Before you start shopping, we recommend identifying must-have features for your family so you can dispense with any SUVs that don’t deliver. Size is a good starting point. How big is your family and how willing are your loved ones to share their space? Most compact and midsize SUVs seat five in two rows, but many also offer the option of a third row.
Cargo room is important, too, since all those passengers are bound to have plenty of stuff to carry with them. The smallest SUVs and crossovers have enough room for five and not much else, while the biggest family SUVs can accommodate up to nine passengers and whatever they might bring with them.
Don’t forget that size is inversely correlated with gas mileage, generally speaking. So if you need maximum mpg, go with the smallest SUV that still meets your needs. Also, keep in mind that all-wheel drive generally hurts fuel economy by 1 or 2 combined mpg.
Family SUV Safety and Technology
When your family is involved, safety is a top priority. All of the best family SUVs will keep you safe, but you should consider available features that go beyond basic crash protection, including the all-season traction of all-wheel drive. Advanced safety systems such as automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection are now widely offered, and they can drastically reduce the severity of an accident. Then there are options such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist that can minimize driver fatigue on longer trips.
Furthermore, the best SUVs for families offer an impressive range of consumer technology, so be sure to look for features such as second- and third-row USB ports, rear-seat entertainment systems and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
Child Car Seats
The LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) protocol was introduced in 2002 to simplify the installation of child car seats. If you’re shopping for a family SUV that’s good for car seats, one thing to check is whether your child safety seat mounts easily to the vehicle’s LATCH anchor points. Another question is whether there’s still enough room for adult passengers up front with a safety seat installed in the second row. We recommend bringing your child car seat to the dealership to see how it fits.
Top Family-Friendly Features in SUVs
When you’re in the market for a new family SUV, the array of available features can be dizzying. Here are four features that we consider to be especially important for the family-minded SUV shopper.
- Hands-Free Power Liftgate
- When your hands are full and you’re approaching the car with kids in tow, the last thing you want to do is wrestle with the liftgate. The solution is a hands-free power liftgate that opens by itself, typically when you wave your foot under the rear bumper with the key fob in your pocket. It’s an increasingly common feature across the SUV landscape.
- Rear-Seat Entertainment System
- Nothing’s better for keeping the kids occupied on a long trip than a rear-seat entertainment system with display screens and headphones. Some systems feature screens that are mounted to the front headrests, just like on a plane, while others have screens that flip down from the ceiling.
- USB Ports
- Families have a lot of devices that need to be charged, so the more USB ports a vehicle provides, the better. Many SUVs have enough USB ports for both front and rear passengers to stay juiced up.
- Rear Window Sunshades
- Typically a higher-end feature, retractable rear sunshades help protect your little ones from the heat and rays of direct sunlight. Why buy those goofy aftermarket suction-cup sunshades if you don’t have to?
Time to Test-Drive!
Now you know what our experts think, and you’ve got our shopping advice. But at the end of the day, there’s no substitute for firsthand experience with all of the family SUVs you’re considering. Get out there and start test-driving — find out for yourself what the best family SUVs are today. See our full list of the Best Family Cars.