The Best Family SUV: 20 Picks Across 20 years
Which of These is the Best Family SUV Ever Made?
Published April 6, 2018
Today, we’re trying to identify the best family SUV of all time. With a list of 20 of the most famous SUVs and 4x4s with clear family ties, I am sure one of them can be considered the best. The final choice is yours, of course. Let’s start.
2012- Subaru Forester SJ
What to say about the Forester? With famed Japanese reliability and dependability, optimal powered engines and well-proven tech, the Subaru Forester of the fourth generation may well be the best family SUV.
Is that too much praise? Not really, as it is impossible to pinpoint the best family SUV. In that regard, we have almost 20 of them on this list and in some sense, all of them are the best at something.
What separates the Forester SJ from all other family SUVs is its compact size (181 inches in length), fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines, and mandatory symmetrical all-wheel-drive system (one of the best on the market).
While its turbocharged engine is considered to be raspy and provides spirited acceleration, it seems that some interior bits lack the quality of higher-end SUVs. Nevertheless, according to Edmunds, the Subaru Forester SJ is a fantastic compact all-rounder that is not afraid of off-roading. In fact, some find it surprisingly agile off the paved surfaces. Its CVT transmission and tow rating (1,500 lbs) leave a lot to be desired, though. Regardless, the Subaru Forester SJ is a well-rounded family machine. Dependable and efficient.
This is possibly the most recognizable name in SUV, truck, off-road/whatever business. The Grand Cherokee is a name to be reckoned with. And the WK2 generation proved to be more than capable of taking on the heavyweights. In production since 2010 (with a handful of stylistic changes during its lifespan), the Jeep Grand Cherokee was always on the adventurous side of the crossover thing. It is not a machine afraid of off-road shenanigans thanks to the fantastic off-road hardware. This is, in fact, what sets it apart from other SUV city dwellers.
However, since we’re discussing the best family SUVs here, I have to point out that the Grand Cherokee lacks cargo capacity of some of its main rivals. Its ride, thanks in part to full off-road gear (even in the entry Laredo package), is to be thanked for that.
There are plenty of units to choose from. After all, one ordering it from the showroom floor can choose between five different versions: Laredo, Limited, Trailhawk, Overland, and Summit.
1998-2002 Land Rover Discovery Series II
Interestingly enough, the Land Rover Discovery Series II is a bit more on the hardcore-offroad side of the things even compared with the Grand Cherokee. The body-on-frame chassis definitely has its advantages in terms of reliability and off-road proves, but one can expect a bit harsher ride compared with the unibody structure of some of the other SUVs on the list. I chose the Land Rover Discovery Series 2 for the list because of its popularity and its family orientation. See, while the Series 1 was a more utilitarian addition to the Land Rover Range, the Series 2 became much more like an SUV we expect today.
Five-seat and seven-seat versions were available in the US with V8 engines fitted as standard. Land Rover developed a special Hill Descent Control feature and traction control system, making the SUV as advanced as any high-end model of the time. Interestingly enough, consumer reviews do praise the Land Rover Discovery II practicality and off-road proves, although mechanical problems could be an issue on older, high-mileage models. In its high-end trim, the LR Discovery 2 came with an all-leather interior, two sunroofs, Active Cornering Enhancement, a six-disc CD player, heated windscreen and more of the same tune.
2000-2005 Toyota RAV4
Sure, it is old. After all, the first units of the second generation Toyota Rav4 were produced at the turn of the millennium. However, making this list and leaving out the Rav4 is simply wrong. It is the SUV that started all the crossover craze we are witnessing today. To make such an impact, it had to be good. Not just good; great…and it was.
Heavily reliant on the elements from the Corolla and the Carina, the Toyota RAV4 (RAV4 for Recreational Activity Vehicle: 4-wheel drive) pioneered the car/SUV part sharing program. The market adored it; girls especially, as it was estimated the second generation RAV4 had the largest female driver share of all cars at one point. High consumer satisfaction with the car definitely cemented its success. No wonder it is still among the highest selling SUVs in the world. Right now, RAV4s, with fuel efficient, bulletproof engines and somewhat quirky design are in high demand. The car is available with 1.8-liter, two-liter and 2.4-liter engines developing 125hp, 150h, and 160hp. A tiny two-door version is available as well. If you are interested in one, try to find models produced pre 2004 as they did not have traction control. Also, do not expect NVH levels of today’s SUVs. The rear seat room and the cargo capacity leave a lot to be desired too.
Arguably the most recognizable off-roader in the world, the Mercedes-Benz G-Class has proven itself to be one of the family favorites. Of course, mostly, if not exclusively, in the circles of the rich and wealthy. With body-on-frame architecture and military roots, the G-class had not been officially sold in the US until 2002 with the introduction of the G500 model, which featured a V8. Despite not being actually modern, the G-class found its niche on the market thanks to its robust, utilitarian boxy looks, some adapted high-end Mercedes-Benz equipment, and range of powerful engines. Is it a family car? It definitely can be.
There’s a lot of room inside, exceptional safety equipment (standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, park assist, a rearview camera, advanced stability control for later models). However, I have to be honest. The G-class of today is a status symbol for a select group. While it can be used off road, or as a family SUV, the G-class has appalling fuel economy, is extraordinary expensive, and its triple locking differentials, generous ground clearance, and rugged construction are often underused. It is a cash cow for Mercedes, but it’s still a hard vehicle not to like.
As a full sized Ford SUV, the Ford Expedition of the third generation uses the modified truck platform. As you probably know, the truck Ford F-150 platform had been used for previous iterations and it worked. The third generation appeared on the market in 2007 and, to much amazement, Edmunds actually rated its handling as agile and engaging (for an SUV of its size, of course). While this is an important part of the SUV character of today, the third Expedition can also be praised for its 9,200-pound tow rating (when properly equipped), powerful engines, and adequate safety equipment. Equipment includes antilock disc brakes, rollover-sensing stability control system, side curtain airbags, rear parking sensors, and power-adjustable pedals. No wonder a full sized SUV received a five-star frontal-impact rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests.
All in all, a rather magnificent piece of machinery. Traditionally powered by a V8, the Expedition did gain a 3.5 EcoBoost V6 in 2014 as well. The fourth generation, unveiled in 2017, soldiered on only with the EcoBoost.
2002-2006 Honda CR-V
Similarly positioned on the market as the Toyota RAV4 (although a bit longer), the 2002 Honda CR-V cashed in on the compact SUV craze of the time. It is a sensible, high-mileage, capable Japanese SUV with a somewhat dull design yet adequate practicality. Edmunds did test the car and the consumer reviews prove that the CR-V is a family favorite. Experience has shown that with a highly versatile and roomy interior, stable handling, and comfortable ride, the CR-V manages to achieve high marks to be included in Best Family SUV category. High NHTSA crash-test scores prove its family-centered nature further.
Sure, efficiency is a big factor in this segment. Thus only four cylinder engine options exist for the CR-V. Some may find it lackluster, but the most powerful engine for the car was a 2.4-liter 160 hp mill.
2006-2012 Mazda CX-7
This could very well be the story of the right design. The Mazda CX-7 does not look like other SUVs. Not inside and not outside. In fact, it is like a sports-focused SUV channeling 244 hp turbo-power to all four wheels. It does also drive a bit sharper and is more agile compared with the closest competitors. This, however, does mean that Mazda had to make some design sacrifices thus limiting the CX-7’s inside room and cargo capacity. They did substitute it with an awesome equipment package including 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, power accessories, cruise control and more. With that in mind, the CX-7 received stability control, front-seat side airbags, and side curtain airbags. It received a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
As this is a sporty SUV, I’ll note the acceleration – 0-60 mph in 7.7 seconds.
2006-2013 BMW X5 E70
The high-end SUV segment has been dominated by European SUVs and crossovers with the BMW X5 being one of the most outstanding examples on the market. While its family values are evident by the sheer roominess of the interior, it has to be said that BMW successfully positioned the X5 E70 with the luxury and comfort, sport and agility, and practicality and efficiency that an SUV of this caliber requires.
Obviously intended for successful individuals, the X5 offers plenty of tech including 18-inch wheels, xenon headlights, cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, powered front seats, the iDrive electronics infotainment, high-end sound system and more. Safety is on par with the best, while the engine ranges from 250 hp V6 to 500+hp V8 for the X5M. A striking car worthy of best family SUV list.
As one of the newest entries on this Best Family SUV list, the second generation Volvo XC90 may well be the safest car as well. New generation had been built around the modular platform heavily focused on increasing frame rigidity, active and passive safety technology and fuel efficiency. Do not worry, the Swedes didn’t forget about luxury either. While the new XC90 is an expensive car, it packs a family friendly punch. Only available as a hybrid and with four cylinder engines, the Volvo XC90 is impressively fuel efficient – even in its top 420 hp trim, with the two-liter turbocharged petrol and electric motors.
Let me tell you a bit about the safety equipment:
– Rearview camera
– Frontal-collision warning (including pedestrian/cyclist protection)
– Automatic braking
– Run-off Road Protection
– Volvo On Call service
– A surround-view camera
– Blind-spot monitoring
– Rear cross-traffic alert
– Lane-departure warning and lane-departure intervention
– Child booster seat and more…
Did I mention this is a three row SUV?
Praised by automotive journalists and owners for its exceptional comfort, luxury, efficiency, and driving abilities, the latest Audi Q7 may be the best family SUV on this list. Although sharing its platform with the Cayenne, the Touareg, and in part with the Bentayga, Audi managed to create a very stirring car. Edmunds praised its safety features and driving aids, powerful supercharged V6 engine, “first-class cabin comfort with vault-like quietness”, and excellent IIHS safety scores.
The only concern some future owners might have are regarding its limited cargo capacity. It is not on par with the cargo capacity of other midsize SUVs. Nevertheless, it seems this is a small trade off considering its quality in nearly every other area.
It is hard to beat Lexus dependability, reliability, and plain sensibility. The same could be said for their luxurious and trusted SUV, the RX, produced from 2008 to 2012. It is a car of many virtues – comfortable for five with excellent fit and finish, Lexus dependability, and somewhat conservative styling.
Slightly redesigned in 2010, the Lexus RX350 gained a better overall suspension making it a bit more engaging for drivers compared with the car of before. It also gained a bit more efficient 3.5-liter V6 rated at 275 hp and 257 lb-ft. of torque.
Fuel economy? 18 mpg city/25 highway!
All in all, it is plainly a great luxury SUV – composed, plus comfortable and refined. No third row seating though.
2002-2006 Cadillac Escalade GMT800
Yes, the star of many hip-hop and rap videos is among the best family SUV elite. You know why? Because it is safe, roomy, has a lot of seats, and drives satisfyingly well on the highways considering it is a massive SUV. It lacks the fuel efficiency and agility of its European competition, but one can probably live without it. Back in the day when the Escalade GMT800 hit the market, some did regard it as worthy of the Cadillac name. As it did survive the test of time, even used car buyers have to be enticed when seeing one of these V8 behemoths for sale.
The car comes with tri-zone climate control, steering wheel controls, Bose audio system, XM Satellite Radio, a DVD entertainment system and second-row captain’s chairs, dual-stage airbags, adjustable pedals, a front-passenger seat sensor and other.
Do not expect it to be efficient though. It is not intended to be that…at all.
2018- Buick Enclave
Buick launched the second generation Enclave in 2017 with much fanfare. All in the name of Premium. In short, GM looks to move the car upmarket by giving it more refined looks, a nicer and plusher interior, as well as a more sophisticated exterior. It is a massive car though, weighing in at more than 3,350 lbs and measuring over 200 inches in length. Space inside? Plentifull! But the only engine option is a 3.6-liter petrol engine developing 310 hp. Luckily, it is channeled to the wheels via an advanced 9-speed transmission.
It is available in a FWD guise or with the Intelligent AWD.
As far as full-sized SUVs go, the Chevy Tahoe is one of the most famous on the market. In fact, the latest generation was the best selling-vehicle for a whole month after its introduction. Nevertheless, with 204 inches in length, it has enough space inside for three rows of seats. For the first time ever, Chevy installed a fold-flat second and third row feature, which is extremely handy.
As with all modern SUVs, the Tahoe offers a lot of in terms of convenience and technology. Cup holders are plentiful, storage places as well. Furthermore, one can order a multitude of USB charging ports inside.
Ride quality has been enhanced compared with the previous versions as well. Magnetic ride control and a real-time damping system are part of the high-end LTZ package and they dramatically affect the comfort and agility of the Tahoe. As you may imagine, the Tahoe and the Yukon share almost everything in terms of tech and even styling. Especially from the A pillar back. Propulsion? V8 power – 5.3 liter or 6.2-liter EcoTec3.
Volkswagen is trying hard to be good for the Americans. This is best shown with their large family SUV, the Atlas, which was definitely adapted for American buyers. After all, it was designed in America for Americans. It features a spacious cabin, three row seating, a multitude of convenience inside and all the imaginable safety tech of today, making it quite competitive on the market. However, Edmunds does report that the engines leave a lot to be desired. They are not as efficient nor as brisk as the competitors – not even with the V6 option (standard units come with a 2.0L turbo mill).
The Atlas is available with one of five trim options – S, SE, SE w/technology, SEL and SEL Premium – and two different power options (235 hp four-cylinder and 276 hp V6).
Regardless of its power deficit, the car seems to check all the important boxes for Americans, the most important of which is size.
2006-2012 Mitsubishi Outlander
Sure, Mitsubishi lost its way in recent years, but just before we figured out that it did, they revealed a fantastic family SUV – the Outlander. I consider it to be a worthy entry on the Best Family SUV list because it is a good value. With three-row seating, car-like handling, and a rather affordable price, the Outlander seems to be perfect for families in the neverending search for versatility and dependability. In this iteration, the Outlander gained a 220 hp V6. Go for that one.
Its competitors are plentiful – the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-7 Hyundai Santa Fe, and Subaru Forester, to name a few – yet, the equipment list on the entry level model seems to make it compete with all of them rather well.
Entry level examples are equipped with:
– A six-speaker CD stereo
– Cruise control
– A trip computer
– Reclining rear seats and more
2009-2014 Kia Sorento XM
With unibody construction, a usable third row of seats and, what seems like a really raspy and fun V6 engine, the Kia Sorento XM tends to be one of the best underappreciated SUVs on the market.
Nicely packed units offer a lot in terms of equipment and convenience. Read:
– Keyless ignition/entry
– Dual-zone automatic climate control
– A leather-wrapped steering wheel
– Sport-tuned suspension
– Leather upholstery
– Heated front seats
– Auto-dimming rearview mirror
– Rearview camera
– 10-speaker Infinity sound system and more
Sure, these are more expensive on the used car market, but I included this car on the Best Family SUV list not only because of its nice V6, but its generosity as well. Safety is adequate. It received four stars and Edmunds reports it comes standard with stability control, hill-start assist, hill descent control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints.
Big, dull, powerful, incredibly dependable, and convenient. This is the Toyota Sequoia – a rather large SUV embodying all what Toyota brand stands for.
It is not by chance that you can read this on Edmunds:
“Arguably the most useful, most refined and easiest to drive of the full-size SUVs, the 2008 Toyota Sequoia is an attractive option for large families with a boat in tow.”
More importantly, consumer reviews prove that this is possibly the best bet when it comes to the best family SUV segment.
Be prepared for some expenditure though. The massive 5.7-liter V8 with 381 hp can tow a lot (7,400 lbs), but in conjunction with 4WD, you will find it to be a gas guzzler.
This is a graceful, refined, safe, and astute ride.
2006-2012 Mercedes GL-class X164
It is a large, full-size SUV with proven Mercedes-Benz quality and luxury equipped inside. When new, it was a rather pricey ride, yet still advanced. See, the car is built on a body-on-frame construction but it is as long as the Escalade. So, it has much more precise and engaging driving characteristics compared with other full-size competition of the time. It is available with a diesel or 335 hp petrol V8 (which can tow up to 7,500 lbs).
Safety has always been an important part of the Mercedes-Benz ideology. In this case:
– Stability control
– Whiplash-reducing front headrests
– First and second-row side airbags
– Full-length side curtain airbags with an integrated rollover sensor
– Hill start assist
– Hill-descent control
– Rear parking sensors (Premium Package)
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