The 10 Best Cars for the American Family

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What makes a good family car? It’s usually a combination of features like roominess, safety, cost to purchase, cost to run and maintain, style and resale value. Purchasing a family car represents trade-offs, and the trick is to minimize what you have to give up in order to get all the features you really need.

The editors at Kelley Blue Book (KBB) have named their 10 best cars for American families based on criteria such as safety, roominess, comfort and value. That seems like a pretty good list to us, and KBB’s choices appear to strike a reasonable balance.

Click here to see the 10 best cars for the American family

It is worth pointing out that of the top 10 there is only one minivan, the Honda Odyssey. Minivans are declining in popularity among American families due to a combination of factors. Fuel economy for the minivans is lower than for smaller cars like the Honda Accord or small SUVs like the Honda CR-V. Minivan designs have not really kept pace with new small SUV designs either. As a result, minivan sales are falling. The Honda Odyssey, for example, sold more than 135,000 units in 2008, compared with around 126,000 in 2012.

KBB’s list includes a vehicle for nearly every purpose, from a bulky Chevrolet Suburban that costs more than $51,000 and gets combined city-highway fuel mileage of 17 miles per gallon (mpg) to a Honda Accord that costs less than half that amount and gets 27 mpg combined. The Accord sold nearly 332,000 units in the United States in 2012, compared with just over 48,000 Suburbans.

Another difference among the cars on KBB’s list is revealed in the five-year cost of ownership. A Suburban costs more than $63,000 to own over a five-year period, compared with a cost of around $35,000 for an Accord. The Accord’s resale value at the end of five years totals 43% of its sales price, where a Suburban retains 38% of its original value.

Which cars are selling best? The clear leader here is Volkswagen’s Passat, which has seen sales jump from about 30,000 in 2008 to about 117,000 in 2012. The Passat is also priced just barely higher than the lowest price Accord.

The top-ranked family car based on customer loyalty in the Edmunds ranking is the Toyota Avalon. Some 43% of Avalon owners who are trading in their cars for a new model plan to buy another Avalon. About 40% of Honda Odyssey owners plan to buy another Odyssey, and nearly 39% of Suburban owners plan to buy another Suburban. These numbers indicate that the cars’ owners believed that they received exactly what they anticipated when they bought the first version of the car. That is a pretty strong endorsement.

One note on the data that follows. KBB lists its 10 best cars by trim level, whereas Edmunds groups the cars more generally by model name. Many of the reviews referenced in the piece from groups like J.D. Power, Edmunds and Consumer Reports are for the most recent available period, and in some cases may be for the 2012 model.