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10 best cars for family travel

Comfort is key for an enjoyable trip

Last updated: April 2014

A family road trip is a rite of passage. It can be a great bonding experience for making lifelong memories, but if families are cramped and uncomfortable, the experience can be miserable.

Consumer Reports auto experts have compiled a list of 10 suggestions of vehicles for families, with an eye to long-distance travel. It includes models that have done well in our road tests, government crash and safety tests, and in our reliability ratings. These models represent a variety of vehicles, from small SUVs to luxury sedans, at a wide range of prices. We've focused on cars that are comfortable, quiet, ride well, and have plenty of space forpeople and luggage, yet attain reasonable fuel economy.

A large crossover, the Traverse has space for adults in all three seating rows, so kids definitely will have enough room in back. Even with all three rows in use, you still get some space for luggage. The Traverse is also quiet and enjoyable to drive. Despite its generous size, it handles like a much smaller vehicle. But fuel economy is 16 mpg overall–a bit lower than average for a three-row SUV. Well, you have to give up something for all that room.

Roomy and luxurious, the Chrysler 300 is one of the best large sedans on the market. It rides comfortably, handles responsively, and has a quiet, luxurious cabin packed with useful features and amenities. The interior is nicely appointed and packed with features and amenities, including a well-designed touch-screen infotainment system. The available V8 returns just 18 mpg overall while the standard V6 gets 22 mpg.

With a distinctive boxy shape that combines elements of an SUV, minivan, and station wagon, the Flex is a very functional and versatile vehicle. There is very easy access into its vast cabin and the second-row seat is immense. There is a third row, as well. The ride is comfortable and quiet. The base 287-hp, 3.5-liter V6 engine returns good acceleration and reasonable fuel efficiency; we recorded 18-mpg overall, with 25 mpg on the highway. Avoid the turbocharged V6 model since it has below-average reliability.

The Accord is a spacious, well-equipped family car that does almost everything well. It provides responsive handling, a roomy cabin, comfortable seats, and a great view out. And with the thrifty four-cylinder engine, it delivers a surprising 30 mpg overall -- similar to some small subcompacts. On the highway, it achieved an impressive 40 mpg. An overly firm ride is one of our few reservations. We also tested an EX-L V6 version, but below-average reliability prevents us from recommending it.

The Odyssey provides a versatile, spacious cabin that can carry up to eight people. It returned a class-leading 21 mpg overall in our tests and is very kid-friendly, allowing three car seats to fit across the second row. In addition, driving this minivan is no chore, thanks to its supple ride, good handling, and slick powertrain. A variety of advanced safety systems are standard on higher trims.

Roomy, stylish, and well-equipped for the price, the Santa Fe delivers the kind of value and functionality that families are looking for. It has room for up to seven passengers in three rows of seats, and everyone will appreciate the quiet and comfortable ride and well-finished interior. The smooth and lively 3.3-liter V6 packs ample punch, and fuel economy is very good for the category, at 20 mpg. Handling is responsive and secure. And the standard backup camera provides extra safety and convenience.

By adapting various fuel-efficient technologies, the Forester now delivers quicker acceleration as well as a class-leading 26 mpg overall and 35 mpg on the highway. It resisted the trend toward making SUVs look like sports coupes with descending rooflines and curvaceous bodies, instead focusing on the fundamentals with a space-efficient design, large windows, and big square doors. That recipe has resulted in the easiest access and the best view out of almost any vehicle—perfect for scenic drives. Plus, it has one of the roomiest rear seats in the class, with copious head and leg room.

Toyota’s flagship sedan has long been a model of comfort and roominess. The 2013 redesign sharpened its handling somewhat but stiffened the ride a bit too much. Stick with models with 17-inch tires. Still, the Avalon boasts a spacious, well-equipped cabin with a lush, luxurious ambience. The front seats are wide and comfortable, and the rear seat leaves plenty of room to stretch out. The lively 268-hp V6 delivers a commendable 24 mpg overall and the hybrid version gets an impressive 36 mpg.

The Camry treats drivers to a refined, quiet, and roomy environment well-suited to commuting and more ambitious drives. It provides a comfortable ride, and its handling is responsive and secure, if not sporty. You can choose from three efficient engines. We measured a frugal 27 mpg with the four-cylinder; the powerful V6 got only 1 mpg less. The hybrid version delivers an excellent 38 mpg, which is among the best in its class.

The new version is larger, which translates into a roomy interior and a more spacious third-row seat. Seven- and eight-passenger versions are available. For the seven-seater, the 2nd-row bench can be replaced with captain's chairs, which recline, have their own armrest, and a tray with cup holders between the seats. The Highlander has responsive handling, a steady ride, a slick and punchy V6 powertrain, and easy-to-use controls. Fuel economy is 20 mpg, a 2 mpg improvement over the previous generation.

   

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