Automakers used to relinquish the family vehicle market to minivans and station wagons, but car companies now realize that they can sell more vehicles by giving families options in every segment of the new car market. You can get the car you want and the family hauler you need, all in one package.
Sedans and wagons used to be the go-to family vehicles, until minivans and SUVs moved in on their territory. With shoppers concerned about gas prices and carmakers offering roomier, more comfortable sedans, families are making their way back to cars with four doors and a trunk.
Of course, a sedan won’t work for all families because there are only seatbelts for five. For some midsize and compact sedans, getting three adults or big kids into the back seat can be a squeeze. Fitting child safety seats in the back can be even more of a challenge. A sedan is good if you have one or two kids in car seats or three kids who are out of car seats. But if you have a larger family, you should also consider SUVs and minivans.
While sedans may not work for larger families, they still offer the features that any family looks for. Compact and midsize sedans like the Chevrolet Cruze and Nissan Altima get some of the best gas mileage available. There are plenty of hybrid sedans available to cut your fuel costs even more. Sedans tend to be easier to drive than some SUVs and vans, and many sedans get great safety ratings. While you’re not going to find features like a back-seat refrigerated console in most sedans, you can still get kid-friendly options like back-seat climate control and lots of cup holders. Some models, like the Buick LaCrosse, have rear-seat DVD players. Sedans are also lower to the ground than SUVs and crossovers, making them easier for kids to get in and out of.
Like sedans, hatchbacks work for small families. Hatchbacks typically have more cargo space than similarly-sized sedans, so if you have a small family and a lot of stuff, a hatchback is a great choice. Some good hatchbacks for families include the Subaru Impreza, Toyota Prius, Ford Focus and Mazda Mazda3.
There’s a lot about SUVs that families will like. SUVs have lots of passenger and cargo room. Also, features like rear-seat DVD players have turned the SUV from a rough-and-tumble work vehicle to the conveyance of choice for many families. With space for anywhere from four to nine people, SUVs make sense for large families or for people who pull a lot of car pool duty. SUVs usually offer all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive, so they work for families who live in areas that frequently get inclement weather, as well as families who enjoy weekend trips off the beaten path.
SUVs aren’t ideal for all families, though. Because of their increased size and height, they can be difficult to drive. If you have teenage drivers, their inexperience behind the wheel may make it harder for them to pilot a big SUV safely. Another downside of their size is that some SUVs have poor fuel economy ratings. Finally, SUVs can be expensive when compared with sedans and hatchbacks.
Shoppers looking for a family SUV should also check out crossovers. Crossovers look like SUVs, but ride on car platforms, so many of the negatives that SUVs bring to the table don’t affect crossovers as much. Like SUVs, crossovers have lots of seating and cargo space, and offer features that families love, like DVD players and refrigerated consoles. Crossovers usually offer AWD and tend to get very good crash test ratings.
Since the first Chevy Nomad rolled off the line, station wagons have been synonymous with family cars. Even though their popularity has waned, the virtues that make station wagons great family vehicles have not. Like hatchbacks and sedans, wagons typically only seat five. In the back seat, you can usually fit either three kids without car seats or two kids with them.
When it comes to cargo, wagons provide more space. Even compact wagons can offer more cargo room than some compact SUVs. For example, the Volvo XC70 and Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen offer more cargo space than the Volvo XC60 and Volkswagen Tiguan. Wagons also tend to get better gas mileage than many crossovers and SUVs. Some wagons are all-out fun to drive, especially if those wagons are based on great sedans, like the Acura TSX Sport Wagon and the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon.
Wagons lose points with some families because of their limited passenger space. Plus, it’s hard to find wagons with kid-friendly features beyond great stereo systems. But if you need plenty of cargo space and prefer a smaller family vehicle over a big SUV, wagons are a good choice.
If you want to move people comfortably and efficiently, minivans are tough to beat. Minivans can seat up to eight people. In most cases, minivans have a second row made up of two captain’s chairs. That’s a big plus for families because it makes it easier for kids to get in and out of the third row. Plus, minivans come loaded with features kids love. DVD players are available on almost all minivans. You can even turn the Chrysler Town & Country into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot, so teens can tweet about how embarrassing it is to be driven around in a minivan.
One of the downsides with minivans is that most people just don’t think they’re cool. If you’re a driving enthusiast, driving a minivan will leave you disappointed. However, if you’re putting your family’s safety, comfort and budget first, minivans are a logical choice. Most minivans start at less than $30,000, have good fuel economy relative to their size and get strong crash test ratings, which are qualities that make minivans a great family vehicle.