12 Best Family Cars Of 2017

  • By Website Team Technicians
  • 28 Mar, 2017

By KBB.com

Families have moved on from the family sedan.

Looking at sales trends, soccer fields and school drop-off lines it’s clear that today’s family car is actually an SUV. And the family-friendliest vehicle of them all, the minivan, continues to appeal with its purpose-built practicality.

As SUVs have grown more comfortable and more efficient over the years, families and car shoppers in general have demonstrated an increasing preference for the elevated driving position, superior cargo versatility and higher profile of SUVs. Whether it’s the sliding doors and cavernous interior of a minivan or the high-riding nature and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, each of these vehicles is simply more functional as a family car than a traditional sedan.

~ Best 2-Row SUVs for Families

2017 Honda CR-V

Totally redesigned for 2017, the CR-V is the best-selling SUV in the country and one of our most awarded cars every year.

2017 Subaru Outback

Whether you see it as a higher-riding wagon or a lower-profile SUV, the Outback is a top choice for go-anywhere, do-anything families.

2017 Kia Sportage

Totally redesigned for 2017, the roomier new Sportage checks all the right boxes for families.

2017 Honda HR-V

The most affordable entry on this list outshines its subcompact SUV competitors in roominess, refinement and flexibility.

~ Best 3-Row SUVs for Families

2017 Toyota Highlander

Updated and enhanced for 2017, the clever and reputable Highlander is among the industry standards in three-row transportation.

2017 Honda Pilot

Positively minivan-like in family-friendly features and amenities, the Pilot is also our Midsize SUV Best Buy of 2017.

2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Boasting an impressive array of enhancements for 2017, the Pathfinder maintains its position among the most family-oriented SUVs available.

2017 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.

~ Best Minivans

2017 Toyota Sienna

The only minivan with available all-wheel drive, the Sienna has been further improved for 2017.

2017 Honda Odyssey

Even in its last model year before a full redesign, the Honda Odyssey remains a slam-dunk minivan standout in almost every aspect.

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

The all-new Pacifica is the best-driving minivan on the road and offers the longest, most impressive list of cool features. 

2017 Kia Sedona

Sedona strengths include an attractive, intuitive interior and the peace of mind of the segment’s very best warranty.

Here are the key elements we considered when choosing this year's top family cars, most of which should also factor into your selection process.

Safety

Everyone wants a safe car, but family car shoppers are even more safety-minded. With the exception of the 4-Star Chevrolet Tahoe, every vehicle on this list has earned a 5-Star Overall Safety Rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While the redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V has yet to receive an official rating as of this writing, its predecessor was a 5-Star vehicle and we fully expect the new model to be even safer.

Value

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 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

Reputation

Most of the models on this list have been around a long time and have earned strong reputations for durability, reliability and simply treating their owner’s right. In the case of the only all-new nameplate on the list, the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, its overall appeal helped earn it a spot on the list 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.

Driving Manners

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. The passenger-side second-row seat in the Nissan Pathfinder can provide access to the third row even when there’s a child car seat installed. 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.

Cargo Versatility

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 Seats

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

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.

Testing Procedures

For this year’s Best Family Cars we compiled a list of last year’s winners and the best of the new and redesigned 2017 models and brought them all together for a back-to-back testing regimen. We spent two weeks driving, poking, prodding and researching all these vehicles. Our group includes several parents claiming a total of eleven children 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 them every day.

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When the Velar goes on sale in Australia, pricing will range from $70,300 to $135,400 before on-road costs. A special ‘First Edition’ variant will also be offered at launch, priced from $167,600 – again before on-road costs are applied.

Although full Australian details are still to be revealed, headline features in the Velar include the debut of the new Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with two high-definition 10-inch touchscreens, along with Matrix Laser-LED headlights, Jaguar and Aston Martin-esque flush deployable door handles, and a minimalistic design approach.

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Do you know what it’s like to be the most popular person in the room? What about the most attractive? No, I don’t either, I was just wondering if anyone had felt the way Mazda must feel in Australia at the moment. Everything the Japanese brand has touched of late has turned to gold and one blinding example of that is the 2016 Mazda 3 Maxx.

 

Positioned as the second most affordable 3 in the range, the Maxx actually pushes our pick of the 3 range – the SP25, based on our launch review – all the way when you sit down and weigh up driving engagement, pricing and specification. In fact, if you’re shopping on a tight budget, and you don’t absolutely need the 2.5-litre engine, the Maxx is without doubt the model we’d recommend. Yes, it is that good.

 

Standard safety kit was part of the recent revision to standard specification across the range, and as such, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support are included. The amount of standard kit you get at this price point is genuinely impressive. Luxury Euro vehicles with stratospheric price points don’t get some of the gear that the 3 Maxx gets standard.

 

The Maxx is powered by a 2.0-litre, four cylinder petrol engine, which generates 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm and, as tested, features the aforementioned six-speed automatic gearbox. The engine is pretty high tech too, with stop/start and direct injection, all part of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G technology under the bonnet. All petrol Mazda 3 models will drink regular unleaded, although we tend to run 95RON as a matter of course. The ADR fuel consumption claim is 5.8L/100km with the automatic transmission.

 

External styling is a Mazda 3 strong point and the Maxx is an attractive small hatch. It is part of the reason the 3 is so popular in Australia – we definitely buy vehicles on style in this country. Mazda’s Kodo design language delivers a fluidity in the proportions from front to rear. The signature swooping design cues might eat into second row headroom a little compared to the outgoing model, but there is still room for two adults in the second row. One exterior highlight is the stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, with sensible sidewall tires that add to the driving comfort around town – more on that in a minute.

 

Controlling the system is beautifully simple via the rotary dial that is mounted within easy reach and is incredibly easy to understand even for first timers. Cleverly, the touchscreen function is deactivated when the Maxx is in motion. The satellite navigation software is quick to load and accurate when directing you to a destination. The audio system works well too, with Bluetooth phone connectivity always crystal clear and never dropping out. You also get DAB+ radio and internet radio integration. The screen displays all you need to work through in an easy to understand fashion.

 

The driving position, visibility and comfort are all perfect. There’s plenty of seat adjustment for tall occupants even in the passenger seat, but keep in mind, tall adults up front will eat into leg space for passengers in the second row. If the Maxx is a family runaround though, there’s more than enough space to truck the brood around.

 

The second row seats are actually nicely sculpted and comfortable for adults even on longer trips. You tend to sit down into them rather than up on top of them, and the material is both hardy but comfortable. Your passengers will appreciate the second row accommodation, that’s for sure.

 

The small console bin and small glove box don’t offer up much space for workers using the Mazda 3 as a mobile office, but there’s safe storage for a wallet and phone ahead of the shifter and the cup holders/bottle holders are well positioned too. The hatch section is low enough to make loading and unloading gear easy and again, there’s enough usable space to haul the kind of gear that most Mazda 3 owners will need to carry.

 

On the move, the 2.0-litre engine presents – at city speeds at least – as a quiet and refined power plant. It’s only when you lean on the throttle a little heavily, or coax the Maxx willingly up to highway speeds (or roll on overtake from say 60km/h), that it starts to feel like you’d be better off with the 2.5-litre engine. Under all other conditions, the 2.0-litre is more than up to the task. The real world fuel usage reflects the fact that the engine has to work harder than its bigger sibling, returning an indicated 10.3L/100km.

 

The gearbox is crisp regardless of how hard you’re working the engine, and paired with sharp steering, it makes the Mazda 3 Maxx feel like a nimble little hatch. You find yourself darting around town, like you’re piloting a go-kart, such is the all-round balance and feedback. We loved the way the Maxx rode over poor surfaces, thanks in part to sensible 16-inch wheels and tall tires, but also to an inherently capable suspension tune. While it can turn in sharply and stay balanced through corners, it can also ride comfortably when the going gets nasty – it’s a solid compromise.

 

As we stated at the outset, the Mazda 3 Maxx really does give the SP25 a red hot run for its money as the overall pick of the 3 range. It’s only piped by the more effective engine and extra inclusions for those buyers not on a tight budget. In Maxx specification though, we reckon the Mazda 3 earns a solid eight overall, such is its all-round ability. It’s not hard to work out why the Mazda 3 is so damn popular with Australian buyers.

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