These Are The Family Cars Of The Year, The Best 2023 Family Cars
Family cars are cool now — genuinely cool. That’s the main takeaway we had when pulling together the 2023 best cars of the year. Ranging from the Mercedes-Benz EQB to the sleek new Toyota Prius, the collection of vehicles reflects both the broad spectrum of available options as well as the stark realization that car makers are no longer ignoring (maybe prioritizing?) the needs of families. All of the cars on this list are safer, more feature packed, and more pleasurable to drive and ride in than ever before. Whether you’re looking for a full-sized family hauler that’s more than capable of tackling all your weekend warrior fantasies or a sensible daily driver that doesn’t skimp on all the tech you need, that dream vehicle is on this list.
Now, about our selection process. Every car on this list is either an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Pick + (their highest ranking) or just below that. If IIHS has yet to test the car because it’s too new, we looked to the even more stringent European standard, NCAP 5 Star. We also paid close attention to sight lines, both for driver safety and that of pedestrians. Next, we looked for cars that drove predictably and enjoyably (Yeah, we drove them all). As it’s hard to get genuine sportiness in a family car without making your passengers ill, and so we tossed out the rough riders and chose cars with reasonable agility, especially for parking lot maneuvers. In addition, we looked for value, an easy-to-access (and well-appointed) backseat for the kid, and, of course, an X factor a certain something about a car that made us love it. The cliché of sad minivan life as defined by, say, the Ford Windstar ended decades ago. The family car has never been better. Here’s proof.
Mercedes’ three-row, seven-passenger GLB wagon-ish crossover made our prior lists when it ran on gas, and we’re thrilled it’s now offered as an EV instead. Also, uniquely, the two-wheel-drive version has front- rather than rear-wheel drive. Since a lot of EVs with both single motor and AWD setups come with rear-wheel drive as the base model, we think this sets the EQB apart, since you’ll get better traction in winter from FWD. Yes, you can step up from the $54,000 EQB250+ to the $58,000 EQB300 to get AWD, but know that drops range from 245 miles to 232. If you genuinely need the traction, go for it, but we think the 250+ has enough power and offers better value.
What we like most of all about the Mercedes is the combination of great interior that’s truly luxury tier, and that it comes including decent legroom even in the aft row. Speaking of seats, almost no carmaker makes them more comfortable than Mercedes. Tech is standout, too, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen and far more intuitive voice controls with the latest version of Mercedes’ MBUX UI. Say “Hey Mercedes,” to call up a radio station, turn up the A/C, reduce ambient lighting, or ask for directions to the nearest fast charger. We also dig that pedestrian detection and lane-departure warning/lane keeping come standard. But we do think they should also bake in adaptive cruise control, which requires an optional package.
Safety Rating: Star Euro NCAP
Kia Sorento SX Prestige PHEV
32: That’s the digit to bear in mind when considering buying the SX Prestige version of the Sorento, because that’s the number of miles you can drive in EV-only mode. And the reality is that you probably don’t drive even that many miles in a day on any regular basis, which is why the feds say you should save nearly $4,000 a year on gas if you buy one.
Two other data points to weigh: 34, which is the combined EPA fuel economy for this seven-passenger AWD crossover (a number that should make the average Tahoe driver blush), and 460, which is the impressive range between fill-ups. That last figure is also important as you weigh whether to go full EV or not. The argument against it is two-fold, since in too much of the nation, still, finding fast EV charging can be tough, especially outside major metros, and within them, if you live in a condo or apartment, finding even Level 2 charging can be a challenge. Meanwhile the Sorento can be charged in just a few hours on a regular wall plug.
As for liveability, the Sorento is fantastic. We mean it! Second-row captain’s chairs are the primo perches in the house (with a wall-plug-style power port there, plus dual USBs), and these make it easier to tether car seats to because there’s no middle seat to battle against when anchoring. And large, on-door cupholders are also shaped to actually grip juice boxes, because they’re deep. The Sorento’s third row is strictly for pre-teens, and if you’ve got a house full of lanky teens you already know the solution to that issue: It’s called a minivan. But if not, the Sorento is right-sized for family-ness, and we’ll add that because it’s not massive it’s a snap to park and the dual-powertrain’s 261 horsepower is plenty perky.
The fly in the Sorento soup is a $51,000 sticker. The hack for that is the $40,540 conventional (non plug-in) hybrid. Mind you, the plugable Sorento will qualify for state tax incentives and sometimes, utility ones, too, so if you live in a state like California, where these are generous, crunch all the numbers to see what makes sense. Either way, we really like the Sorento and think Kia is simply crushing it with just about every one of their models.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick
Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid
The all-new $44,670, 2024 Grand Highlander Hybrid makes this list because it’s a very roomy three-row crossover that’s reasonably affordable and delivers 36 combined MPG — and 34 if you opt for AWD. By way of comparison, one of our past winners, the Telluride from Kia, doesn’t have as roomy a third row, and if you flip the aft row of the Grand Highlander forward you preserve seating for five and still have generous 58 cubic feet of cargo room, which dwarfs the 46 cu. ft. of the Telluride. Most of all, Telluride’s combined fuel economy of 23 MPG means it will cost you $850 more a year in fuel costs — and where gas is pricier, that number will be a lot higher.
As with most of Toyota’s hybrids, here they’re getting you plenty of torque (310 lb. ft.) at just above idle. So even if the combined 265 horsepower doesn’t sound that amazing, it doesn’t ever matter, because torque is what gets a car from 0-20mph, and that quick jump in the Grand Highlander is what enables faster acceleration and snappy passing mojo.
Fortunately Toyota’s build quality is exceptional, as is usual, and even the base XLE trim provides buyers power and heated front seats and a 12.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, power lift gate, and wireless phone charging. One feature that’s also standard and too often overlooked by carmakers: second-row window shades. That’ll keep a toddler or infant cooler and it’s great that it’s standard even on the entry model. We love that Toyota’s Safety Sense 3.0 is included on all versions of the Grand Highlander, and that means you get automated emergency braking, pedestrian detection, lane centering with cruise control, as well as adaptation to slowing traffic. They also add auto-dimming high beams, too.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick+
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Mitsubishi may not be a brand you think about regularly, but the Outlander PHEV is winning plaudits this year because it offers 38 miles of gas-free driving, seating for seven, and at $40,345 you’re starting with — not opting for — AWD. Not bad at all! There are a few caveats to be clear about. The third row is tight, ideal only for pre-teens, and the overall combined fuel economy is just 26 MPG. So if you’re buying for fuel economy, be sure to plug in your Outlander each night to make the most of its EV-only capability.
Mitsubishi also includes standard both front- and rear automated braking — the latter is really important to prevent backing over an obstacle or a person behind the car. We would like to see standard automated adaptive cruise control, but Mitsubishi does include automated high beams and blind spot warning tech to prevent you from merging into a car beside you.
This isn’t a massive crossover, but the scale is reasonable, and with the third row shuttered you get a reasonable 31 cubic feet of space behind the second row. You also get cupholders for every row, and an interior finish quality that’s matching the Sorento on our list.
What might surprise you is that the Outlander is also a very enjoyable car to drive, because a lot like the Sorento, it’s not so massive. And also because Mitsubishi uses tech called torque vectoring to over-drive the outside wheels through corners, while braking the inside wheels. This has the effect of making the Outlander feel more planted and agile around turns, and body role is pretty minimal, so there’s a reduction in the typical seasick-making motion you’d expect to find in a seven-passenger crossover.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick
Hyundai Ioniq 6
There is exactly one other electric sedan on the market that’s even three price brackets within touching the slippery-ness of the brand-new Hyundai Ioniq 6 — the now very ancient, and still very expensive ($76,380) Tesla Model S. You might wonder why aerodynamics matter, and the answer is two-fold. First, less drag allows more efficiency; the $42,450 SE Long Range Ioniq 6 rolls 361 miles between charges. The other reason is that wind-cheating leads to an absolutely serene driving experience, one where there’s plenty of power, and fun if not ultra-sporty handling. We’re talking S-Class-Benz tomb-like luxury, minus the triple-digit sticker.
And the Ioniq 6 has plenty of tech bling of its own to boast about, too: Its flush door handles deploy as you approach the car, and there’s reverse charging to your home. This isn’t quite as impressive as a Ford F-150 Lightning’s capability to power an entire estate, but the Ioniq 6 could easily keep a refrigerator and kitchen lights going during a power outage. Also, you can use your Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch (or Android or iPhone) to unlock the car, and three other family members can also have that access; you can even temporarily share the digital key with other people, like a friend. Speaking of door locks, if you just stand in front of the trunk for three seconds the Hyundai reads the key and unlocks and flips open that hatch, “knowing” you probably have your hands full with a kid in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other.
Some of these advances, by the way, will also come to the somewhat larger and somewhat more expensive $45,700 Ioniq 5 — which unfortunately can’t go quite as far between charges. Speaking of which, you should also weigh the 5 vs. the 6 (and versus the Tesla Model 3, a close rival, detailed below). We love that the second row of the Ioniq 6 gets cloth seats made from stain resistant cloth that’s quickly wipeable, and that both front and rear perches are very comfortable. The Model 3 has okay front seats and not comfortable rear ones. And the rears of the Ioniq 6 offer a generous 39.2 inches of knee room, which is not only way better than you’ll see in the Tesla, but matches some of the larger crossovers on this list.
But on cargo space the Ioniq 5 destroys the 6, because hatches will always beat trunks. The Ioniq 6 has a mere 11.2 cubic feet in its cargo hold, which is about five cubes shy of the Accord we’ve included here and several trunks shy of the 27.2 cubes of the Ioniq 5. Which maybe has you head-scratching about why we didn’t include the 5 here instead of the 6? The answer is we like the more-range-per-dollar math better, but in case you’re on the fence, know that both the 5 and 6 come standard with excellent safety tech, including automated cruise control, automatic emergency braking, pedestrian and cyclist detection, rear cross-traffic avoidance, and auto-dimming high beams.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick +
Nissan Ariya Venture +
Nissan’s Ariya Venture + sits smack against the Hyundai Ioniq 5 RWD for range, price ($47,190) and many other metrics. But you’ll find distinctions in the details. To us Nissan’s cabin is more beautiful and an airier “room” for driving duty, and while they both ride very similarly, with mid-point seating positions partway between sedan and crossover, the Nissan steers a little more sharply. But we’re talking apples versus pears here: We dig both, and you’ll have to decide what you like better.
For instance, the dash of the Nissan features a full plank of dark wood, with haptic buttons that detect your finger’s touch to adjust climate settings. There’s also a central volume knob and redundant switchgear on the steering wheel, as well as a touchscreen that’s nicely curved into the facade of the dash. All of which is quite beautiful, as are backlit screens in the doors and below the center footwell, meant to emulate Japanese design aesthetics. The Ioniq’s controls are far more utilitarian — but we think the Hyundai’s exterior is cooler.
Not that your kiddos will notice these distinctions, but they will get decent rear-seat knee room — though there’s two more inches of that in the second row of the Ioniq 5. Both cars get dual second-row USB chargers which is a big plus for families. And likewise, maximum cargo in both is almost dead knotted at an excellent 60 cubic inches. How to break this tie? The Nissan’s single motor Ariyas have front-wheel drive, which tends to be better if you live with snow and ice than the Hyundai’s default to RWD. (Both can be had with AWD, but for more dough.) Or, if you don’t have that worry, the Hyundai can recharge from 10-80% in just 18 minutes, while it takes the Nissan double that time.
Safety rating: 5 Star Euro NCAP
Honda Accord Sport Hybrid
With 48 MPG combined and the ability to roll over 600 miles per tank, the $31,345 Accord Sport Hybrid is one of those value-play cars that you might overlook if you’re only eyeballing crossovers. It’s a conventional, not a plug-in hybrid, but fuel economy is tremendous. And if you’re worried that a sedan is too small, the Accord is very roomy, besting a lot of small crossovers that compete with it on price — but don’t match the Honda for its very capacious 40.8 inches of rear seat knee room. That extra space also makes it a lot easier to snap a toddler into a carseat, and in back, it’s got a trunk that’s roomier than Honda’s own HR-V, so go ahead and toss in that jogging stroller.
We’ll add that the Accord offers luxury-car driving refinement that you can’t touch from any crossover costing less than $50,000. It’s simply more planted and comfortable to drive, and we’ll double that point vs. too many small crossovers in the $30,000 bracket. The steering is dialed, and the combined electric-gas powertrain is ultra-smooth.
If you think of Accords as strictly utilitarian, this cabin will defy that expectation, too. The vent structure forms a grid above the central control screen and creates an architectural element across the dash that’s beautiful, and a triple set of HVAC dials are both tactile and cool looking. Honda also went more upscale with the front passenger seats, which are very well bolstered and comfortable, and we cannot forget that the Accord is also a very quiet car — on a scale of luxury rides that cost $10,000 to $20,000 more. Honda even redesigned the upper dash trim, to get rid of reflections off the windshield glass, and thinned the pillars that bracket that glass, to reduce blind spots.
Honda includes an automated cruise control that, below 45mph, is always monitoring around the car as well, to search for hazards from merging cars, etc. and other dense-city traffic hazards. Honda also adds automatic sensing and stopping for pedestrians and cyclists, and again, this sort of standard tech helps put the Accord above peers and small crossovers that don’t come with these features at this price.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick+
The Prius is probably the best starter family car on this entire list. Its 57 MPG and $27,450 starting sticker make it profoundly difficult to top with any new EV, because it’s just going to take too long to recoup the dough you’d have to spend to get into an even inexpensive electric car if you’re burning so little gas (and therefore spending not much on fueling). Some “yeah buts” you might throw back would include instead buying a perfectly good Honda Civic, which, according to the EPA, emits 4.4 tons of carbon per year. This is from a car that gets a combined 33 MPG, which is pretty good, and overall, the Civic is an excellent daily driver. But unfortunately it’s one that emits nearly 70% more carbon than the Prius, because 57 MPG is exceptionally efficient, and a lot of the time the gas engine in the Prius isn’t doing much gas burning at all.
We’ll add that the new front-wheel-drive Prius isn’t anything like its ancestors. It’s actually head-turningly attractive; it handles great and is even fun to drive, and these are all attributes you’d never use within earshot of any past-gen version of this car. If you want more capability you have two choices: For $28,850 an AWD Prius drops fuel economy to a combined 54 MPG, but adds AWD, so snowbelt parents have options. You can also spring for the $32,350 Prius Prime, which has 44 miles of electric-only range, and likely qualifies you (in most states) for some tax-credit goodness that may cut the sticker down to closer to $30,000 or below. (You can search for your state’s incentives, here.)
The con? The Prius is small. Rear seat knee room is decent, and nearly 24 cubic feet of hatch capacity’s plenty for carrying a stroller and groceries, but if you have more than a toddler in your brood (or soon will), you’re going to want a larger sedan, like that Accord hybrid instead. But that’s why we peg the Prius as a starter family sedan. And a dang good one at that.
Safety rating: IIHS Top Safety Pick+
The ID.4 keeps appearing on our annual list because it’s the only EV model that (until next year) blends decent size with an after-tax-incentive rebate of up to $7,500 from the feds. That doesn’t even include what might be several thousand dollars from your state, too. And all that means the base, $38,995 ID.4 with its 58.0kWh battery and 209 miles of range might actually sell closer to $30,000 than $40,000.
Now, there’s some important fine print about that math. First, don’t forget that in 2023 you still have to qualify for tax credits, meaning you have to owe money on your taxes. The best way to achieve this is to talk to your tax planner about how to make that work. Fortunately, next year, tax incentives will largely be lopped off by the dealer. As for the ID.4 itself, the value is all in the volume; you get 30.3 cubic feet of space for cargo with the rear seats upright, and 64.2 cubic feet with them flipped forward. These are close numbers to the Ioniq 5 and Nissan Ariya, but price-wise after incentives the VW has both easily beat.
The ID.4, however, is pokier and less agile than those cars, and you have to opt for more expensive versions to get to the longer range of either the Nissan or Hyundai. But don’t forget that because those cars don’t qualify for the federal dough, even if you level up to a 275-mile range ID.4 Pro that sells for $44,000 you’re still looking at a car that costs far less than those alternatives — after the rebate.
We also appreciate that VW includes many standard safety features that some carmakers delete at lower price rungs, including lane-keeping and adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, pedestrian and cycling detection, blind-spot detection, and many other systems, including parking systems, to minimize the possibility of a crash.
Safety rating: Top Safety Pick +
Tesla Model 3
There are many reasons not to include Tesla here. One main concern of ours continues to be that Tesla banks almost all in-cabin controls in a tablet-like screen, and the menu structure is very Tesla-specific, leading to driver distraction challenges. On early 2024 Model 3’s for Europe, where the brand has gone through a slight cosmetic re-skin, they’ve even gotten rid of turn-signal and wiper stalks. Regulations might make such a change here unlikely, but let’s just say we prefer some analogue inputs.
Our other issue is the very hefty $6,000 fee for access to advanced safety software. Luckily the Model 3 qualifies for the $7,500 tax credit from the feds, and we’d say to just avoid Tesla’s “Autopilot,” since it’s proven hazardous to more than one driver’s health (though using it for your teen driver might be a different calculation).
Still, there’s value in the Tesla. Because Tesla loves to change its pricing, we’ll note that as of this writing, a base Model 3 can be had for just shy of $40k before that tax incentive, and that, and its crash-worthiness and 272 miles of range argue in its favor. The other consideration any EV buyer has to weigh is the entire Tesla charging network, which has proven itself more reliable than any other system. You might counter that Tesla is set to unlock its chargers to any kind of EV next year, but nobody knows when that will happen exactly or if the chimerical Elon Musk might just change his mind.
Driving a Model 3 is plenty rewarding. The cars are quick, they handle well (if a bit firmly for rear-seat passengers, where padding is somewhat minimal), and they’re scaled well for any commuter, because the wheelbase is reasonably short and the turning radius, tight, so the cars feel nimble. They’re also roomy enough; 23 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in place competes well with that Prius, and 43 cubes with the aft seats down isn’t Nissan Ariya huge, but again, consider the price difference. And on that latter point…shop used Model 3’s and you’ll find a lot for your money, too, since Tesla’s sold this car for four years now.
Safety rating: Top Safety