Raising a family can be a costly proposition, and buying the right family-friendly vehicle can be a significant expense. First off, you need something that’s large enough to hold the kids and all their cargo, from diaper bags and strollers to backpacks and hockey sticks.
It also helps to combine storage space with fuel efficiency, especially if a family road trip or two is in the cards. Choosing a vehicle with outstanding fuel economy helps keep costs down, as does putting used vehicles on your shopping list, including the ones we’ve discussed below.
2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid stands out with an obvious advantage compared to most rivals: a high-efficiency hybrid powertrain that helps deliver standard EPA ratings of 28/28 mpg city/highway. Those ratings come with a standard all-wheel drive system on the Highlander Hybrid. For comparison, the most efficient gas-only all-wheel-drive Highlander is rated at 18/24 mpg city/highway.
The Highlander Hybrid is a midsize three-row SUV with seating for up to seven (gas-only models seat up to eight), so there’s plenty of room for family and friends. And it can fit up to 83.7 cubic feet of cargo behind the first row.
This Toyota also has some important benefits in the safety department. It earned a perfect five-star overall safety score in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), so it has the goods to keep your loved ones safe in a collision. The Highlander Hybrid also comes standard with driver-assistive features such a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert.
2013 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid/GMC Yukon Hybrid
Although they’re certainly harder to find than your typical pre-owned SUV, General Motors’ full-size hybrids can answer the call for families that need maximum space. The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid and GMC Yukon Hybrid were sold from 2008 through 2013, and they provide the same full-size, body-on-frame benefits as their gas-only counterparts.
This includes three rows of seating for up to eight occupants, as well as nearly 109 cubic feet of cargo space behind the first row. In addition, the Tahoe Hybrid and Yukon Hybrid each have standard 6.0-liter V8 engines and substantial tow ratings. Rear-wheel-drive models are able to pull up to 6,200 pounds and four-wheel-drive models are good for a 5,900-pound towing limit.
These vehicles achieve EPA ratings of 20/23 mpg city/highway in both drive configurations. That may not seem very green at first glance, but it represents a notable improvement over the 15/21 mpg city/highway fuel economy offered by gas-only Yukon and Tahoe models.
The Tahoe and Yukon earned four out of five stars overall in NHTSA crash tests.
2015 Honda CR-V
In the compact SUV segment, the 2015 Honda CR-V shines as a top choice for families. The CR-V relies on a powertrain that pairs a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Drivers enjoy 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque.
Fuel economy comes in at 27/33 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive, while all-wheel-drive models achieve mileage of 26/32 mpg. This gives the CR-V a fuel-efficiency edge over rivals like the 2015 Toyota RAV4 and 2015 Chevrolet Equinox.
For family-style cargo capability, the CR-V has 35.2 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats and 70.9 when the rear seatbacks are folded. The 2015 CR-V earned a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and its list of available driver-assistive technology includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, collision-mitigation braking and lane-departure warning.
2016 Mazda CX-5
If you’re shopping for a compact crossover, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 is an impressive choice. With a standard six-speed manual transmission, the front-wheel-drive CX-5 is rated at 26/34 mpg city/highway, and models with a six-speed automatic achieve mileage of 26/33 mpg.
In IIHS testing, the 2015 CX-5 earned a Top Safety Pick+ designation, and it scored an Advanced rating for its optional crash avoidance and mitigation technology. The CX-5’s list of available driver-assistive features includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic forward braking and lane-departure warning.
There’s also lots of room on board for your family’s belongings. The CX-5 provides up to 65.4 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity.
2016 Subaru Crosstrek
Families with smaller children may want to consider the 2016 Subaru Crosstrek. Offering 55.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded, this subcompact provides more space for your luggage than rivals like the Chevrolet Trax.
The Crosstrek has an EPA rating of up to 26/33 mpg city/highway. There’s also a hybrid variant that achieves mileage of 29/33 mpg.
On the safety front, this Subaru earned a Top Safety Pick+ designation from the IIHS, along with a Superior rating for its available driver-assistive technology. Adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning are offered.