With every year the family car category moves further and further from the bulky, slow, gas-guzzling wheels that your dad’s dad drove with pride — or was it stubborn defiance?
The pride is real now.
Just ask the family piling into a roomy and zippy Volkswagen ID 4 on the way to a National Park; commuting to school in the stylish and fast BMW i4 eDrive40 Gran Coupe; or driving to grandma’s house in the rugged, sleek Ford Bronco Sport (through the river and over the woods, for fun!). These and 11 more of our choices for family cars of the year are vehicles that don’t require concessions or defensive posturing. These drive like a dream — with the kids in the back and the road in front.
How We Chose The Family Cars
First up, all the vehicles on this list got an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick + rating — its highest scores. We also chose cars that are loaded with intelligent safety features: Systems that automatically brake if you fail to in time, and those that help you avoid merging into a lane with another car already in it so ideally, you never have to put those crash safety ratings to the test.
Then there’s the matter of having kids and wanting them to have a decent planet to live on. So as much as possible, we weighted fuel efficiency as a priority, and EVs or hybrids wherever possible.
We also looked at kid-friendly features like chargers in the second row, ease of muscling in a car seat (and a toddler into and out of that seat), and the ability to reconfigure an interior for loading a stroller, or piling in kids and dogs and all their stuff. So much stuff!
Last but not least, we know that you still want to have fun. You may not get to keep your old sports car around much longer, but a car that expresses some personal style is a net positive, as is one that’s actually fun to drive. Keeping the above in mind, here are our picks for the best cars of the year in 2022.
Best Cars For Families With 1+ Kid
MPG: 25 city/28 highway
Storage: 32.5/65.2 cubic feet
Base Price: $30,810
As a family rig, the Ford Bronco Sport stands out for its terrific storage space. Despite its small footprint, its 65.2 cubic feet of stowage with the rear seats flipped down matches or bests many of its rivals, and it leaves access to 32.5 cubes behind that second row. That much space smokes much of the competition in the five-passenger SUV realm. What does this mean for parents? It means a baby jogger or stroller can fit back there with ease.
The Sport is also a lot of fun to drive, with excellent sight lines that make lane merging and parking easier. While you can get a more muscular, 245-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, skip it: The smaller, 181-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo has a solid 25 city/28 highway fuel economy versus the bigger Bronco’s 21 city/26 highway, and it costs about $10,000 less. Hold your horses and stick with the more affordable version.
Why We Like It
- Sharp styling; it looks like it could conquer boulders but it’s also at home on suburban streets
- AWD comes standard
- It comes stock with blind-spot monitoring and detects cross-traffic when backing up. It also warns you about lane departures and has available lane-keeping systems.
Range: 134 city/101 highway
Storage: 24/50 cubic feet
Base Price: $40,900
The EV6 is a crossover with plenty of room for a family of four, though its performance and fastback silhouette make it just as impressive on a windy road as it is sitting in a carpool line. Plenty of power, tight steering, and excellent handling make it easy to forget that the EV6 is a practical ride. That goes double for the GT-Line with its sportier styling, tinted windows, and upgrades like electric front seat adjustment and wireless phone charging.
There’s plenty of headroom in the back seat for a tall adult and more than enough room for car seats — yes, even rear-facing ones. The 50 cubic feet of storage with the seats down is cut in half when the seats are up, but even with 24 cubic feet, there’s still enough room for luggage, gear, and a travel stroller and travel cot for the kiddos.
Why We Like It
- This ride has giddy up. The GT-Line’s 320 horsepower and 446 pound-feet of torque give it more torque than a BMW M3 sedan.
- The trunk is massive. How massive? There’s enough room for luggage, gear, a travel stroller, and a travel cot for the kiddos.
- Sweet, sweet suede. The GT-Line’s perforated suede seats are something you’d expect in a sports car, and the wide dashboard screen makes it easy to backseat-drive the music selection.
Range: 301 miles
Storage: 45.6 cubic feet
Base Price: $53,480
Built for BMW fans who want a responsible ride, the i4 eDrive40 Gran Coupe packs all the fun of driving a Bimmer into an all-electric vehicle. Not only does it handle great, but it actually rides smoother than the similar 4-series gas BMW. This makes it a more comfortable ride for passengers — so your little buddy will be less likely to lose their lunch when you’re taking the backroads to grandma’s house.
The i4 is also decently roomy, with more rear knee room than either the Tesla Model 3 or the Polestar 2. If you have to take a dog along for a ride, you’d want the BMW, not the Polestar 2, because its aft end opens as a hatch, and that means flipping down the rear seats buys you 45.6 cubic feet of cargo room in a wedge shape rather than a trunk pass-through. Still, more than that, the actual loading ease is superior — crossover buyers already know that a hatch door is a larger cutout in the rear of a car than a trunk and lets you stuff in awkward items like strollers, garden soil, or indeed a pet carrier with way less fuss.
Why We Like It
- Superior telematics. The iDrive infotainment system is truly excellent, mostly because the voice control (think Alexa) works more intuitively, with less need to repeat basic functional commands.
- It’s electric, which means you get something that’s impossible from a gas-engined car: silence. You can actually hear your kids in the backseat talking at a natural voice level, and they can hear you.
- Zero to 60 still matters. Even the single-motor i4 eDrive40 Gran Coupe is faster to 60 mph than the Polestar and achieves a longer range.
MPG/MPC: 31 city/39 highway
Storage: 25.7 cubic feet
Base Price: $25,745
Here’s the scenario: You’ve just started your family, but you’re not ready to commit to a minivan or an SUV. Unless you’re planning on popping out more kids as fast as possible, the Civic Hatchback is the perfect choice for your everyday vehicle. The most eye-popping feature is the 31 city/39 highway gas mileage, which will save you money to fill up the huge storage space with fun gear. That’s because the hatchback’s 25.7 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats bests what you can get from a bunch of rigs in the taller-riding SUV crowd.
It’s also small in stature but not in safety. The Civic Hatchback comes standard with lane-keeping, blind-spot warning, and adaptive cruise control. Next year, Honda promises an electric/gas hybrid Civic, but if you need a safe, practical, and also fun car right now that you can actually afford, the Civic Hatchback is the way to go.
Why We Like It
- It sips gas. Just check out that wallet-friendly 31 city/39 highway mpg.
- Storage isn’t overlooked. The car might be small but still has an excellent ratio of storage space.
- It’s $26,000. (That’s not a typo.)
Best Cars For Parents With 2+ Kids
Range: 208 miles
Storage: 30.3/64.2 cubic feet
Base Price: $37,495
The first thing you’ll notice about the ID.4 is the price: After the federal $7,500 tax rebate, you’re looking at about $35,000 for the RWD version, which is a breath of fresh air compared to the eye-popping price tags you see for other EVs. You can get the base model for $5,000 less, but you might want to upgrade from the basement rung ID.4 to get better range and faster charging without breaking the bank.
Everything in the ID.4 works great together for an excellent driving experience. The seats are excellent, the touchscreen is there but doesn’t take up the whole dash, and the rig sits at a middle-ground drive height. It’s easy to load and unload but not so low that you feel towered over by traffic. That low stance creates a tight driving feel, and while the ID.4 is a bit poky (mid-seven seconds) to 60 mph, 0 to 30 mph is plenty fast, so around town, it gets up and goes.
Why We Like It
- The price. You can’t do much better, especially for an EV.
- The roomy rear. With rear seats folded, it has 64.2 cubic feet, which puts it on par, size-wise, with the Ford Bronco Sport, and beats many gas-drinking five-passenger crossovers.
- It’s brimming with safety features. All grades come stock with automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane keeping, and adaptive cruise control.
MPGe: 79 combined
Storage: 36.4/72 cubic feet
Base Price: $40,000
You can get four different drivetrains on the Santa Fe, but our pick is the plug-in hybrid. The plug addition lets you drive 31 miles on EV juice alone, so you can use it as a daily driver without frequent stops at the gas station. Also, that plug means a lot of states will give you cash back or other incentives for being on the EV side of the ledger.
Elsewhere, the Santa Fe SEL really succeeds. First and foremost, the cabin was clearly designed around the needs of harried parents. A level pull folds the rear seats flat, hard buttons for climate and audio controls save you from hunting and tapping on a screen to let you stay focused on driving, and there’s a second compartment beneath the center console tray large enough to hold a small purse or an iPad. Speaking of the latter, there are dual front-row and dual second-row USB charge plugs.
There’s also plenty of room: Rear seat passengers will especially notice better-than-class-average knee room, so if you’ve got teens (or will soon), they won’t feel cramped in the second row. With 72 cubic feet of cargo hauling capacity with the rear seat uprights flipped forward, you’ve got your pickup-truck needs met for weekend chores.
Why We Like It
- It’s got that goldilocks feel behind the wheel. The Santa Fe strikes the right balance between quickness when you need it and calm when you’re just swallowing interstate mileage.
- The Santa Fe features a “quiet” audio mode that allows you to instantly turn off the sound in the second row when your little ones hit the snooze button (while you still catch up on a podcast up front).
- We love “smart safe exit.” This feature prevents any passenger from exiting the parked Santa Fe if it senses a cyclist or a car coming by.
MPG: 26 city/33 highway
Storage: 28.9/74.2 cubic feet
Base Price: $26,395
The Forester made our cut because it does so much so well that it does away with the “need” for a lifted Jeep Wrangler or similar SUV. It has the chops to tackle beat-up dirt roads and unplowed, snowed-in driveways, but with a reasonable 26 city/33 highway fuel economy that won’t slaughter you at the pump as a lifted vehicle will.
Even though it packs nearly 75 cubic feet of storage, which makes it competitive with rivals like Toyota’s RAV4, the Forester has a tighter feel. When it comes to a deer leaping into the road or an emergency swerve around a cyclist, the Forester reacts more readily than a bunch of crossovers in this segment.
Why We Like It
- The backseat is as comfy as the front. Second-row legroom is excellent, easy for both a toddler and their giant carseat and a teen and their long legs.
- It’s can go anywhere. High ground clearance and AWD make it perfect for off-road adventures.
- They keep it simple. The no-frills interior works for a space that’s going to see kids' shoes scuff seatbacks and juice boxes go flying.
MPG: 20 city/28 highway
Storage: 32.1/67 cubic feet
Base Price: $33,600
The best thing about the five-passenger Murano? You’re getting a half-size up from smaller crossovers at competitive pricing. Mid-size crossovers battle in the most competitive segment in the entire automotive pantheon, so the fact that the Murano has more second-row knee room, more cargo space, and a more upscale cabin than its competition makes the bargain seem even better.
But what puts the Murano over the top is how much comes standard, particularly on the safety front: All models get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot alert, lane departure warning, and automatic rear braking to prevent backing into another car, a person, or obstacle.
Why We Like It
- The drive is indeed family friendly. Even if you mash the gas to pass someone, the Nissan’s continuously variable transmission is the best in the business, never jolting you or your passengers with the jolt of a gear change so your sleeping kiddo stays asleep.
- Sit down and relax. At this price range, nobody’s making more comfortable seats, period.
- There’s a plug for everyone. Dual front as well as dual rear USBs come standard too, and that includes standard and USB-Cs.
Best For Families With 3+ Kids
MPG: 35 city/36 highway
Storage: 33.5/101 cubic feet
Base Price: $45,500
Minivans may not have the sexiest reputation, but they’ve improved significantly in recent years. Case in point: The Toyota Woodland Edition Sienna. The most noticeable feature is the 7 inches of ground clearance, which gives it way more clearance than its competitors. It may not be great for rock crawling, but the height and beefier suspension make it perfect for handling those last off-road miles before you get to your campsite.
For everyday driving, the Sienna offers a stack of techy features, including a double-decker console with a wireless charger, a parabolic mirror behind the rearview, and seven USB ports throughout the cabin. Our favorite parent-friendly feature might be the function called Driver Easy Speak. It pipes in mom or dad’s voice to all three rows, so you can talk with the family about where to go for dinner or to tell your kid to stop bugging their sibling. That also means you could give your kids a history lesson via the entire Backstreet Boys “oeuvre” during a transcontinental road trip.
Why We Like It
- It leans into the tech. There’s an optional HD ceiling-mounted screen that takes HDMI inputs and has two remotes and wireless headphones.
- It can take a turn. The electric rear motor enables the Toyota to rail corners by sending its instantaneous torque to either (or both) of the rear wheels to help it hold a tighter line.
- We mentioned the tech, right? In addition to the seven USB ports, there are also dual 120V (1500W) power outlets, each of which has enough juice to charge a full-fledged laptop.
MPG: 19 city/26 highway
Storage: 18.1/95 cubic feet
Base Price: $49,050
Acura’s pinnacle vehicle, the MDX brings loads of dad-friendly tech to the table. Your kids will dig the integration of Alexa and Siri voice capability, and onboard Wi-Fi, standard, along with juice aplenty in the second row: two standard USBs, one USB-C plug, and one 120V socket included. It also has the option of mic’d front and rear passengers, so a parent’s voice gets broadcast through the rear speakers to get your kids’ attention.
And nobody else in the segment offers three rows with the same blend of easy-to-use space. Part of what makes this space so easy to use is that it doesn’t sit at truck-based SUV height. Your toddler can’t easily pile into a Suburban, but they can clamber aboard an MDX — and you don’t have to chest press a kid into a carseat in the Acura, either.
Why We Like It
- The removable center seat. You can have seating for seven or six, with the latter option making it easier to use and attach a pair of car seats in the second row.
- Air controls in back. Also, the front row seat backs are also armored in plastic, so your kids’ very best efforts to scuff or destroy your seats will be for naught!
- Hidden cargo space. You can leave the cover in place to stow valuables, or remove the cover and that well easily swallows four or five grocery bags.
MPGe: 55 combined
Seating: Up to 7
Storage: 11.16/64.1 cubic feet
Base Price: $64,800
If you’re in the market for a six- to seven-passenger hybrid crossover that comes crammed with safety features and has the best interior of anything in the segment, you’d be hard-pressed to do better than the XC90. Why? For starters, the T8 version features a plug-in hybrid system that allows driving up to 36 miles on EV-only power.
The Volvo’s impeccably-designed interior offers plenty of elbow room, even with all seven seats filled. Plus, the natural wool interior is The T8 version also gets you a panoramic glass roof that lets in more light for second and third-row passengers, so they feel less confined.
In addition, the four-zone automatic climate control keeps everyone comfortable - if the kids run hot, you can blast them with cool air while you and your partner stay warm up front. You can also choose different audio “rooms” that replicate spaces from a soundstage to a concert hall, a jazz club, etc., and the simulation is superb.
Why We Like It
- Air quality matters. Low VOC, nearly chemical-free interior with textile seating.
- Google Play is built in. If you’ve saved favorite nav destinations within Google Maps, you can just say “Hey, Google” and have the car boot up that target, just like you would on your phone.
- An added feature scans the horizon during left turns, ensuring that in case an approaching vehicle is coming faster than you may judge, the XC90 will automatically brake. This also helps to prevent collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.
MPG: 19 city/26 highway
Storage: 40.2/145.1 cubic feet
Base Price: $32,900
The Kia makes our list for the second year running because it was put together with its passengers in mind. At the base trim, you’re getting two USBs in every row and second-row seats that slide over a foot forward and aft, which gives you a great deal more versatility for how you pack in the kiddos and what you do with the third row. Step up to the midtrim EX, and Kia includes a feature that embeds a rear-seat camera view into the 12-inch touchscreen, so you can keep your eyes forward and still glance at the camera to see if your kid’s dozing or throwing Pirate Booty at her brother. Plus, if you want, you and your second-row occupants can have both heated and cooled seats on higher trim levels.
On the safety front, you get standard pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane keeping, but we especially dig that the Carnival puts blind-spot assistance into the gauge cluster. That system uses the rear cameras, so when you signal a lane change, you get a wide camera view of what’s aft of your vehicle. Even if your mirrors don’t show it, you can see any vehicle lurking in your wake. That’s pretty damn smart.
Why We Like It
- There are cupholders everywhere. Really, truly, everywhere.
- The third-row seats dump away flat, and even the second row folds into the floor, giving way to a space so large you could pack in a few shipping containers’ worth of diapers — or nearly.
- Kia makes standard a sideswipe function that prevents a kid from exiting into any oncoming traffic, even if that rear sliding door is unlocked.
Splurge Cars For Families
Range: 340 miles
Storage: 22/63 cubic feet
Base Price: $126,145
Want a family car that doesn’t feel like a family car? OK, how about an ultra-luxury, ridiculously fast Benz that can travel 350 miles per charge and be recharged from 10 to 80% battery in 35 minutes? Aside from the performance, you’re getting the most comfortable napa leather upholstery with massaging heating and cooling of those perches and rear seat neck and shoulder heating, too. The rear seat space is massive as well: A 6-footer could sit in the back of the EQS and extend their legs without touching the driver’s seat back.
For the driver, the piloting experience is game-changing. A seamless glass panel incorporates the gauge cluster, center console, and front passenger touchscreen. An augmented reality heads-up display superimposes navigational cues onto the windshield. Add the use of the paddle shifters to increase regenerative braking, and you’ll find the entire sensation of driving feels akin to science fiction.
Why We Like It
- Just get behind the wheel. 516 horsepower and an instant 611 pound-feet of torque will get your attention, but the EQS glides so easily around corners and feels like a hovercraft on the highway.
- The rear-wheel steering allows a relatively tiny turning circle of just 35.8 feet, compared to 42 for the comparably sized S-Class S 580 and 38.1 feet for a smaller E-Class.
- Safety first, truly. There’s a host of safety features, from airbags in the seatbelts to lane keeping and active cruise control to automatic parking damage detection and adaptive high beams.
Range: 222 miles
Storage: 29/57 cubic feet
Base Price: $77,800
If you’re after an EV that best emulates the internal-combustion luxury car you already own, this is it. That’s because in very Audi-like manner, the E-tron is capable of kicking out 402 horsepower and rocketing you to 60 mph in about five seconds flat.
Even more to the point, you’re delivered in Audi-like fashion, thanks to supremely poised and sporty handling with an air suspension that adapts to the road and smoothes out the bumps. The interior is no slouch, either: All four seats are incredibly comfortable, and you can have heating and cooling in the front and rear. Plus, 29 cubic feet of stowage with the rear seats upright and 57 when they’re folded equals what you’d find in a lot of midsized crossovers and offers plenty of rear-seat legroom for lanky teens or regular-sized adults.
Why We Like It
- Simplicity inside. One of the best-organized, most intuitive instrument clusters we’ve seen. The top center screen has entertainment, navigation, and communication, while the second screen is devoted to climate functions.
- The details matter. Take, for instance, illuminated door handles that brighten when you approach the car at night.
- The 16-speaker 705-watt Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system will rival your living room setup.