15 Best Family Cars of 2015
Posted: 2/4/2015 8:20:13 PM
Determining the best family car depends largely on what kind of family you have. For example, if you and yours are the outdoorsy types, an SUV may be the best way to go. Urbanites might benefit from a minivan or sedan. Those in between, well, that’s what crossover SUVs are for. The good news is that the days when station wagons were the only choice for families are long gone. The market has responded to these different circumstances with a plethora of shapes and styles to suit virtually any need. Of course, determining the best of these choices is what we do, so we gathered together 23 of the latest and greatest different vehicles from a variety of manufacturers to determine which made the cut. We started with last year’s finalists, and culled those that were either due for imminent replacement, or which had been clearly surpassed by newer vehicles in the segment. To that, we added new vehicles that had come out since last year — including a couple of redesigns — voted on candidates, narrowed the field, carried the one, and ultimately landed on the vehicles you see here.
The final field included three minivans, four compact SUVs, four midsize SUVs, two full-size SUVs, two full-size sedans, and three midsize sedans, the kinds of vehicles that usually come to mind when thinking about family cars. However, this year we also included cars from other categories. First were two full-size pickup trucks, unconventional choices to be sure, but roomy, comfortable, and with seemingly endless cargo space, they were definitely worthy of consideration. On the other end of the spectrum were three compact cars, often the first choice of anybody on a budget.
It came as no surprise that two minivans — the 2015 Honda Odyssey and the 2015 Toyota Sienna — made the family car final cut. The 2015 Nissan Pathfinder and new 2015 Toyota Highlander midsize SUVs also appear on our list of finalists. The Honda CR-V was joined by the new Subaru Outback on our list of small SUVs, and all three midsize sedan candidates — the 2015 Honda Accord, 2015 Hyundai Sonata, and 2015 Toyota Camry — made the cut. The 2015 Chevrolet Impala full-size sedan makes its second appearance, too. In the realm of small cars, both the 2015 Honda Civic and surprisingly flexible 2015 Kia Soul won out. On the other end of the size spectrum, both the 2015 Ram 1500 and new 2015 Ford F-150 full-size trucks we tested were deemed worthy of family duty. Finally, the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe made the list.
It’s important to note that the eight runners up in our test are still solid choices for family haulers, otherwise we wouldn’t have considered them in the first place. However, as family cars, they were outpaced by others in the field, either due to a lack of features, less than ideal packaging, or by simply being too old. Still, if none of our finalists tickles your fancy, our runners up are still worth a look.
Comfort and Driving
Comfort plays a key role in any car, and it goes double for a family car. After all, if you, your spouse and your kids aren’t comfortable, it’s going to be a long, long drive to Grandma’s, no matter how nifty the features may be. We sat in all the seats, took a close look at interior quality, considered how easy it was for everyone to get in and out, and also listened carefully to see how quiet each car was at speed.
Similarly, we paid close attention to how each car felt on the road. Granted, this is a little subjective, but a family car with a smooth and well-controlled ride is less likely to bring on Timmy’s motion sickness, and anything that prevents that is a winner. There are also other more practical considerations, such as how maneuverable a vehicle is in a parking lot, how easy it is to see out the windows in traffic, whether it had enough power, handling and braking to get out of emergency situations, and lastly, if it was any fun.
Virtually every car on our list boasts very good crash test scores. More importantly, active safety systems are becoming commonplace on more and more vehicles, and at more reasonable prices. That means things like collision and blind-spot alerts, backup cameras, lane-keeping assists, and other computerized systems were an important consideration. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where if features like backup cameras and blind-spot alerts aren’t standard, we’re a little surprised.
While not every family needs to carry baby seats everywhere, how well they fit is an important consideration for many buyers. After all, they’re mandatory for smaller kids, and frankly, what kind of parent wouldn’t use one anyhow, regardless of the law? We chose popular child seats from Graco and Safety 1st, and installed them using the available LATCH points in all the vehicles, and like last year, the results were surprising. Remember that if you’re shopping for a new family car to bring your child’s boosters along with you. How well they fit could make or break your decision.
There’s more to cargo space than cubic feet of storage, and we went well beyond looking at simple volume measurements. Instead, we stuffed the cargo areas with all manner of items, from golf bags to big coolers to even a bike. We looked at how easy it was to get items in and out, how high off the ground the cargo floor was on SUVs, how easily seats folded down to make more room, and ultimately, how much stuff we could cram inside.
This is an interesting category, as some on staff think that stand-alone rear-seat entertainment systems will soon go by the wayside as more cars adopt 4G LTE and wireless hotspot options. Still, there’s something to be said for plugging in your family’s Wii on a long road trip, and the inclusion of a built-in rear-seat screen is still an advantage. Beyond simply existing, we also checked out what could be plugged into the system, how easy it was to use, if the screen blocked the rear view, and more.
Most every vehicle on this list nails the basics, and often what separates winners from runners-up is the little things. How easy it is to fold seats to access the third row, for example, or a cleverly designed storage can make or break similar vehicles. Advanced electronics like adaptive cruise control or an all-around-view camera can put a smile on a buyer’s face, and a signature on the dotted line. We pushed every button, pulled every lever, and stuffed every storage compartment to see what made each vehicle special.
The 15 Best Family Cars of 2015
A very modern take on the classic full-size family sedan.
A family workhorse freshly updated for 2015.
The best-selling vehicle in the country, radically rethought for 2015.
A perennial family favorite of owners and editors alike.
A smaller, more affordable take on the prototypical family sedan.
An incredibly well-rounded and versatile solution for many families.
Purpose-built for families on the go.
Hyundai’s midsize sedan has been redesigned for 2015, and it’s more impressive than ever.
Beneath the youthful sheet metal lies an impressively affordable and versatile little family car.
A midsize SUV with three rows of seats and a rich interior.
A full-size truck that seats six and rides like a sedan.
For more exceptional new cars check out our handy roundup of annual awards and 10 Best lists. From there you can check out more than 50 new or redesigned models debuting for the 2015 model year, our helpful New Car Buyer’s Guides, and plenty of 10 Best lists highlighting everything from the Coolest Cars Under $18,000 to the Best Luxury Cars Under $40,000.