A family car must be versatile, capacious, economical and reliable. It should also be safe, have excellent crash test scores, and deliver good fuel economy. Because we know some people prefer cars, others prefer SUVs, and still others prefer minivans, we’ve ensured our list covers all of the above. However, a family car’s primary mission is to transport children, so any listing of the 10 Best Family Cars for 2015 should also make kids’ needs a priority.
Another thing to consider is how well the car performs. It should be quick enough to merge onto highways into fast-moving traffic with ease, and it should be responsive enough to work with you should the need arise for a sharply evasive maneuver. When evasion fails however, the car should be capable of protecting those inside. For this reason, all cars on our list of best family cars are also IIHS Top Safety Picks.
Finally, but not least importantly, these days, the average transaction price of a new car is hovering in the $32,000 range. For this reason, we’ve set the price ceiling for our 10 Best Family Cars of 2015 at $30,000.
Chevrolet’s Malibu offers handsome styling, strong fuel economy, plenty of power and a quiet, smooth, and comfortable ride. It looks good when you’re doing your day-to-day activities, and performs admirably when asked to care for your family. The Malibu also boasts a spacious trunk, and while legroom in the back seat might be an issue, as long as we’re transporting children, that shouldn’t be a problem. Pricing starts at $23,340, so you can get a very well equipped one comfortably below our $30,000 price cap. Power for the base model comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 196 horsepower and 186 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic routes power to the front wheels. An automatic start-stop feature helps the Malibu save fuel. There is also a mild hybrid version of the car. Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg in the city and 36 on the highway for the base model.
Comfortable, practical, and good-looking, the Chevrolet Equinox delivers a smooth and quiet ride, along with the option of a six-cylinder engine—should your family activities dictate towing. If you’re considering the Equinox, you’ll want to try both engines. In its favor, the base four-cylinder is rated at 22 in the city and 32 on the highway with front-wheel drive, and 20 in the city and 29 on the highway with all-wheel drive. A sliding and reclining second row means even teens can ride in comfort. The 182-horsepower, 2.4-liter four will tow 1500 pounds, while the 3.6-liter 301-horsepower V6 will tow 3500 pounds. However fuel economy drops to 17 city and 24 highway for front drive and 16 city 23 highway with all-wheel drive. Pricing starts at $24,440.
While everybody was looking the other way, Ford quietly remade itself into a purveyor of some of the nicest popularly priced passenger cars in America. The Fusion is a perfect example of this with its roomy interior, engaging driving dynamics, and handsome styling. With pricing starting at $22,400, one can very easily acquire a nicely equipped Fusion for well under our $30,000 price cap. Engines range in power from 175 horsepower up to 240. All-wheel drive is available, as is a hybrid powertrain. Voice activation, self-parking, and keyless entry and start can also be had under our price cap. Other features include dual-zone automatic climate control, blind spot monitoring, and smart cruise control. Fuel economy for standard powertrains ranges from 25-city/37-highway to 22-city/31-highway. Fusion Hybrid is rated at 44-city and 41-highway.
Honda’s Accord has been a bestseller for what seems like forever—for good reason. Outstanding reliability, excellent resale value, and handsome, though anonymous styling give the Honda sedan tremendous appeal. Of course, being comfortable, spacious, well laid out, and easy to drive also helps a lot. To all of the above, add the extraordinary fuel economy of the Honda Accord Hybrid and you’ve got a family car buyer’s dreams come true. The base price of $29,155 pushes it very close to our $30,000 ceiling, however even the base model Accord Hybrid comes hedonistically well-equipped. Dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, Bluetooth, blind spot monitoring, and a rear-view camera are all included in the base price. Combined output of the hybrid system is 196 horsepower and 226 ft-lbs of torque fed to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Fuel economy is rated at 50 miles per gallon in the city and 45 on the highway.
This is the one to beat in the minivan category. While Honda didn’t invent the minivan, the company definitely perfected it. At a base price of $28,825 you’ll have to go easy on the options list to stay under our price cap, but that doesn’t mean your Odyssey will be a stripped-down, poorly equipped example of the breed. Standard features include power-adjustable seats for the driver and front passenger, dual-zone air conditioning (albeit manually controlled), full power accessories, a split-folding third row seat, Bluetooth, a Pandora interface for streaming music over the Internet, text to speech capability, and cruise control. Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 rated at 248 horsepower and 250 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission sends this output to the front wheels. Fuel economy is rated at 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway.
Nissan’s Altima delivers good power, outstanding agility, and still manages to offer a composed ride. Further, because the Altima’s pricing starts at $22,300, you can even get a well-equipped V6 powered version of the car and still come in well below our $30,000 price cap. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 182 horsepower and 180 ft-lbs of torque, so you might consider the V6 irrelevant—unless you drive an Altima equipped with the 3.5-liter 270-horsepower engine. Regardless of your choice, you’ll get a continuously variable transmission and front-wheel drive. Fuel economy for the four is rated at 27 in the city and 38 on the highway, while the V6 returns 22 in the city and 31 on the highway. Standard equipment includes keyless entry and start, Bluetooth, and full power accessories. Other available features include remote ignition, blind spot monitoring, a rear-view camera, and a Bose audio system.
With pricing starting at $21,545 you can pretty much get a fully loaded CX-5 and still come in under our $30,000 price cap. The Mazda’s base 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine produces 155 horsepower and 150 ft-lbs of torque. Uplevel models get a 2.5-liter four good for 184 horsepower and 185 ft-lbs. Mazda offers a choice of front or all-wheel drive with either engine. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with the 2.0-liter, while a six-speed automatic is optional. The 2.5 comes only with the automatic. The 2.0-liter returns its best fuel economy (26-city/35-highway) with front-drive and the manual transmission. In the worst-case scenario (V6, automatic, and all-wheel drive), the CX-5 returns 24-city and 30-highway. Available features include Bluetooth, a touchscreen interface, and dual zone automatic climate control. You can also get Pandora Internet radio, a rearview camera, navigation, and keyless entry and start.
With seating for seven and pricing stating at $22,995, the Mitsubishi Outlander is something of an unsung hero in the segment. First of all, the relatively low base price means you can load an Outlander up very nicely and still be under $30,000. Second of all, in much of the rest of the world the Outlander is considered a prestigious automobile—it’s only here in the U.S. Mitsubishi has an also-ran status in this category. Power comes from either a 2.4-liter inline four routing 166 horsepower and 162 ft-lbs of torque through a continuously variable transmission, or a 3.0-liter V6 with 224 horsepower, 215 ft-lbs, and a six-speed automatic. The V6 is an all-wheel drive proposition only, while the four can be had with front-drive as well. Available features include automatic climate control, voice activation for phone and audio, Bluetooth, automatic xenon headlights, smart windshield wipers, smart cruise control, lane departure warning, and collision mitigation.
Bridging the divide between crossover suv and station wagon, the Subaru Outback is a great choice for an active family into outdoor recreational activities. With pricing starting at $24,895, the Outback offers better than average off road capabilities and yet it is a very comfortable way to go about your daily driving as well. Power comes from either a 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine making 173 horsepower and 174 ft-lbs of torque, feeding all four wheels through either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission; or a 3.6-liter horizontally-opposed six capable of feeding 256 horsepower and 247 ft-lbs of torque through a five-speed automatic—also to all four wheels. Best-case fuel economy is rated at 24-city and 30-highway with the four-cylinder and the CVT. Worst case is 17-city and 25-highway with the six.
What can you say about the Prius hasn’t already been said? The very epitome of the phrase “hybrid automobile”, Toyota’s Prius enjoys its loyal following for one simple reason—it works. While Toyota has evolved the Prius into a lineup unto itself, the Prius Hatchback remains the mainstay. The powertrain produces 134 horsepower, which is routed to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. In response to pleas to make the Prius more engaging to drive Toyota has introduced a Plus Performance package, which improves upon the car’s handling somewhat. Very nicely equipped, features include keyless entry and start, automatic climate control, available self parking, and Bluetooth. The options list also features a rearview camera, smart cruise control and lane departure warning. Of course, fuel economy is the real story here—51-city/48-highway. Pricing starts at $24,200.