This article was last updated by Digital Trends contributor Kristen Hall-Geisler on 5/5/2020.
Look no further than the 2020 Subaru Outback if you’re in the market for a no-compromise family car. It’s roomy because it’s a tall station wagon, and it can fend for itself during the winter months thanks to Subaru’s time-tested all-wheel drive system, and nearly nine inches of ground clearance. Electronic driving aids keep the Outback’s front end pointed in the right direction, ensuring your commute doesn’t involve improvised off-roading even if the roads are icy.
The Outback is a car that does it all. If isn’t for you, there are other great family cars in nearly every segment of the market. Digital Trends has driven them all; we published nearly 90 car reviews in 2018, and we attend every major auto show to see the latest models in the metal. We’ve also selected the best electric family car and the best luxury family car, among other options.
The best: Subaru Outback
Why should you buy this: It’s all the car you’ll ever need.
Who’s it for: Anyone who needs a car that can do it all.
What it’ll cost: $26,645+
Why we picked the Subaru Outback:
The Subaru Outback is one of the best all-around vehicles currently on sale. It’s an affordable car that can handle the grind of your daily commute, but with all-wheel drive and plenty of cargo space, it’s also perfect for weekend adventures. While the Outback demonstrates how versatile station wagons can be, it has only survived in this SUV-hungry market by adopting rugged body cladding and a raised ride height.
The Outback has a lower center of gravity than the SUVs it competes with, improving handling. But it still offers 8.7 inches of clearance and plenty of trunk space behind the rear seats. The lower roof height also makes strapping cargo to the roof a bit easier, and Subaru even designed step-like doorsills to ensure a person has secure footing while tying cargo down.
All-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission are standard, and buyers can choose between two boxer engines. The entry-level engine is a naturally-aspirated, 2.5-liter flat-four that makes 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. That’s not a lot for a vehicle of this size, so buyers can step up to a turbocharged, 2.4-liter flat-four rated at a more generous 260 hp and 277 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard four-cylinder’s output is merely adequate, so we suggest selecting the bigger engine if you need power.
The Outback features standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and Subaru’s EyeSight driver-aid suite on all trim levels. EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane departure warning. Other driver aids include lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, reverse autonomous braking, and steering-responsive headlights.
Read more about the 2020 Subaru Outback
The best car for large families: Kia Sedona
Why should you buy this: It’s has high reliability ratings and a low price, plus an easy-to-use infotainment system.
Who’s it for: Families who need lots of seats and space.
What it’ll cost: $27,600
Why we picked the Kia Sedona:
The Kia Sedona is not the coolest looking minivan on the market, but this is admittedly uncool segment. What the Sedona has is good safety and predicted reliability scores from trusted third parties, which counts for a lot when one vehicle needs to do everything from school runs to offsite work lunches. It’s also got one of the lowest prices in its class and a longer warranty than many of its rivals.
The Sedona comes with Kia’s UVO infotainment system, which is dead simple to use and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard. Upgrades include wireless device charging and more USB ports so everybody can bring their own entertainment if they want to tune out your music choices. The starting price is low enough that you might have room in the budget for cool upgrades like touchless automatic liftgate and anti-pinch sliding doors.
Don’t expect a sporty ride from the Sedona, though the V6 engine has plenty of power for hauling everybody and their gear. But that also means the Sedona doesn’t get great fuel economy, with a combined 24 mpg rating from the EPA.
The best performance family car: Dodge Durango SRT
Why should you buy this: You’re not the most responsible parent.
Who’s it for: Soccer moms and dads with a need for speed.
What it’ll cost: $62,995
Why we picked the Dodge Durango SRT:
Most people think family cars should be practical and sensible, but Dodge didn’t get that memo. The Detroit automaker decided to stuff a 475-hp, 6.4-liter Hemi V8 in its Durango SUV, seemingly just because it could. The result is a three-row hauler that can seat six and tow up to 8,700 pounds, but also hit 60 mph from a stop in 4.4 seconds, run the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds, and do four-wheel burnouts.
Dodge sibling Jeep offers an SUV with even more power: The 707-hp Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk. Why didn’t we pick the Jeep? Two reasons: The Durango SRT offers the added flexibility of a third row, and it’s $25,000 less than the Jeep.
Aside from its awesome Hemi power, the Durango SRT also ticks practical family-car boxes. It offers plenty of space, and comes equipped with Dodge’s intuitive Uconnect infotainment system, complete with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The SRT also gets a nine-speaker, 506-watt BeatsAudio system.
Turning a family SUV into a muscle car involves some compromises, though. The Durango SRT isn’t cheap and, at an EPA-rated 15 mpg combined, it’s thirsty. But few vehicles balance people-and-cargo-hauling practicality with high-speed thrills like this Dodge.
Read our full Dodge Durango SRT review
The best luxury family car: Volvo V90 Cross Country
Why should you buy this: It can do everything, with style.
Who’s it for: Upscale families.
What it’ll cost: $51,450
Why we picked the Volvo V90 Cross Country:
Just like the Subaru Outback, the Volvo V90 Cross Country has space and all-wheel-drive capability, but without the handling and fuel economy deficits of a bulkier SUV body. The Cross Country is Volvo’s rugged wagon, with extra body cladding and taller ride height than the standard V90.
The Cross Country shares Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform with the S90 sedan and the XC90 SUV, among other models. SPA imparts an impressive level of refinement in all of the vehicles it underpins, and we love the look of Volvo’s current design language on the Cross Country’s wagon body. The interior is equally well appointed, with high-quality materials and an intuitive portrait-oriented touchscreen for the infotainment system.
Volvo only offers the Cross Country in T6 configuration, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that’s both turbocharged and supercharged. All of that forced induction gives the tiny engine plenty of power (316 hp), allowing it to easily move this big wagon. Standard all-wheel drive gives the Cross Country extra breadth of capability, and it’s eight-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. This being a Volvo, an array of driver aids and safety features are also available, including the automaker’s Pilot Assist, which keeps the car from veering out of its lane should the driver become inattentive.
Read our Volvo V90 Cross Country first-drive review
The best electric family car: Chevrolet Bolt
Why should you buy this: It’s an emissions-free way of taking your kids on vacation.
Who’s it for: Green families.
What it’ll cost: $36,620
Why we picked the Chevrolet Bolt:
The number of companies that make family-friendly electric vehicles is on the rise, but the Chevrolet Bolt still stands out as the best one for a number of reasons. First, it’s relatively affordable. Pricing starts at $36,620, and most buyers are eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit. Second, it’s available nationwide. The Hyundai Kona Electric offers more range than the Bolt at a similar price, but it’s only offered in California and in a handful of states in the northeastern part of the country. Finally, it’s safe; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it a five-star rating.
Chevrolet designed the Bolt with electricity in mind from the get-go. It’s not available with any kind of gasoline engine. Its electric motor generates 200 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque, and the recently updated lithium-ion battery pack stores enough electricity for up to 259 miles of range, according to the EPA. Your real-world figure may be lower, but the Bolt still has enough range to meet the commuting needs of most families. It’s spacious, too. It can seat five passengers (though the one riding in the middle will rub shoulders with the other two) and it offers 16.9. cubic feet of trunk space with two rows of seats left up. Folding down the rear bench unlocks 56.6 cubes.
Like most electric cars, the Bolt is a high-tech machine. It boasts a 10.2-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system, and Chevrolet offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The screen provides drivers with important information, too, like how much electricity they’re using and how many miles they can drive before they need to find a charging station. Ordering the optional 240-volt charger lets the Bolt take in 25 miles per hour of charge.
Read our Chevrolet Bolt first-drive review
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested, as well as most of the safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and on race tracks when applicable.
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