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Best mom-friendly cars

The safest, least-expensive cars for transporting children of varying ages

Last updated: May 08, 2014 04:45 PM

Quality, safety, and value are top factors for new-car buyers and are certainly not lost on moms looking to buy the right family car. Hitting all these attributes in a vehicle that is also kid friendly can be a challenge, but our experts have found 20 of the best, least-expensive mom-friendly cars that are appealing to mothers, and fathers, with children of varying ages.

To compile this list, we started with those models that meet Consumer Reports' stringent criteria to be recommended, based on reliability, safety, and overall road test scores. Then we filtered further with a close look at crash-test scores and predicted owner costs. In addition, we looked at how the vehicles fare for families with small children, school-age kids, and for teen drivers. All fit child passengers comfortably, but we don’t recommend that teens drive SUVs because of their higher stature and risk of rollover. Only the best cars by these measures made our list of the best mom-mobiles.

Check out the list below and click through to our model pages for more details, including Ratings, reliability scores, and pricing. (For advice on the car buying process, see our new car buying guide.)

Small cars

Redesigned for 2014, the new Corolla has landed right on target, and it now ranks among the top models in its class. It combines the practicality and frugal fuel economy that compact-sedan buyers want with more interior room, and upgraded amenities. Fuel economy remains excellent at 32 mpg overall with the CVT, and it boasts an impressive 43 mpg on the highway. Interior upgrades include standard Bluetooth connectivity and a touch-screen radio with simple controls.

Make/model Purchase price Cost/year over 5 years Overall mpg
Toyota Prius $26,750 $5,750 44
Toyota Corolla $20,652 $5,900 32
Honda Civic $21,605 $6,100 29
Hyundai Elantra $18,445 $6,300 29
Subaru Impreza $21,345 $6,700 27
Mazda3 $21,740 $6,850 33

Family cars

The Accord is roomy, nice to drive, well equipped, and very fuel efficient. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, when matched with the smooth continuously variable transmission, squeezes out an excellent 30 mpg overall and 40 mpg on the highway. (We don’t recommend the 3.5-liter due to audio system reliability issues.) Inside, you are treated to one of the best driving positions available, with comfortable seats and terrific visibility. All Accords have a standard backup camera, rare among family sedans, but very welcomed.

Make/model Purchase price Cost/year over 5 years Overall mpg
Honda Accord $23,270 $6,500 30
Toyota Camry Hybrid $29,052 $6,500 38
Toyota Camry LE $23,830 $6,600 27
Mazda 6 $23,590 $6,800 32
Subaru Legacy (2.5i) $24,189 $7,150 26
Kia Optima $21,885 $7,200 25
Chevrolet Malibu $26,030 $7,250 26
Ford Fusion $33,180 $8,900 22

SUVs

Subaru continues to put function over form with the Forester, 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, and one of the roomiest rear seats in the class, with copious head and leg room. The continuously variable transmission helps the deliver quick acceleration as well as a class-leading 26 mpg overall and 35 on the highway. We also like that our midtrim Forester 2.5i Premium has a power seat and a backup camera—handy features that some similarly priced competitors lack.

Make/model Purchase price Cost/year over 5 years Overall mpg
Honda CR-V $26,455 $7,200 23
Subaru Forester $26,814 $7,200 26
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport $28,370 $7,450 23
Mazda CX-5 $28,090 $7,700 25

How we selected the best mom-mobiles

To determine which models made the cut, we looked at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Picks and Top Safety Pick+ awards for 2014. To qualify for the Top Safety Pick award, vehicles must earn Good ratings in the moderate-overlap frontal crash test, side impact, rollover, and rear tests. as well as a Good or Acceptable rating in the small-overlap frontal test. The + award goes to vehicles that earn a basic, advanced, or superior rating for front crash prevention with the availability of a forward-collision warning system. In addition, our own tests measure dynamic safety, with wet/dry braking and accidence avoidance, and factor into our overall test score.

For the value perspective, we used our owner cost data to find the least-expensive models to own in their class. These estimates include depreciation, fuel, interest on financing, insurance, sales tax, and average maintenance and repair costs. The charts above list the cost per year over five years. (Other time period breakdowns, including cost per mile, are available on the model pages.)

For the family-friendly angle, we looked at how well the vehicles fit car seats, how much visibility for school-age kids and space for their gear, and which cars are best for new drivers.

All combined, the list highlights those best all-around vehicles that are among the safest, cheapest to own, most reliable and family friendly cars on the market—just what mom deserves.

Small cars, family sedans, and SUVs populate this list. We didn't include any minivans as we think these may be a somewhat obvious choice. The Honda Odyssey is a Top Safety Pick+ winner and is estimated to cost $9,600 per year. It is not as inexpensive to own as the minivanlike Mazda5, but it costs less to own than the other minivans on the market. Minivans are also the best for young and school-age kids with ease in installing car seats, great visibility, and tons of space. But minivans may not be the best choice for new driver's, as their seating capacity allows for many potentially distracting passengers. Studies routinely show that the more passengers a teen driver carries, the greater the risk for a crash.

A number of models on the list were recently redesigned or updated for the 2014 model year, including the Subaru Forester and Toyota Corolla. In addition, plenty of vehicles also have great fuel economy, contributing to their low operating costs. Used versions of these models featured here are also compelling choices, where available.

There are many ways to slice the market, but from this perspective, these are great, practical choices for mom.

Happy Mother's Day!

Liza Barth

   

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