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The Top 10 Best Family Cars

Written by

Scott Murray

When you’re shopping for a new family car there are more options than you have fingers to count them.

There are many criteria under which you might be looking for your next family car. Most people start with affordability, but they want reliability, features and safety.

It’s very easy to overlook important aspects like customer service and resale, while putting too much emphasis on styling, fuel economy and specific characteristics. These 10 vehicle tick virtually every box.

Here’s a sharp shortlist to help you make an informed, smart choice in 2021.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento

1. Kia Sorento or Hyundai Santa Fe

These two seven-seaters deserve equal first in this list because they’re built on the same platform, so they’re essentially non-identical twins, and what one lacks the other makes up for. Sorento and Santa Fe have turned mundane family transport into a sleek, stylish and ultra-modern frontier.

This sounds like hype, but it’s the fact that ordinary mums and dads can afford either vehicle with loads of features and remarkable comfort, without having to pay six figures or luxury car tax, which makes them so hard to beat.

Both are impeccably safe (5 stars, ANCAP) including new front-centre airbags, and get bespoke Australian-tuned suspension courtesy of their respective engineering departments.

Pros

  • Respectable two-tonnes towing capacity, large boot spaces and full size spare wheels make Sorento and SF ideal for both suburban school runs and long holiday roadtrips. Both get the option of a 3.5L petrol V6 (front-wheel drive), or the ultra-refined 2.2L turbo-diesel (all-wheel drive) which has more than proven itself as efficient, reliable, grunty and reliable, while also being frugal on fuel.
  • Very easy-to-use tech like infotainment screens, crash avoidance systems and ergonomic controls. Auto emergency braking and adaptive cruise control (the most desired new-age safety tech) available on base models, as well as ‘terrain modes’ on diesel versions. Row three seating is great functionality, for occasional use. Sorento offers a row-three ISOFIX point.

Cons

  • Top-spec models may seem a bit dear, for lower-income earners, but their mid-range variants are extremely good value. Sacrifice luxuries like a sunroof and heated seats to save serious cash, like Sorento Sport+ which is $8000 cheaper than GT-Line.
  • The V6 engine is a bit old, but if you’re on a tight budget, it’s a pretty strong option. Both lack full-length row three curtain airbags (common in seven-seaters), and row three legroom is average for anyone other than kids and dogs. No row three ISOFIX point for Santa Fe.
  • Extra $3000 for diesel might seem expensive for some, petrol V6 isn’t a bad alternative.

Pricing

SorentoSanta Fe
‘S’ $49,000 (petrol) - ‘GT-Line’ $67,000 (diesel) (driveaway).‘Santa Fe’ $49,000 (petrol) - ‘Highlander’ $70,500 (diesel) (driveaway)
2021 Subaru Outback

2. Subaru Outback

Such an underrated five-seat family wagon. The new Outback offers a massive 12-inch portrait touchscreen which feels like you’re at the helm of the Enterprise, and it’s on all model grades. All-wheel drive is cornerstone Subaru and is ideal for families who frequently venture to grassy camping grounds on school holidays and long weekends. AWD is also especially good for rural or regional families where washed away dirt roads, mud and gravel are routine. Don’t let anybody dissuade you from taking a test drive. Consider the base model for best value and payload while towing.

Pros

  • The 2.5L Boxer petrol engine is more powerful and the CVT is excellent for freeway cruising or overtaking on rural back roads.
  • Two-tonne towing capacity couple with a massive, long boot space, a full-size spare wheel and built-in roof racks make this such an awesome all-rounder.
  • Subaru’s mechanical, permanent AWD is ideal for anybody who lives in especially hilly suburbs, or who suffer extremely steep driveways. ‘X-Mode’ offers even greater computing power to tackle mud, gravel and snow - and Subaru offers exceptional customer care, including going off the bitumen.
  • Slick radar cruise control.

Cons

  • No diesel option anymore (but that’s a good thing - no diesel particulate filters to service). The driver attention monitoring is a bit invasive and easy to trick.
  • Cup holders are annoyingly deep; too bad for you piccolo drinkers.
  • No seven-seat option means you’re limited to three seats in row two. No 2.4L turbo performance version in Australia...yet.
  • Mid-spec ‘Sport’ version loses built-in roof racks.

Pricing

Subaru Outback
Outback base model $45,000 - ‘Touring’ $52,800 (driveaway)
2021 Mazda CX 5

3. Mazda CX-5

A good value, general purpose family SUV which gives you plenty of options. GO up the range if you can afford greater luxuries, or go down the range for the essentials wrapped in a dignified aesthetic design which has stood the test of time. You’ll get great resale value out of CX-5, as well as a reliable, nicely proportioned and jack of all trades vehicle.

It’s not perfect (there’s no such thing), but it has decent legroom and boot space, plus the option of a diesel.

Pros

  • Sublime 2.5 turbo petrol engine gives good performance even for an SUV, and a generous load space allows for packing for holiday.
  • Base model ‘Maxx’ looks as good as the Akera top-spec and still gets adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring and auto-braking, as well as tyre pressure monitoring.
  • There’s a very broad price range with plenty of variants to suit your budget.

Cons

  • A space-saver spare wheel, if you have a puncture, will limit you to 80km/h until you get the full-size tyre repaired or replaced. This should be carefully considered if your family does a lot of regional or freeway driving, so consider a Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage if this is a deal-breaker.
  • Expensive pricing has been CX-5 Achilles’ heel for a while now, particularly in the higher grades like Akera which asks $54,500 for less boot space than a $10K cheaper Outback. All-wheel drive is the on-demand kind, which waits to detect wheelspin before engaging rear wheels; not as good as a Subaru if you’re an avid camper.
  • Towing capacity, while decent, is limited by towball download limits.

Pricing

Mazda CX-5
‘Maxx’ $35,500 - ‘Akera’ $54,500 (driveaway)
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2021 Mitsubishi Triton dual-cab

4. Mitsubishi Triton dual-cab

Utes are very popular for multi-purpose family use, offering five seats, a big, durable tray, and a grunty diesel engine with good mid-range power ideal for towing trailers for work or caravans for holidays.

The rougher nature of utes also means you tend to care less about keeping everything clean and worry about more important things. Trophy utes not included, obviously.

Triton is currently the best ute on the market for one main reason - its ulta clever ‘Super-Select’ transmission. Current Triton has been around for several years now and has proven very reliable and has good resale value. It’s also an awesome value ute at $52K for the highest model grade.

Pros

  • Transmission allows 4X4 use on sealed surfaces when conditions deteriorate, where other utes would break something expensive.
  • Towing capacity is great for work and camper/caravan use without being excessive and dangerous like most other brands.
  • Being slightly narrower than other utes, you’re less likely to scratch it on bushes and sticks if you do go off-road, and being significantly lighter means you’re not going to get stuck as often. Payload is good without being outrageous.
  • A simple cabin with basic materials is good for kids with zero care factor for mum and dad’s stuff.

Cons

  • Current model isn’t going to be around for long, so get your orders in before Mitsubishi starts making the new one (where we might lose that brilliant transmission).
  • No adaptive cruise control, but you do still get the basic kind, and emergency braking. Lower-grade centre and driver infotainment screen graphics.
  • Expect a wait when ordering a new vehicle, so try to buy what’s in stock, or, if you need a ute and can’t wait, consider a Mazda BT-50, Hilux or a mid-spec Ranger.

Pricing

Mitsubishi Triton dual-cab
Triton 4X4 ‘GLX’ $41,000 - ‘GSR’ $55,000 (driveaway)
Hyundai i30 & Kia Cerato review

5. Hyundai i30 & Kia Cerato

Essentially the same car with different clothes, available in both hatch or sedan body shape, and with crazy value from base model to performance version.

Generally having better boot space than their equivalent SUVs, these two offer oodles of safety and features, but they’re also significantly lighter than their respective SUV counterparts, so they’re noticeably more economical thanks to better power-to-weight ratios. Thanks to the popularity of SUVs, Cerato and i30 are also easier to find a good price on because dealers don’t have as high consumer demand for them. If you like a hot hatch, check out the i30 N-Line or Cerato GT and enjoy going fast without the German price.

Pros

  • Right on $30k you get a reversing camera, rear sensors, CarPlay & AndroidAuto, 17-inch alloys, leather-trim seats, plus a five-star safety rating with auto-braking, radar cruise, adaptive high beam headlights and lane-keeping.
  • A big boot hides a full-size spare wheel under the floor which makes it great for the young drivers in the family who should be driving in the safest, most stable vehicle they can, while also learning how to change a tyre.
  • Good wheelbase length means there is heaps of legroom even for taller drivers.
  • The 1.6 turbo-petrol engine, coupled to 7spd dual-clutch is utter magic to drive through twisty backroads, and you can even have a manual in N-Line versions only. You can even go full boy-racer with the i30 N Performance.

Cons

  • Base model is seriously poverty level designed for ultra-tight fleet managers; start with the Active.
  • The 2.0L petrol engine is a bit underwhelming, but if it’s mostly your kids driving, that’s probably a good thing.
  • Cerato gets a lot of piano black plastic trim, which is a bugger to keep clean and scratch free.
  • There are hub caps involved with base models, and space-saver spare wheels are common across virtually all small cars these days.

Pricing

Hyundai i30Kia Cerato
‘Active’ $30,000 - ‘N-Line Premium’ $38,000 - ‘i30N’ $48,000 - $53,000 (driveaway)‘S’ $25,500 - ‘GT’ $36,000 (driveaway)
2021 Mazda 3 review

6. Mazda 3

A worthy competitor to the i30 N-Line and Certao GT, but with an arguably nicer interior. Mazda 3 is very reliable and comfortable vehicle with good driving dynamics.

A safe option in terms of resale, customer service, value and servicing costs - if you avoid the high end of the model range. A ‘G20 Touring’ at $37K is reasonable. You have hatch or sedan options, and a manual gearbox is easy to have if you like it old school. People who like performance might think about the $35K ‘G25 GT’ with a better power-to-weight ratio than the $38K ‘Astina’.

Pros

  • Not only is Mazda 3 a really, really nice thing to look at, it’s got a brilliant 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine bristling with enthusiasm if you’re into driving and cars, generally. But you get a cabin which feels, smells and looks like it belongs in a Mercedes, only you don’t pay extortionate prices for it.
  • It’s also a very good overall size most notably because it has the same 2.7-metre wheelbase as a bigger, more expensive CX-5, which tells you it’s got just as much cabin space, and the boot is dimensionally about the same.

Cons

  • Top-spec model gets a bit heavy in terms of performance, but that’s because you’re adding features like a sunroof.
  • Hybrid powertrain is expensive ($45K) but doesn’t offer the benefits you might expect because it adds 100kg of kerb weight (over a Touring mid-spec at $37K) and it demands premium 95RON petrol.
  • Limited by a space-saver spare, but that’s typical of small cars. And the MZD Connect infotainment system takes getting used to.

Pricing

Mazda 3
‘Pure’ $30,000 - ‘X20 Astina’ $45,600 (driveaway)
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Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 2021 review

7. Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

This was the first Mitsubishi product to result from the corporate merger with Nissan-Renault after 2016, and in 2017 Eclipse Cross was born. So far, it seems to be a fairly decent small-medium SUV at the right price. There’s also a wide range of configurations to help suit your unique driving situation.

Pros

  • It’s a really practical size; not too big, not too small. It’s bigger than the ASX, but smaller than the Outlander, but offers strengths each one lacks, namely useful size without excess weight and cost.
  • You need room for a pram, a child restraint and the shopping. You need cubby holes for your phone, wallet, keys.
  • Mid-range ‘LS AWD’ is the sweet spot, offering what you need, without things you don’t. Clever lift-back style tailgate means it doesn’t smack into walls, pillars or ceilings when reverse-in parking at shopping centres.
  • A lockable all-wheel drive system is useful for getting out of damp unsealed parking areas (think: festivals, farms, campgrounds or wineries).

Cons

  • It’s not as refined as a Kia Sportage or Mazda CX-5, but that's an advantage if your budget is tight.
  • Space-saver spare is a necessary evil, and the on-demand all-wheel drive is the on-demand kind (but at least you can lock it on).
  • The 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine isn’t remarkable to drive, but it’s not bad; same goes for the CVT transmission. There’s no diesel option, either, and the hybrid is not worth it, economically (they rarely are).
  • Top-spec Exceed AWD is too expensive at $44,000 when a Subaru Outback is $45K.

Pricing

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
‘ES’ $31,500 - Plug-In Hybrid ES $50,000 (driveaway).
2021 Suzuki Vitara review

8. Suzuki Vitara

Suzuki doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves, particularly the Vitara. The turbo version is quite a spritely little car without the larger price tag of bigger-volume brands.

Despite being cheap it doesn’t lack safety, which has been a rare combination, historically. This current Vitara has been around a few years now and seems quite reliable (Suzukis tend to be), and it will do all the short-journey city/suburb driving you would expect of it. Very little cash gets you a good list of features.

Pros

  • Lightness means it’s easy to drive around, its compact size makes it nimble in carparks and for shorter or elderly drivers who want elevation without swollen proportions.
  • Simple cabin design includes a dead-easy infotainment system, and tough trims make for easy cleaning. Quick to wipe-down surfaces means kids can thrash while you relax.
  • Okay boot space isn’t a segment leader, but for small families, teenage/young adult drivers, the oldies, or as a general runabout, this is ideal.
  • A manual gearbox is available for teaching the kids.

Cons

  • Turbo version requires premium fuel, which is more of a problem with availability in regional areas, moreso than an expense issue (fuel is, generally speaking, pretty cheap in Australia). Lots of plastic interior trim might be a turn-off for some, but try to look beyond that.
  • Suzuki dealers aren’t quite as numerous as the bigger brands, but you don’t have to service at the dealer anyway; it’s more of a warranty repair issue if something goes wrong.
  • No auto emergency braking in the base model and it lacks radar cruise.

Pricing

Suzuki Vitara
Base model $28,000 - Turbo AllGrip (AWD) $39,500 (driveaway)
Kia Picanto 2021 review

9. Kia Picanto

A very small car with fantastic appeal to anybody on a tight budget. If you think about how much stuff you actually carry on a daily basis, most people would fit it all in a Picanto - shopping bags, a couple of school bags, maybe a child booster seat or two, coffee cups, a suitcase or handbag, maybe a footy or something.

Why do you need some enormous two-tonne SUV? Anybody shopping for a Corolla should consider saving thousands of dollars and take Picanto for a test drive. Again, there’s the Picanto GT for those who like things hot.

Pros

  • The price. Seriously. Why would you pay $50K for a VW Golf GTI over this thing?
  • The handling. You can throw it into parking spaces and always be inside the lines.
  • The fun. Honestly, of all the vehicles I’ve test driven in recent years, the Picanto GT was easily the most fun.
  • Throw in premium paint for $520 and you won’t barely spend over $22,000.
  • The price doesn’t sacrifice safety, although ANCAP will try to tell you it’s a 4-star car, which is unfair due to their somewhat flawed and complicated rating system. Picanto is quite safe, especially in a crash, because it’s extremely light and therefore carries less kinetic energy and has a lower centre of gravity than an SUV.

Cons

  • Towing is basically non-existent and boot space is, admittedly limited if you have twins or triplets. But if you take a tape measure and see if your biggest pram will fit.
  • It’s front-wheel drive only (nit-picking) and a kinda harsh ride on coarse, rough regional roads.

Pricing

Kia Picanto
‘S’ $18,000 - ‘GT Manual’ $21,490 (driveaway)
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Kia Carnival 2021 review

10. Kia Carnival

The ultimate big-family hauler. That’s right, forget that sexy seven-seat SUV, because the Kia Carnival is king when it comes to moving people and stuff, en masse. And the base model offers plenty of features at a very digestible price.

You also have to give credit: it’s the best looking people mover you’ve ever seen. It is.

Pros

  • Full-length row three head protecting curtain airbags keep every occupant as safe as possible in the event of a physical crash.
  • There’s so much luggage space in the boot you will struggle to fill it unless going on a touring holiday, in which case the 2.2 diesel engine will be a peach.
  • A total of five ISOFIX child restraints: three in row two, and two in row three.
  • Row three seats collapse completely flat into the floor, giving you van-like cargo space for tall plants, bags of mulch of potting mix, and as much camping gear as you can afford.
  • The cabin is such a refined place to sit, which is a sweet thing if you’re a parent to one of the 5000 sets of triplets born in Australia every year.
  • Brilliant two-tonne towing capacity means you can take bikes, kayaks, garden supplies, or use it as an airport shuttle bus.
  • Walk-through access in row two is available thanks to a removable centre seat, allowing elderly passengers easy access, which applies also to the commodious nature of all seats.

Cons

  • No all-wheel drive option means if you find the grassy campground wet from a light shower overnight, you’ll be waiting, or possibly asking for help.
  • The lack of sex appeal is one of those crippling subjective things people unfairly place on such a versatile, functional vehicle. Think with your head, not your heart-throb.
  • It may seem enormous, but it’s exactly the same size as a Mazda CX-9, Toyota Prado or LandCruiser, and mums drive those things everywhere, especially in cramped city suburbs. Petrol V6 isn’t as refined as the diesel (which is only $2000 more), and there’s no automatic wipers (blame COVID).

Pricing

Kia Carnival
‘S’ (petrol) $50,000 - ‘Platinum’ (diesel) $70,800

About the Author

Scott Murray from BestFamilyCars.com.au

Scott

Murray

Scott Murray

BestFamilyCars offers honest information & discounts for your next new car. Our lives depend on cars, but most reviews don’t answer the real questions. I live with the cars I test, to report their strengths and weaknesses, ad free

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