Having a family doesn’t condemn you to driving a frumpy minivan. Nilda Martinez, a mother of three boys, says her 2004 Honda Pilot is perfect. “I won't drive a minivan because they are just too big for me. I'm short, only 5 feet, and I'm not a soccer mom,” she says, emphasizing not. “And they are ugly.”
As you shop for a family car, don’t be ashamed to think of yourself. Family cars are pricey, and there is nothing wrong with wanting a vehicle that meets your needs and looks good, especially if you plan to keep it for the long haul. To make this list, we used our Best Car rankings and selected family vehicles with high exterior scores from the automotive press.
Simple, but Classic
If you’re into wood floors, simple black dresses or button-down shirts, you’ll like the Hyundai Elantra Touring. Its simple exterior won’t attract stares like the Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon, but you’ll be pleased when this affordable, classic-looking family car looks good a decade from now. And, with 24.3 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, the Elantra Touring has enough cargo space to shuttle your kids to the beach when they’re young and ship them off to college when they’re older.
The Ford Fusion’s wide, commanding front grille and simple design may remind you of a t-shirt and jeans. When they’re put together just right, the ensemble will make you look twice, and reviewers say the same goes for the Fusion. Behind the Fusion’s classic package is a 16.5 cubic-foot trunk, one of the largest in the class, and enough space for three high school students to sit comfortably in the backseat.
Minivan: As Good as It Gets
Martinez refuses to buy a minivan, but for some families, vans are hard to turn down because they handle family tasks so well. What other vehicle can seat eight, play “The Incredibles” and reruns of the “Backyardigans” simultaneously and provide nearly 40 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in use? When equipped with a DVD system for about $32,000, Toyota Sienna can, and test drivers say this minivan’s fender flares and swoopy lines give it a sporty attitude and make it the most handsome minivan on the market. The Honda Odyssey, the Sienna’s archnemesis, does nearly everything the Sienna can, but its profile isn’t as slick and clean as the Sienna’s.
The Volkswagen Routan earns high exterior scores for its sophisticated European flair, but compared with its competitors, the Routan isn’t a family-hauling champ because it doesn’t have second row seats that are easily folded like ones in the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. The Routan also has less cargo space behind the second row compared with these top-notch vans, but if you can afford to sacrifice some utility in the name of asthetics, the Routan is a good pick.
Rugged Minivan Alternatives
The Mazda CX-9 has some of the highest exterior scores of midsize SUVs, and is a minivan alternative with an exterior that reviewers call sleek and sporty. There’s no way you’ll mistake this midsize SUV for a mom van, but the CX-9 can do nearly everything the Toyota Sienna can. It has an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system, seats for seven and cargo area under-floor storage, but there is a downside. When your car is packed with nearly half of your child’s soccer team, there’s only 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space left for their gear.
The Ford Explorer’s wide front grill, roof rails and blacked out windows that resemble sporty, wrap-around sunglasses, give the SUV the style hip families headed to the beach are looking for. The Explorer starts at $100 less than the Honda Pilot, and while it seats one less than its competitor, the Explorer easily compensates with its other features. To match what Autoblog calls a “masculine” exterior, the Explorer has an optional terrain management system, which means the Explorer can tackle city streets, snowy back roads and rocky camp grounds. You can only seat seven in the Explorer, but in exchange for that eighth passenger, you get 21 cubic feet of cargo space for duffle bags and camping chairs.
For Expensive Tastes
The Audi Q5’s jellybean exterior resembles the Honda CR-V’s, but unlike the CR-V, reviews love its slick profile and low front grille that looks ready to munch up the road. Behind the Q5’s elegant exterior are seats for four passengers and 29.1 cubic feet of cargo space. With upscale amenities like an optional Bang & Olufsen sound system, optional wood inlays and standard three-zone automatic climate control, all eyes will turn to your family when you pull up at a rest stop in the swanky Q5.
When it comes to look-at-me styling, a nameplate and innovative exterior can make all the difference. That’s where the Volvo S60 makes its entrance with its expensive, high-ranked exterior. The S60 has four doors, but Volvo calls this upscale midsize sedan a four-door coupe because it has such a sleek, sexy profile. The S60 will force you to sacrifice some trunk space, but for a balance between a stylish sedan and room for your kids, the S60 is a good pick.
Stylish, But Affordable
Style isn’t exclusive to upscale vehicles, and the Hyundai Sonata is one of those exceptions. Many reviewers think the Sonata’s wind-shaped front grill and exterior panels bring a fresh look to affordable midsize cars, and most importantly, its unique profile doesn’t limit utility. It has a 16.4 cubic-foot trunk, which is one of the largest in the class. If you are fond of the Sonata’s looks, but need less space, the Hyundai Elantra is the Sonata’s smaller sibling, and just as attractive.
A tray table and conversation mirror make the Honda CR-V perfect for families, but let’s face it, it’s stereotyped as a daycare vehicle, just like the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey. In place of the CR-V’s sedate profile and emotionless front grill, the Kia Sportage spices up family life with muscular exterior styling and a no-nonsense front grille. Dad won’t mind driving this compact SUV to the gym.