Six of the best family vehicles

Here are six of the best options for ferrying your family in safety and comfort.

Toyota HiLux SR5

A growing number of new car buyers are choosing dual cab utes as their family vehicle of choice, thanks to their improving safety and sophistication, and the versatility of the body style.

The reigning king of utes is the Toyota HiLux, which has topped new car sales charts here for the past four years. Since its launch, Toyota has consistently added features and value to its popular workhorse-cum-family hauler, with more updates due in August when a revised model goes on sale.

The current HiLux SR5 made a compelling enough case to take out the Best 4x4 Dual Cab Ute at last year’s Australia’s Best Cars awards. It’s powered by a gutsy 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder that drives through a (preferred) six-speed automatic and a part-time 4x4 system.

With its impressive payload and a braked towing capacity of 3200kg, the HiLux’s unladen ride is pretty firm, but things improve when laden. Its stylish and well-appointed interior is decently insulated from road and engine noise and includes a touchscreen with satnav and a reversing camera with guides.

In addition to the usual quota of airbags, ABS brakes and ESC, the HiLux also boasts advanced driver assistance tech like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure alert, speed/road sign recognition and active cruise control.

  • Category: Dual Cab 4x4 Ute 
  • Price: $57,240 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2019)


Hyundai Sante Fe Highlander

Hyundai’s own promo for its Santa Fe SUV suggests it will “end backseat battles,” and in this case there’s truth in the advertising. The Korean car maker has nailed the family wagon brief with its well-conceived and executed seven-seater, which is roomy and chock full of family-friendly features.

The top-spec Highlander is a fair stretch price-wise over the base model, but we rate it worth the investment. The stylish SUV comes loaded with the sort of luxury features you would expect to find in a fancy European offering costing $20,000 more. There is a real premium feel to the interior, with leather throughout and handy features like sunblinds on the second-row windows, individual air-con controls for second and third rows, and enough USB ports to prevent an outbreak of hostilities. Access to the third row is easy and the extra seats fold flat into the floor when not in use, revealing a generous 547-litre boot, accessed via an electric tailgate that can be opened using foot-gesture control.

The Santa Fe drives and handles with impressive fluidity thanks to its well-tuned suspension and efficient 2.2-litre turbo-diesel mated to a slick eight-speed auto. All of which helps explain why it aced its category in last year’s Australia’s Best Cars awards.

  • Category: All-wheel drive SUV
  • Price: $61,660 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.5 litres/100km
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★  ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2018)


Kia Carnival Platnium

Kia’s popular and resolutely practical Carnival finished a close second in our Best Family Wagon category in the 2019 Australia’s Best Cars awards.

The Carnival’s generous seating capacity, high standard equipment levels, quality finishes and impressive safety kit make it a compelling case for even the most fashion-conscious family buyer. Capable of seating eight in comfort and safety, while still housing a reasonable amount of luggage, the Carnival’s party trick is the excellent access afforded by its twin auto-electric sliding side doors and clever folding second row.

Powered by an efficient and gutsy 2.2-litre diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic, the Carnival drives with real polish while delivering respectable performance and fuel efficiency. The big Kia comes loaded with standard kit, including heated and ventilated electric front seats, auto high beam LED headlamps, smart cruise control and a suite of valuable active safety aids including forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and a rear cross traffic alert. Six airbags plus Kia’s industry-best seven-year warranty will be the clincher for many family buyers.

  • Category: People mover
  • Price: $63,490 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km 
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2016) 


Mazda CX-8 Sport AWD

It was always going to take something special to prise the Kia Carnival’s steely grip off the Best Family Wagon category in Australia’s Best Cars, but Mazda’s CX-8 SUV did just that in 2019.

Designed to close the gap between its mid-size CX-5 and large CX-9, the CX-8 brings seven-seat versatility without the usual $60,000-plus price penalty. The CX-8 Sport, with front-wheel drive and petrol engine, is the most affordable model, but if you can stretch the extra $7000 for the all-wheel drive 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel you will appreciate its extra performance, fuel-efficiency and grip.

Based as it is on a stretched version of the popular and highly regarded CX-5, the CX-8 is underpinned by polished and reliable mechanicals. Its extra seating is achieved without the width of a full-size model like the CX-9, which is only an issue if you regularly sit three adults or large teens abreast. Access to the second and third rows of seats is made relatively easy thanks to large rear doors that open at almost 90 degrees. The slick and sophisticated interior features an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with DAB+, satnav and connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

  • Category: All-wheel drive SUV 
  • Price: $48,490 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
  • Fuel Consumption: 6.0 litres/100km
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2018)


Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

You can’t have a list of best family cars without a Subaru appearing somewhere, and for us the mid-sized Forester is a terrific fit for smaller families happy to do without a third row.

The Forester claimed silver in the Best AWD SUV under $55,000 category at last year’s Australia’s Best Cars, narrowly beaten by the also-excellent Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD Hybrid. But there is something about the versatile and honest-as-the-day-is-long Forester that we’ve always liked and respected. With its long-standing commitment to all-wheel drive and boxer engines, Subaru has a reputation for doing things a bit differently to its rivals and for building stoically reliable vehicles that offer a fine blend of performance, technology and value.

Within the six-model Forester range we particularly like the spritely 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol-powered 2.5-S. With its constant all-wheel-drive system providing sufficient off-road ability to whet the appetite of adventurous types, this talented all-rounder is right at home around town, on the open road or off the beaten track.

Spacious, refined and as practical as a pair of Blundstones, the Forester’s low waistline, thin pillars and large glasshouse will provide a great vantage point for the kids to see Australia first.

  • Category: Mid-sized SUV
  • Price: $42,990 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.4 litres/100km 
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2019)


Honda CR-V VTi-S AWD

With the economy in strife and household belts being tightened, we had to slip at least one sub-$40,000 family car onto our list. There are plenty of options, especially if you choose to go the two-wheel drive route, but we especially like the added versatility and safety of this CR-V VTi-S AWD.

Honda’s interior designers have done a masterful job with the Tardis-like CR-V, which feels way more spacious than its exterior dimensions suggest. The VTi-S AWD misses out on the compact third row of seats available in some variants, but otherwise hits the sweet spot in terms of price and equipment.

Standard features include 18-inch alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen, leather-bound steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, push-button start and an electric tailgate. The driver sits up nice and high, with excellent visibility through the large glasshouse. There is loads of passenger space front and rear, plus a generous 522-litre boot to handle the holiday luggage.

A wide-angle mirror is handy for keeping an eye on the rug rats, while quick-release levers in the luggage bay effortlessly drop the second row. At 1.5 litres, the four-cylinder engine is bolstered by a turbocharger and Honda’s years of small engine expertise, so doesn’t shirk its duties one bit.

  • Category: Mid-sized SUV
  • Price: $36,490 (MRLP)
  • Warranty: 5 years/unlimited
  • Fuel Consumption: 7.4 litres/100km
  • Safety Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ANCAP (2014)


The Fine Print: While there are plenty of other family friendly choices on the market, we’ve chosen to feature here mainly cars that performed well in previous Australia’s Best Cars tests. We’ve also used the Manufacturer’s Recommended List Pricing (MRLP), as opposed to on-road and other running costs. *Images shown may not be the actual specification outlined.