Use the term “family car” and you’ll likely get a response that includes a scrunched up face accompanied by something about not wanting to drive a minivan.
While “family cars” may not generate interest and excitement the way the latest Ford Mustang or Tesla Model S does, it’s an important segment in the market. It’s also one that is consistently getting a more expansive meaning. If it’s got wheels and a motor, it may be a family car.
However, each year U.S. News & World Report cuts through all the clutter to compile its annual “Best Cars for Families” list, and 2021 is no exception. The organization reviewed a total of 86 vehicles before naming the nine best family cars in different categories.
“Families come in many forms, and with nine different categories to choose from, there’s a Best Cars for Families award winner that will work for any family,” said Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor of U.S. News Best Cars. “The award winners have the space, safety and features to satisfy any family, from new parents to parents with new drivers to households that may be welcoming grandparents.”
Best of the lot
Toyota carried the day with wins in four categories. Honda was second overall with three category wins, including an 11th straight victory for the Honda Odyssey in the minivan category. It’s the longest winning streak in the history of the awards.
This year’s winners include:
- 2021 Honda Passport in the two-row SUV category;
- 2021 Kia Telluride in the three-row SUV category;
- 2021 Toyota RAV4 in the compact SUV category;
- 2021 Toyota Highlander in the hybrid and electric SUV category;
- 2021 Chevrolet Suburban in the large SUV category;
- 2021 Honda Odyssey in the minivan category;
- 2021 Toyota Avalon Hybrid in the hybrid/electric car category;
- 2021 Toyota Avalon in the large car category; and
- 2021 Honda Accord in the midsize car category.
Safety features matter
New safety features and technology played a large role in the choosing of this year’s winners. All the winners employ forward automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.
Other safety technology ranged from keeping occupants safe to limiting the possibility for danger for others. Many of the top entrants included rear-seat alert. This prompts the driver to look in the back seat before exiting the car, helping to make sure a sleeping baby isn’t left behind.
This type of safety tech has garnered attention because of the number of unintentional deaths of infants left in vehicles in the past several years. The numbers continue to rise and automakers are working to find an effective solution.
Toyota Avalon, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Toyota RAV4, and Kia Telluride all have reverse automatic emergency braking. Kia Telluride, Highlander Hybrid, Chevrolet Suburban, Honda Accord and Honda Odyssey all have rear-seat alert.
Odyssey, Accord, Avalon, Highlander Hybrid, Avalon Hybrid, and RAV4 also earned the highest possible ease-of-use rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for their LATCH car-seat systems.
Other features praised included front and rear automatic braking help when maneuvering in spaces where small kids might be tough to see, such as backing out of a driveway.
Additionally, family cars are often driven by teenagers. Many vehicles are now offering teen driver controls to help parents keep tabs on new drivers, even when they’re on the road by themselves. All the winners had some form of this new technology.
Importance of connectivity here to stay
New technologies that scored well with judges wasn’t limited to safety. Connectivity and comfort are key players in the family car market as well. In-car Wi-Fi, rear-seat USB ports, and even heated and ventilated rear seats are now available. All but one of the winners have in-car Wi-Fi.
All the winners except the Honda Odyssey have available heated rear seats, and every winner has more than one USB port available in the second or third rows.
The 2021 Honda Passport beat out the other finalist — the 2021 Ford Edge — in the two-row SUV category, while the Honda Odyssey beat out the Chrysler Pacifica in the minivan category.
It was a sweep for Chevrolet for the large SUV category. Chevy’s Suburban topped the other finalist, the Tahoe. Competition was a little tougher in the Hybrid/Electric SUV category. Toyota Highlander topped two other finalists – the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and the Ford Escape Hybrid.
The Toyota RAV4 also defeated two finalists – the Honda CR-V and the Mazda CX-5 – to win in the compact SUV category. The Kia Telluride beat out the Hyundai Palisade for top honors in the three-row SUV category.