What makes a car a great choice for a family? It used to be that the mere ability to install a car seat in less than an hour of sweat and spittle-flecked rage was enough to qualify a vehicle as a family chariot. Or any car that could handle more than two parents and two small children—that was a huge criteria in the bad ol’ days.
Today’s family-friendly vehicles earn their status by offering all that plus the kind of kid- and parent-friendly tricks and conveniences that help parents approach carpool morning or road trips with something less than jaw-clenching dread: extra cup holders, outlets, and places to stash things. Drop-down DVD players for the backseat peanut gallery. And of course, car seat-friendly seating options with plenty of room for everyone.
Subaru Impreza: Making the carpool run in all sorts of weather is easier and safer with the Impreza’s standard all-wheel drive—an incredible deal for such a reasonably priced vehicle. Kids will enjoy the little conveniences, such as the center storage box organizer tray, and a two-prong outlet to keep their handheld gaming devices fired up.
Kia Optima: Here’s a lot of features in a small but stylish package. Nappa leather seats are easy to wipe clean, and heated rear seats warm backseat carpoolers in the winter. A hands-free infotainment system keeps you connected via voice commands. The zippy Optima is also a top-rated safety pick.
Toyota Prius C: Many parents assume they have to go with a boat-sized vehicle from the very start of the family years. But if you only have one or two children and you’re devoted to the idea of a hybrid, the Prius C could fit the bill. The Prius C seats two quite comfortably in the back and turns out an impressive 53 city/36 highway mpg. You’ll appreciate the Prius C’s myriad safety air bags—nine all total. Another great hybrid choice: The impressively hot-looking Ford Fusion Hybridwhich still manages to provide a roomy back seat for young passengers.
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Honda CR-V: These small but roomy crossover SUVs hit the sweet spot between size and versatility. The Santa Fe Sport includes separate climate controls and ducts for the passenger area, and provides not one but four outlets for charging everyone’s gadgets and gizmos. The rear seat folds flat in sections, letting you configure the space to best suit your family. The CR-V offers similar roominess and family-friendly features as well as a bevy of tech conveniences such as a built-in Pandora interface and optional text messaging that sends incoming text messages to the speakers.
Honda Odyssey: At the top of any parent’s list is the ubiquitous minivan, and the Honda Odyssey cruises at the top of the bunch. With seating for up to seven people, the Odyssey offers rear-seat climate controls and chilled compartments for drinks and snacks. We’re betting you’ll also appreciate the much-buzzed-about HondaVac on-board minivac—suck up spilled Cheerios in a flash before they get ground into the carpet. The Odyssey gets high marks for safety, too, with the Touring Elite model boasting forward collision warning, lane departure warning and expanded view driver’s mirror. If you drive in nasty weather, though, consider the eight-passenger Toyota Sienna, the only minivan to offer all-wheel drive.