For many people, a family car is the car you have to buy, not the car you actually want. But family cars are also the setting of heart-to-heart talks, sing-alongs and games. If you have the right family car, spending time in it is enjoyable for the whole family. The wrong family car can make time on the road uncomfortable, frustrating and expensive.

The 2011 U.S. News Best Cars for Families awards highlight vehicles that make family life easier. The awards are based on a combination of data from the U.S. News car rankings, safety and reliability ratings and long-term ownership costs. The winners are cars, SUVs and vans that impress car reviewers with their family-friendly features and space, but also keep families safe and on budget – factors that matter to any parent.

See the Photo Gallery of the Winners »
2011 Best Cars for the Money »

The Winners: Cars

2011 Honda Fit

Best Subcompact Car: Honda Fit

2011 Acura TSX

Best Upscale Small Car: Acura TSX

2011 Ford Fusion

Best Affordable Midsize Car: Ford Fusion

2011 Buick Regal

Best Upscale Midsize Car: Buick Regal

2011 Ford Taurus

Best Affordable Large Car: Ford Taurus

2011 Volvo S80

Best Luxury Large Car: Volvo S80

2011 Honda Fit

Best Hatchback: Honda Fit

2011 Toyota Prius

Best Hybrid Car: Toyota Prius

2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring

Best Wagon: Hyundai Elantra Touring

2011 Honda Civic

Best Compact Car: Honda Civic

The Winners: SUVs and Minivans

2011 Honda CR-V

Best Affordable Compact SUV: Honda CR-V

2011 Infiniti EX

Best Luxury Compact SUV: Infiniti EX

2011 Toyota Venza

Best Midsize SUVs with 2 Row: Toyota Venza

2011 Toyota Highlander

Best Midsize SUVs with 3 Row: Toyota Highlander

2011 Lexus RX 350

Best Luxury Midsize SUV: Lexus RX 350

2011 Ford Explorer

Best Off-Road SUV: Ford Explorer

2011 Toyota Sequoia

Best Affordable Large SUV: Toyota Sequoia

2011 Lexus LX

Best Luxury Large SUV: Lexus LX

2011 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Best Hybrid SUV: Toyota Highlander Hybrid

2011 Honda Odyssey

Best Minivan: Honda Odyssey

The Winners

No one type of car is going to work for all families, and the award winners come from 20 diverse automotive classes. Small families who need an urban runabout can find practicality and value in the 2011 Honda Fit, the Best Subcompact Car for Families. The Fit is also the Best Hatchback for Families, earning the highest possible initial quality rating from J.D. Power and Associates. At 20.6 cubic feet with all seats in use, the Fit has the most cargo space in its class, easily swallowing strollers and diaper bags.

On the other end of the spectrum, large families who like to keep going when the road ends will be happy with the seven-seat 2011 Ford Explorer, the Best Off-Road SUV for Families. The Explorer earns excellent reviews from the automotive press. It’s the 2011 North American Truck of the Year and is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick. Parents who want to leave the planet in good shape for their kids should shop the 2011 Toyota Prius, which is the Best Hybrid Car for Families. In addition to an EPA-estimated 50 mpg combined fuel economy rating, the Prius has a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

The list of award winners includes luxury cars that any kid would be lucky to be chauffeured in. The 2011 Buick Regal is the 2011 Best Upscale Midsize Car for Families (it is also the 2011 Best Upscale Midsize Car for the Money) and features a standard USB port with iPod interface and standard Bluetooth. Most car reviewers also rate the Regal as fun-to-drive, which is an added bonus for mom and dad. The 2011 Lexus RX350 is the Best Luxury Midsize SUV for Families. Reviewers say it features a quiet ride that allows kids to sleep or watch DVDs in peace, and has fuel economy ratings of 18/25 mpg city/highway. The 2011 Volvo S80, with advanced accident avoidance features like lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and collision warning with automatic braking, is the Best Luxury Large Car for Families.

Of course, sometimes families want classic family cars like station wagons and minivans, and the awards have those classes covered too. The Best Wagon for Families is the 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring, which has budget-friendly pricing and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The 2011 Honda Odyssey is the Best Minivan for Families. The Odyssey has five sets of Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), which keep car seats extra-secure. No other minivan has as many LATCH connections. Families with lots of little ones will want to make sure to shop the Odyssey.

Automakers are offering lots of models that seem like they could do family duty just fine. With today’s families spending more time in the car than ever before, a family car that works just fine isn’t going to cut it. The Best Cars for Families award winners all combine the features that families want, like comfort, cargo space and interior tech, with the strong safety ratings and ownership costs they need.

More Tools for Finding the Right Family Car:

How to Find the Right Car for Your Family

Get the Best Deal on a Family Car

Will Your Family Fit?

Four Keys to Keeping Kids Safe in Cars

Best Cars for Turning Over the Keys

High-Tech Tools for Keeping Teens Safe

Crash Test Scores: What Parents Need to Know

Space vs. Fuel Economy

To DVD or Not to DVD?

Size Matters: Small Family Cars

Best Cars for Carpooling

Greenest Family Cars

Most Fun-to-Drive Family Cars

Best Cars for Stylish Families

Find the Best Price

Enter your zip code to get local pricing.

Get Dealer Quotes

To get dealer quotes, enter your zip code.

Search Used Listings

To search used listings, enter your zip code.