For car shoppers, parenthood means changing up that wish list.
Safety becomes an even more important factor, as does convenience, and it’s through that lens that U.S. News & World Report evaluated 86 different vehicles for its list of the 2021 Best Cars for Families, released on Tuesday.
“The winners of these awards have the best combination of safety, reliability, space, convenience and connectivity,” said Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor for U.S. News Best Cars.
This year, Toyota won four of the list’s nine categories. Its Highlander Hybrid won the Best Hybrid SUV for Families category for the eighth time. The RAV4 won Best Compact SUV for Families. The Avalon Hybrid won Best Hybrid and Electric Car for Families (for the second time in a row), and the Avalon won Best Large Car for Families (for the third time in a row).
“Don’t let the Toyota name on them fool you. These are really nice,” Deaton said of the Avalon. “You wouldn’t be embarrassed to take your boss out to lunch in them. But again, they have space and features like in-car Wi-Fi and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto that help the family stay connected.”
Honda claimed three of the categories, with its Passport winning Best Two-Row SUV for Families (for a second time). The Accord won Best Midsize Sedan for Families (for a second time). And the Odyssey won Best Minivan for Families for the 11th consecutive year – the longest streak in the history of the awards.
“Every minivan is a good choice for families,” Deaton said. “They all have kind of a space and comfort that you’re looking for, but Honda has really led the way with innovative features in their minivans.” (It has a night-vision camera, for example, to help parents check on their child in a rear-facing car seat.)
Rounding out the list are Kia and Chevrolet, each winning a category. Chevy’s Suburban won the Best Large SUV for Families for the third time overall, and Kia’s Telluride won the Best Three-Row SUV for Families category for the second consecutive year.
U.S. News looked at professional reviews, as well as safety and reliability ratings, seating and cargo volume. It also looked at the availability of family-friendly features, such as in-car wireless internet, rear-seat alert and hands-free cargo doors.
“A hands-free liftgate seems like a convenience feature,” Deaton said. “But if you’ve ever struggled with a toddler who wants to run away in a parking lot — while trying to also get the back of your car open to put the groceries in — you also realize that it’s not only convenient, but it’s also a safety feature.”
And automakers are not only targeting new parents: Kia and Chevy are among those whose high-tech features help parents keep tabs on how their teenagers are driving.
“They’re good tools to really keep the conversation about what good driving habits are going,” Deaton said, “even if you’re not in the car with your teen.”
Check out a detailed list of the 2021 Best Cars for Families on the U.S. News site.
WTOP’s John Aaron contributed to this report.