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Buying & Leasing a Car

Best Cars for Families

Our top picks get high scores in our annual rankings plus a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The words “safety first” may seem clichéd, but safety is the top factor we consider when we compile our list of family-friendly vehicles. Our picks must get high scores in our annual rankings for overall value, performance and safety (see our story Let’s Make a Deal: Best New Car Values, 2014), plus they must earn a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. They also have to offer either a forward-collision warning system or a rearview camera as optional equipment (see our story How to Buy a Safe Car).

See Our Slide Show: 10 Best Values in Family Cars, 2014

Sedans. The Kia Optima (starting at $22,300) offers some of the highest resale values in its class and a superior blend of power and fuel efficiency, whether you pick the 192-horsepower base engine, which delivers 34 miles per gallon on the highway, or the 274-horse turbocharged model (my fave), which gets 31 mpg highway. The Optima has a rearview camera that’s available on every trim level, and its trunk has 15 cubic feet of cargo space.

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The Ford Fusion ($22,795) has sporty driving dynamics, a spacious interior and 16 cubic feet of cargo space. A collision warning system is available on most models, and other options include rear inflatable seat belts (designed to soften the impact of a crash by spreading it over a larger portion of the torso), lane-departure warning with a “lane keeping” system, blind-spot warning with cross-traffic alert (which warns you of approaching vehicles as you’re backing up), and automatic high beams. The base model gets 34 mpg on the highway and won a Best in Class award in our rankings.

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Crossovers. With the drivability of a sporty sedan and 34 cubic feet of cargo space, the Mazda CX-5 ($22,225) is ideal for families with a couple of kids. Choices abound. Pick the base 2.0-liter engine (with 155 hp) or the new 2.5-liter (184 hp), and front- or all-wheel drive. The base model with manual transmission gets 35 mpg on the highway. Adaptive headlights and low-speed forward-collision warning are optional. The CX-5 won Best in Class for Small Crossovers in our rankings.

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Redesigned for 2014, the all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester ($22,820) won Best New Small Crossover. It’s slightly larger than the previous generation, giving it more legroom and a bump up in cargo space—34 cubic feet behind the second row. New features include anti-whiplash front seats, a driver’s knee airbag and an optional collision warning system. The base model gets 29 mpg on the highway.

Also redesigned this year is the Toyota Highlander. It’s available with a four- or six-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive (starting at $30,075), or with a six-cylinder engine with all-wheel drive ($32,705). The front-drive models get 25 mpg on the highway; the AWD model gets 24 mpg. Seating for eight is standard (second-row captain’s chairs are an option), as is a rearview camera and eight airbags. A collision warning system and a lane-departure alert are optional. You get 42 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row with the third row folded flat.

Minivans. Our Best in Class Minivan, the Honda Odyssey ($29,655), gets the best fuel economy in its class (28 mpg on the highway). It also has the most cargo space (93 cubic feet behind the second row with the third-row seats folded flat) and a standard rearview camera. It’s the only Top Safety Pick of the minivan brood, and it has an available collision warning system. Spring for the top-of-the-line Touring Elite model ($45,280) and you get an integrated vacuum for cleaning up messes on the go.

See our complete list of the top ten vehicles for families here.

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