While it’s easy to drool over the muscle cars or exotic concepts, at the end of the day it’s the family car that drives Americans into dealerships. Versatility, fuel economy, and safety are among the top attributes any good parent will look for — but that no longer means limiting buyers to minivans. As families have shrunk, for one, cars have gotten progressively bigger. A current generation Volkswagen Golf, for example, boasts a 20 percent larger interior than its first generation counterpart, while a full-size 2015 Range Rover is a healthy 12 percent larger than its 1970 stablemate. Then there are the amenities: Heated seats, stylish grilles, and athletic stances have all found a place in otherwise practical vehicles. In other words, the family car is no longer a cookie-cutter buy. Just see these 12 great cars as proof.
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GMC Yukon XL Denali
While its Escalade brother may dwarf it in prestige, the Yukon XL Denali, with 121 cubic inches of cargo space, is no shrinking violet. It’s a family workhorse in every sense, from its large rear doors that contribute to an overall solid feeling to its second- and third-row seats that accommodate eight comfortably. Power everything, including lift gate and folding running boards, also lend to an ease of use to this truck. Under the hood, a 420-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, coupled with magnetic-ride-control for a smooth drive no matter the terrain, offers excellent acceleration. From remote start to a powerful climate control to a center console large enough for hanging folders or a laptop, creature comforts abound — making the stylish Denali XL ideal for a weekend hunting trip or a run to the PTA meeting.
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The dependable Odyssey, with its proven safety record and flexible seating arrangement, has come a long way from its first-generation five-door people hauler. Nearly 20 years later, the latest incarnation has a refined V6 for smooth acceleration, sporty (by minivan standards) road manners, and remains an excellent value for the money (new Touring and Touring Elite trims appease those wanting a dose of luxury with their utilitarian ride). The well-oiled, front-wheel-drive family van doesn't skimp on interior space, offering one more seat in the second row that can be removed or flipped up — not to mention a functional center console with handy flip-up trash-bag ring. The second- and third-row seats are among the easiest to configure of any minivan thanks to easy-to-use lower anchors and tethers. A HondaVAC vacuum is also a recent addition.
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It's easy to see why the quirky CX-5 is a top crossover pick for both young families and singles. Mazda vehicles have long been fun to drive thanks to its impressive SKYACTIV engine technology; the CX-5 adds the bonus of a spacious interior, impressive fuel economy, and an athletic stance that makes it all the more appealing. A bonus for auto purists who live for a truly engaging drive: in the four-cylinder option, a six-speed manual is offered, while all-wheel-drive is available throughout the line. A nice touch inside is the wide cavity that sits under the front seats that offers plenty of rear passenger foot space, not to mention doubling as additional storage. An interesting addition to the roster of family-friendly safety equipment is the Smart City Brake Support, which utilizes a laser sensor to detect obstructions and reduce brake rotor travel.
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Acura has built a solid reputation thanks in large part to its SUV platforms — and with the MDX, now in its third generation, it’s easy to see why. Having shed a few pounds and added three new gears, the SUV is more energetic and efficient but no less luxurious. The nine-speed automatic is smooth, with an automatic start/stop cylinder system that kills the engine at stoplights. A new electronic push-button shifter frees up space beneath the center console for added storage. For long family road trips, the "ultrawide 16.2" DVD rear entertainment system with HDMI and wireless headsets is not only among the largest available, but arguably the best. We recommend opting for the AcuraWatch package, which adds a myriad of safety and driver-assist technologies (we love the multiview rear camera and cross-traffic monitor, for example).
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Long the preferred choice of vehicle for families who live for the outdoors, the new Outback offers better ground clearance, more room than most five-passenger SUVs, and enhanced safety features all coupled with a renowned all-wheel-drive system. Noticeably beefier than its predecessor, the Outback continues to deliver excellent visibility and, ideal for families with young children, a conveniently low step-in height. The new Starlink infotainment setup and EyeSight suite of safety features including lane-keeping assist and an array of sensors that alert to everything from blind spots to lane departure. Added to that is an EPA fuel rating that, at 25 city/33 highway, is a segment leader. Starting at $25,845 (an increase of only $50), the Outback, like all Subaru models, offers big bang for relatively low buck.
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Buick’s luxury crossover, available in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive, delivers surprisingly roomy accommodations for a petite body that fits well in any urban environment. The Encore is ideal for a small family wanting space without sacrificing versatility (even the front passenger seat folds flat). While its waterfall grille and hood portholes add to the upscale look, the Encore feels — and drives — much bigger than it really is. Quick to respond, with plenty of power and handling stability, the Encore offers premium elements for a growing family: a prominent central instrument panel houses the seven-inch LCD display, ice blue ambient lighting accents abound, and premium seats featuring high-density foam ensure a pain-free long-distance drive. The trunk can easily swallow six full grocery bags and, with the rear seat folded, a set of golf clubs and overnight bags.
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The midsize Accord has proven its mainstay appeal thanks to its attractive design, sporty drivetrain, and ergonomic interior (translation: big rear seat). While it doesn't exactly pamper, families will appreciate, on the range-topping V6 Touring edition, heated rear seats, parking sensors, automatic high-beams, and snazzy 19-inch wheels. Sport-trim versions, meanwhile, will receive a 60/40 split rear seat. For fuel management, the Accord has a nifty variable cylinder system that'll shut down three cylinders when appropriate.
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With the all-new full-size XC90 SUV, Volvo hopes to reclaim the family marketshare it lost to its European competitors over the last decade. From its reshaped badge to new drivetrain, interior, and plethora of safety features, look for the XC90 to be mighty popular this back-to-school season. Standard AWD is paired with either T6 or plug-in hybrid T8 variants, as is a silky eight-speed automatic and seven-seat configuration. The optional air suspension eliminates nearly all road noise, offering five settings. Headroom, even with the panoramic roof, is fantastic, and there is plenty of elbowroom to go around for seven adults, all of whom get their own seatbelt tensioner for safety. For long road trips, family members will no doubt appreciate individual cup holders, climate control units, and outlets for all-day, everyday recharging.
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Range Rover LWB
While Bentley and Lamborghini both have SUVs in the works, there's no denying the legacy of this full-size British marque. If the fact that Prince William, himself a father of two under two, drives a Range Rover isn't enough of a selling point, its new long wheelbase version will have the one-percenters shaking in their Tod's loafers. Luxury at its finest, the LWB edition boasts a four-zone cabin-climate system with massage function, seats that recline 17 degrees, dual-screen rear-entertainment system, and beverage coolers (juice boxes have never had it so good). At just over six feet tall and 204.7 inches in length, the LWB is a beast — with a 0–60 mph time of 5.5 seconds to back up its strength. For the prep school set, nothing comes close.
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Mercedes E350 Wagon
What the Outback oozes in utility, the E350 wagon waxes in unmatched nostalgia. Wagons aren't a big seller in the U.S., but for that specific niche of family man who opts for the three-star wagon, the compelling combination of luxury, 4MATIC all-weather capability, and practicality in accommodations is heaven sent. From the striking single-piece headlights to the simplified rear fenders, the wagon, available in Luxuy and Sport variants, offers expansive interior space with a five-seat configuration that expands to seven, thanks to a standard third-row rear-facing seat. Fold down the rear seats for a blessed 57.4 cubic-foot cargo area. And for those wanting the ultimate in family badass-ness, look no further than the E63 AMG wagon.
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BMW X6 M
Different folks, different strokes. The swoopy fastback X6 doesn't typically occupy top billing when one thinks "family hauler" — its X5 brethren happily bears the brunt of those sales. But the X6 M — the 567-hp Godzilla of sport-utes — is a Sports Activity Coupe, all but stripping of its need to be sensible. Sure, two baby seats will fit in the back, not to mention a healthy amount of luggage, but the X6 M is for the family that values performance that much more than spacious cargo capability. In any color, but particularly in Long Beach Blue, its taut, chiseled body is jaw-dropping. Despite its sloping roofline, however, the X6 offers plenty of leg- and headroom all around. Sports enthusiasts will want to add on a roof rack.