Whether you’re commuting, going on a cross-country adventure, or nearly any trip in between, the 2021 Subaru Outback is happy to do it all. It’s the best family car you can buy new in 2020 because it’s rugged, spacious, reliable, and safe. As a bonus, it comes standard with all-wheel drive and nearly nine inches of ground clearance, so it can tackle light off-roading.
If the Outback isn’t for you, there are other great options in nearly every market segment if it doesn’t fit the bill for your family. We’ve also selected the best electric family car and the best luxury family car, among other options.
The best: Subaru Outback
Why you should buy this: It’s all the car you’ll ever need. The Outback is as versatile as a Swiss Army knife and as dependable as a good pair of hiking boots.
Who it’s for: Anyone who needs a car that can do it all.
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 a bit easier, and Subaru even designed step-like sills to ensure motorists have secure footing.
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. 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. The standard four-cylinder output is merely adequate, so we suggest selecting the bigger engine if you need power.
The Subaru 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.
The best car for large families: Chrysler Pacifica
Why you should buy this: Comfortable and cavernous, the Pacifica is a loft on wheels
Who it’s for: Bustling families with a need for maximum cargo and passenger volume.
We praised the Chrysler Pacifica for its blend of handsome styling, innovative features, impressive versatility, comfortable ride, and driving dynamics. Yes, we just said a minivan is fun to drive. It’s not going to handle like a Porsche 718, but it’s much sharper than its proportions and its silhouette might suggest. Try it out; you’ll see.
It does everything customers demand of a minivan, and it does these things well. It carries up to eight passengers, it offers creative interior storage options, it’s offered with front and rear entertainment systems, and it rides smoothly. Power comes from a time-tested 3.6-liter V6 engine, which develops 287 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It spins the front wheels via a nine-speed automatic transmission, but all-wheel drive is offered on some trim levels.
If you want to keep your fuel budget in check, Chrysler offers the Pacifica with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. If you want to spend less, there’s a cheaper variant named Voyager with fewer bells and whistles.
The best performance family car: Dodge Durango SRT
Why you should buy this: You’re not the most responsible parent.
Who it’s for: Soccer moms and dads with a need for speed.
Most people think family cars should be practical and sensible, but Dodge didn’t get that memo. The Detroit-based 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 can also hit 60 mph from a stop in 4.4 seconds, run the quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds, and do four-wheel burnouts.
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 Dodge 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.
If you want an even quicker family hauler, the Durango is also offered with the supercharged, 6.2-liter Hellcat engine that makes 710 hp. It’s the most powerful SUV on the market, but it’s expected to carry a base price in the vicinity of $81,000, and Dodge said it will only build the model for about six months.
The best luxury family car: Volvo V90 Cross Country
Why you should buy this: It can do everything with style.
Who it’s for: Upscale families. The V90 Cross Country is a luxury car that can handle the rigors of family life.
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, special order-only V90 it’s based on.
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 with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s both turbocharged and supercharged. Forced induction gives the relatively small engine plenty of power, allowing it to easily move this big wagon. Standard all-wheel drive gives the Volvo V90 Cross Country extra breadth of capability, and its 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.
The best electric family car: Chevrolet Bolt
Why you should buy this: It’s an emissions-free way of taking your kids on vacation.
Who it’s for: Green families. The Chevrolet Bolt shows going electric doesn’t have to be a compromise.
The number of companies that make family-friendly electric vehicles is on the rise, but the Chevrolet Bolt still stands out as the best for a number of reasons. First, it’s relatively affordable. Pricing starts at $36,620, and many 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 a handful of other states in the northeastern part of the country. Finally, the Bolt is safe — the NHTSA 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 hp, 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 EVs, the Chevrolet 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 25mph of charge.
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 and back roads, as well as off-road and on race tracks when applicable.