Raising big families cost big bucks. Any parent with three or more kids knows this. They also know that while there are plenty of ways to cut corners in a family budget to save money, buying a smaller, less expensive vehicle isn’t one of them. Simply, more bodies require more seats and more seats cost more money. Again, there’s a theme here.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean a big family has to drive a $50,000 SUV or cram all the kids in a Ford Taurus ⏤ one of the few sedans that can handle three car seats across the back. Especially considering a recent study revealed that fewer than half of expensive vehicles, most of them SUVs, that claim to hold three car seats actually can’t. No, it just means big families on a tight car budget, say around $27,000, have to compromise ⏤ and the biggest compromise they can make is surrendering to the minivan, regardless of the blow to their ego.
The simple fact is that when it comes to bang-for-the-buck, minivans (and we mean ALL minivans) smoke SUVs in interior space. And not only do they have more space, but they use it more efficiently. Minivans don’t have lifted suspensions like SUVs, and they don’t need (or tout) ground clearance and river-fording capability. That means they sit at car height (so you’re looking at way more room for kids and gear) and are both easier to park and easier to see out of, because the glass-to-metal ratio tends to be better. Throw in more family-friendly features like stowage bins, crazy numbers of cupholders, and seats that fold much more easily, not to mention better fuel economy and a comparable if not cheaper price tag, and it becomes an easy decision ⏤ at least if you want to buy new. It’s a whole different story if you’re willing to buy a certified, pre-owned vehicle coming off a three-year lease. In that case, you’ll have more SUV options.
That said, which are the best new cars under $27,000 if you have three or more kids and budget of $27,000? Simple, these two minivans and, yes, one SUV (there is one that fits the bill).
Starting Price: $26,995
- Seats that stow into the floor, giving the best storage access of any minivan on the market.
- Low floor height, for easier lifting of car seats and groms.
- The Pacifica also has one of the most intuitive touchscreen systems of any carmaker (called Uconnect), so you’re less distracted while operating it.
- There’s also available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as seating for up to eight passengers.
- The Pacifica also comes loaded with standard (not optional) safety features, including a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, detection of rear crossing traffic (so you won’t back into an approaching car as you leave a cramped parking spot), and front- and rear-parking sensors with automatic braking to prevent fender dings.
Why you should buy it: The Pacifica is huge inside, with 87.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the third row stowed. That bests every SUV at every price, and makes it a great car for big families. Even with kids parked in all available seat, you’ll still have 32.3 cubic feet behind the back row ⏤ far more than in even the Cadillac Escalade. Plus, second-row headroom is best in the class, and it’s also roomy for six-foot-plus drivers.
And speaking of, the Pacifica is also itself a brilliant driver. A 287HP V-6 is shunted through a nine-speed transmission, so you always seem to be in the right gear for passing. Yet on the highway, the Pacifica is true to its name ⏤ placid and quiet. Handling, too, is surprising as the Pacifica can actually corner! And over America’s increasingly meteorite-pocked asphalt, the suspension remains fluid, so long rides are easy on you and your brood. Lastly, fuel economy is quite good at 18 city/28 highway, meaning shuttling kids between school and band practice and soccer practice and play dates and, right, work won’t cost you nearly as much.
Volkswagen Tiguan S
Starting Price: $24,495
- Can seat seven.
- Excellent step-in height that makes loading toddlers less of chest-press effort.
- Apple Car Play/Android Auto pairing apps available.
- Better-than average headroom for six-foot-plus drivers.
- Fewer blind spots than the bulk of the breed with easy outward visibility.
- Awesome, six-year, 72,000-mile warranty.
Why you should buy it: You’d be hard-pressed to find any seven-passenger crossover with a standard third row of seats. And if you’re dead set against a minivan, that means you’re looking at a $30,000-$40,000 price of entry. True, that will also buy you a roomier SUV like the Honda Pilot (a good alternative to the Tiguan if you want to shop just-off-lease, certified-pre-owned alternatives in the same price ballpark), but the Volkswagen offers something exceedingly rare for crossovers under $50,000: It’s fun to drive.
And while a third row of seats in almost any SUV, except maybe the massive Chevy Suburban, will be cramped for adults, it’s just fine for tweens or younger kids. The second row, on the other hand, is downright capacious and offers plenty of room for adults. The Tiguan isn’t luxurious, but its interior quarters are less plasticky than many crossovers in the class. Just note: The seven-passenger model is a front-wheel drive only. If you want AWD, expect to pay $2-$3,000 more.
Starting Price: $27,000
- Second-row seats that fold away, for extra cargo space.
- Low floor height, for easier lifting of car seats and groms.
- Available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
- Seating for up to eight passengers; 12 (yes, TWELVE!) cupholders.
Why you should buy it: The Sedona bests even the Pacifica for overall cargo space, but because Pacifica’s seats fold into the floor, that fact is often lost. The Sedona, like the Pacifica, also features excellent front- and second-row headroom and is easy to climb in and out of ⏤ a feature not lost on shorter parents who have to load/unload kids strollers, groceries, etc. Like the Pacifica, it also handles surprisingly well, with sharper steering than you’d expect, and boasts a strong, 276HP V-6. The six-speed transmission isn’t quite as smooth as that of the Chrysler’s, however.
While the Sedona’s braking performance is strong, Kia does make customers pay extra for some other safety features, including blind-spot detection. Still, it comes with a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty, and Kia quality has been good as of late.