Here's our list of CarMax-recommended, family-friendly rides of the year!
Today’s families are as diverse as their rides. And over the years, we’ve helped millions of families nationwide choose from a lot of great vehicles to meet their everyday needs.
Do you wish you had the keys to a ride that best fits your family? There’s a ton of choices out there, and with over 50,000 vehicles in our inventory — many of which can transport your family in comfort and style — this CarMax-recommended list can help guide you on your search for your family’s next four-wheel addition.
How we compiled our lists:
To choose the best family cars of 2017, we polled CarMax veteran sales consultants from five of our largest stores around the country. These sales consultants reviewed a list of dozens of family-friendly vehicles from various vehicle classification types. This list was developed based on sales volume, price, and cargo space data.
If you’re interested in specific, safety-related information about these vehicles, please refer to third party sites including the NHTSA website, IIHS and manufacturers’ websites. Certain vehicles may have unrepaired safety recalls. Click here to look up a specific vehicle.
Enjoy a leisurely scroll through this list of family friendly rides. And as bonus, we’ve got some other nice choices, including best family vehicles under $20,000 and family cars over $20,000.1
Best SUVs for families
1. Ford Escape
The Escape can be just the right size for a family of five. In our September 2017 Ford Escape review of some of the 2017 Escape’s great features, we called out its powered liftgate, available onboard Wi-Fi hotspot, and Sync® 3 voice recognition infotainment system as particularly family-friendly features. CarMax sales consultants note that the Ford Escape is an excellent option for budget-conscious families with a variety of trim levels. Check out the infographic!
These and lots of other goodies for on-the-go families helped earn the Escape a spot on our list of the best-selling compact SUVs of 2017.
2. Honda CR-V
One of our sales consultants calls the CR-V a crowd favorite because it does a good job of transporting smaller families, especially those with little ones who require one or more child seats. There’s plenty of interior access features in models like the 2014 Honda CR-V LX, he said, including a decklid that opens wide so you can stow lots of groceries in the rear.
As we said in our reasons to buy a Honda CR-V article, it’s reassuring to find a compact SUV with flexible capabilities like all-wheel drive, plus 75 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seats are folded down (see the 2017 Honda CR-V Touring trim).
Our take on the Jeep Grand Cherokee? Capable. Powerful. Packable.
The 4WD 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee gives you the choice of a Hemi® V8 or a 290-hp six-cylinder engine, and has more than 36 cubic feet of cargo space in the back. Or, almost 70 cubic feet with the second row of seats folded down.
One of our CarMax sales consultants favors the Grand Cherokee because of its high ride height, which gives everyone inside a commanding view of the scenery around them. “It’s roomy inside for an SUV of its size,” she says. The 2014 Grand Cherokee and newer models are full of family-friendly features like Bluetooth® and a powered rear decklid you can open and close with the touch of a button.
Other Best SUV contenders:
Best compact SUVs
Here are three compact SUVs that, despite their smaller size, pack a lot of punch as family vehicles.
1. Nissan Rogue
The Rogue is on our list of the best SUVs of 2017, thanks to its compact size and overall appeal to families who want to save money at the gas pump. The 2017 Rogue with a 2.5 liter, four-cylinder engine gets an estimated 27 mpg combined.2 And yes, many model years of the Rogue are also available in a hybrid version!
While extra seating isn’t so easy to find in a compact SUV, there are Rogues out there with 3rd-row seating for extra family gear. Some models, like the 2017 Nissan Rogue S, can seat seven passengers. When the third row is folded flat, this model gives you 32 cubic feet of cargo space so you can load up the kids’ gear and enjoy a day at the beach.
Think of a Rogue with more basic options to keep the price attractive to budget-minded families and you’ve got the Rogue Select. You won’t miss out on all the good stuff with a Select, though; models like the 2014 Nissan Rogue Select S are available with all-wheel drive, Bluetooth, and a rear-view camera.
3. Mazda CX-5
The CX-5 from Mazda is known for impressive fuel economy in a compact SUV package (for example, the 4WD 2014 CX-5 with a 2.0L four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission gets an estimated 25 city/30 hwy mpg.2 The 2014 Mazda CX-5 has a four-cylinder engine, across all trims, and is good for about 155 hp. In this vehicle, you’ll also find lots of legroom and headroom (41 inches and 40 inches, respectively), Bluetooth, and the optional flexibility of four-wheel drive.
Other Best Compact SUV contenders:
Best SUVs with 3 rows
Lots of families want an SUV with third-row seating these days, even if they plan to use it only rarely. In many of these SUVs, the third row folds flat and out of the way when not in use. And when you’re shuttling your kids to the movies, you’ve got the room to bring a couple of their friends along, too. Here are three SUVs with three rows that we really like.
1. Kia Sorento
The Sorento is a great choice for families who want a midsized SUV with extra seats they can use occasionally for those weekend adventures. As we mentioned in our best midsize SUVs of 2017 article, the Sorento can seat seven with the third row in place.
For a go-most-anywhere family SUV, the 4Runner is a powerful option. Our sales consultants like the 4Runner because of its Toyota reputation; we like the grunt you get from the 2014 Toyota 4Runner Limited’s six-cylinder, 270-hp engine and the ability to tow 4,700 lbs when properly equipped.3 It’s very outdoors-ready, too — models as recent as the 2017 Toyota 4Runner Limited still come with a real four-wheel drive system instead of the all-wheel drive running gear that’s such a popular option on SUVs today (see our AWD vs. 4WD Which to Choose article to learn about the difference).
We like the Explorer for a number of reasons. Well, ten reasons, to be exact, plus some other very family-friendly features we liked in our Ford Explorer review. Like the third-row seat, for example; we appreciate how easy it is to access the Explorer’s last row of seats from the second row, and how you can choose an Explorer with a powered third row of seats (like in the 2014 Ford Explorer Sport) that go up and down at the push of a button.
“Seating in the Explorer is exceptionally comfortable,” says one CarMax sales consultant. “I love the exterior styling, and the third row of seating is roomier than most third rows.
“And, the tech offerings in the Explorer for navigation and driver information are excellent!”
Here are two additional 3-row SUVs with lots of family-friendly features that our sales consultants recommended:
Other Best SUVs with 3 rows contenders:
Features families love
We asked our sales consultants to share some of the most popular features families look for while car shopping. Top features included rear-view cameras, third-row seats, blind-spot monitors and DVD/Blue-Ray® system players.
Staying connected is also important, with Bluetooth for calls and the latest tunes as a must-have.
According to sales consultants, other features were lane-departure signals, aux audio input and even automated parking. And for families with pets, leather is the way to go!
Best sedans for families
If your family’s on the smaller side (or you travel pretty light), you’ll find that a well-appointed sedan can be a great family vehicle. You can get some impressive gas mileage, too. Check out these three sedans.
In our list of the top 10 reasons to buy a Nissan Altima, we called out this sedan’s long-standing reputation and comfortable, “zero gravity” front seats (introduced in 2013) as just two of the reasons to justify buying one for your family.
The Altima also sits at the top of our list of the best cars for teens, thanks to its well-appointed interior, which gives teen drivers (and parents, too!) the feeling that they’re sitting in a more upscale vehicle.
One CarMax sales consultant summed up the Altima like this: “Great styling, comfortable seating, and a very quiet ride. And excellent gas mileage as well.” Indeed, models like the 2014 Nissan Altima, when equipped with the four-cylinder, 2.5L engine, get an estimated 27 city/37 hwy mpg.2
2. Toyota Camry
The Camry has been around for decades, and it’s still one of Toyota’s best sellers.
In our Toyota buying guide, we complimented the Camry’s flexibility — and all of its the available trims. Our associates like the Camry for this reason, too.
“There’s so much variety here that if you take your time, you’ll find a Camry that’s individualized enough to give you exactly what you’re looking for,” says one of our senior Toyota purchasers.
As for gas mileage, families can travel pretty far during a “one-tank weekend trip.” For example, the 2.5L, four-cylinder, 2014 Toyota Camry delivers an estimated 25 city/34 hwy mpg.2
As an affordable family sedan, the Chevy Cruze fits the bill very well. Models like the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze LT are available with family-friendly features like Bluetooth and remote start for those cold mornings when you need it warmed up and preheated before the kids climb aboard for the ride to school.
You’ll find that the Cruze can be as fun to drive as it is fuel-efficient; for example, the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco is available with a six-speed manual transmission and a four-cylinder, turbocharged 1.4L engine. Sounds like a blast! This particular trim package delivers an estimated 28 city/40 hwy mpg.2
Other Best Sedan contenders:
One CarMax sales consultant also points to the Chrysler 300 as a strong choice for families because, for a sedan, it’s quite roomy inside and it offers lots of features at an attractive price (the majority of 2014 models can be purchased at CarMax for under $22K).1
Best minivans for families
For many drivers who need a comfortable, high-capacity vehicle for moving their family, a minivan is hard to beat. They’re packed full of great features, including powered sliding doors and rear decklids.
This minivan has plenty of family-friendly features. The 2014 Chrysler Town and Country Touring offers goodies like heated front seats, a DVD video system, and a blind-spot monitor and backup camera for the driver. But one thing the T&C has that other minivans don’t is Chrysler’s really cool Stow ‘n Go seats, available as a standard feature in the 2014 model. These are second-row captain’s style chairs that fold down, tilt forward, and tuck into the floorboards to give you a completely flat surface between the front seats and the third-row seats. Doing this gives you a lot of open space — which is perfect for carrying larger, crated items, like the family dog.
We don’t want to harp. But we really love the fact that, at this writing, the Sienna is still the only minivan sold in the US that gives you the option of all-wheel drive. We’ve shared about this before in our top 10 reasons to buy a Toyota Sienna article. A minivan that seats eight and has AWD to help tackle all kinds of weather — what’s not to love about this?
Models like the 2014 Toyota Sienna LE are available with these features, as well as powered sliding doors, powered seats, and two additional sets of heating and AC controls for the back-seat riders in your family.
The Grand Caravan has a long history and pedigree, after being introduced in 1984 to kickstart the minivan craze. This minivan has a lot more tricks up its sleeve these days.
In the 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan SE, for example, you’ll find second-row Stow ‘n Go seats, a foldaway third row seat, and rear heating and cooling controls. These and other features helped the Grand Caravan to a spot on our list of the best minivans of 2017.
Other Best Minivan contenders:
Best hybrids/electrics for families
In the article Hybrids/EVs, Greener Trends in the Used-Car Market, we noted that more drivers are choosing hybrid and electric vehicles than ever before. We’ve sold more than 100,000 of these vehicles to families of all sizes at CarMax. Check out our top picks for families:
1. Toyota Prius
Other Best Hybrids and Electrics contenders:
Best car-seat-friendly cars
As we discussed in our car-seat-friendly cars article, in September of 2016 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) identified a list of vehicles with “acceptable” LATCH system ratings.4 From that list, we identified the best-selling vehicles at CarMax from January to September 2017 and asked our sales associates to provide their recommendations. Here are three of our best car-seat-friendly cars:
Best family cars under $20,000
If yours is a smaller, budget-minded family, these three vehicles are worth your consideration. A sizeable amount of our retail inventory for these three vehicles fell below $20,000.1
Other best family cars where a sizeable amount of CarMax’s inventory is under $20,000 contenders include:1
Check out some other great cars under $20K below that we noted were great first cars for teens:
Best family cars over $20,000
If a more luxurious ride and top-shelf features are how you roll, here are three family cars that are available in premium trims, many of which are priced over $20,000.1
Other best family cars with a sizeable number over $20,000 include these 2014 vehicles:1
More information for family-friendly car shopping
For an easy way to find a family car with just the features you want, sign up for a MyCarMax account. Once you’re registered (it’s FREE), you can save time by selecting the SUVs, sedans, and minivans you’re interested in, including the details your family wants. You’ll get an email when the car you want is available at your local store for a test drive.
Looking for more best family car shopping tips? Read our SUV buying guide. Do some more research on sedans and check out our used sedans for sale, or read our Which car type is right for me? article to narrow your options.
1. Based on prices on carmax.com in December 2017. Actual prices may vary based on your selected model year, features and trim packages. Prices do not include taxes, tags, titles, and any applicable fees.
2.Fuel economy figures are based on EPA estimates when vehicles sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. Unless specified, figures are for vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. See fueleconomy.gov for details.
3. Various factors may impact towing capacity, including weight of passengers, cargo, and options/accessories.
Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.