition XLT Max, which has 73.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row.

    The base XLT model can be upgraded to a 4WD transmission option which will better equip you to battle harsh winter climates or take you off the beaten path. For car shoppers who envision big family camping trips in their next vehicle, look out for XLTs with a towing package that brings up the standard 6,500-pound towing capacity to a whopping 9,200 pounds. 

    Best Small Family Car

    2021 Volkswagen Golf

    Best for: Urban driving

    MPG: 29 city | 39 highway

    Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive

    While most safety features aren't available on the Volkswagen Golf's base model, by upgrading to the Golf GTI you can add forward collision warning, lane change assist, blind spot monitoring and automated emergency braking. Still, the base model Golf is one of the best hatchbacks on the market, with excellent handling and fuel economy along with surprisingly large cargo space. For a family on a budget, or for an excellent second car for quick trips around town, the VW Golf is a terrific value with a long, solid track record.

    Upgrades on the Golf GTI include leather seats, multiple USB connections, and a 6.5-inch responsive touch screen system to manage messaging, calls and music. In all, the 2021 Volkswagen Golf is an excellent small family car for urban driving and commuting.

    Best Compact SUV For Families

    2021 Audi Q3

    Best for: Advanced safety technology

    MPG: 20 city | 28 highway

    Drivetrain: All-wheel drive

    Some SUVs have to be large, practical and rugged vehicles to stand up to the wear and tear that large families with active children can dish out. For a small family, a luxury compact SUV can be a logical choice. The Audi Q3 stands out as a family SUV thanks to its collection of advanced safety features, such as lane departure warning and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection.

    The Audi Q3 also provides a refinement that many SUVs do not. Standard infotainment features include an 8.8-inch touch screen, Bluetooth, four USB ports, HD Radio, a 10-speaker audio system, Android Auto, and wireless Apple CarPlay. The Q3’s interior has luxury finishes and advanced styling that set it apart from most other SUVs, large or small. The 2021 model year is the fourth installment in its generation, making any 2018 model year or sooner a good buy for the family.

    Best Minivan For Families

    2021 Toyota Sienna

    Best for: Comfortable, spacious interiors

    MPG: 35 city | 36 highway

    Drivetrain: All-wheel drive | Front-wheel drive

    The 2021 Toyota Sienna is among the best minivans and is an excellent hybrid minivan that offers outstanding fuel economy and a sleek design that draws inspiration from Japan's bullet trains and the latest SUVs. Sienna’s styling helps combat the idea that minivans are stodgy and unappealing vehicles you get because you have to, not because you want to. Starting in 2021, all Siennas have a gas/electric hybrid powertrain that significantly increases fuel economy, which can always help with a family budget. With adjustable seating, the 2021 Toyota Sienna is suitable for traveling with extended family, while optional features include a sizable screen for rear seat entertainment, plus a refrigerator and a vacuum!

    Of course, the Toyota Sienna is also no slouch on safety. All models come with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, an all-encompassing network of safety features such as adaptive headlights, automatic braking, lane departure alert, a 360-degree view camera and blind spot monitoring. The combination of fuel economy, space, comfort, safety and entertainment value is what makes the 2021 Toyota Sienna the ideal minivan for families.

    The Bottom Line: Fun and Safety Can Go Hand In Hand

    Modern cars are safer than ever, especially when you're choosing one of the great family cars we've listed above. But great sound systems, cutting-edge infotainment and comfortable seating help make sure that driving is a good, enjoyable experience for everyone in the family.

    Look for a vehicle that gets good fuel economy, has multiple seating configurations and plenty of available cargo space in the cabin. As your children and the family car get older, you might even wish to pass the car down. For more on this topic, consider choosing from our list of the best cars for teenagers.

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    Hanna Kielar

    Hanna Kielar is a Section Editor for Rocket Auto℠, RocketHQ℠, and Rocket Loans® with a focus on personal finance, automotive, and personal loans. She has a B.A. in Professional Writing from Michigan State University.