Awards Season

U.S. News & World Report releases annual list of Best Cars for Families

The Ford Expedition has made the cut, alongside some Toyota, Honda, and Kia models, among others.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Families use cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs to get around. Some vehicles do it better than others. U.S. News & World Report has released its latest list of the best new vehicles for families.

To come up with the winners of the 2020 U.S. News Best Cars for Families awards the company evaluated 90 new 2020 model year. vehicles. To come up with the winners, the company looked at a combination of the vehicles's reviews, safety and reliability ratings, seating and cargo volume, and family-friendly feature availability.

The awards are distributed in nine classes with the winner being the Best Car for Families in that category. Scroll down to see all nine.

Best 3-Row SUV for Families: 2020 Kia Telluride

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The three-row 2020 Kia Telluride has family-friendly design front and center. It has a number of features that will make families fall in love with it from its easy-access third row to its USB ports.

Best Compact SUV for Families: 2020 Toyota RAV4

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Toyota completely redesigned the RAV4 for the 2019 model year and added a new trim level for the 2020 model year, the 2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road. It remains the most popular SUV sold in the U.S. For the 2021 model year, Toyota is adding a plug-in hybrid version of the RAV4 called the RAV4 Prime.

Best Minivan for Families: 2020 Honda Odyssey

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The Honda Odyssey isn't just America's top-selling minivan. It's also one of the most reliable. Recent studies revealed that its one of the top 15 vehicles that owners keep for 15 years or more and one of the few models that frequently reaches 200,000 miles on its odometer. Honda recently announced a host of updates to the van for the 2021 model year.

Best 2-Row SUV for Families: 2020 Honda Passport

Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

The Honda Passport isn't for large families in the way the Odyssey or Pilot are, but it's a great two-row SUV that is suitable for empty nesters and families of four. How do we know? AutomotiveMap recently took the model on a trip to Yosemite National Park, testing out its on-road prowess and family-hauling capability. We've also put a rooftop tent on it and tested it on a family camping weekend.

Best Hybrid or Electric Car for Families: 2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The Toyota Avalon doesn't get much publicity but that doesn't mean that it's not a good car. The large Toyota is comfortable and capable. It comes in a traditional internal combustion engine model and a hybrid variant. The Avalon Hybrid is a fuel-efficient model that still delivers the space a family needs, and it's one of the most reliable cars on the road today.

Best Hybrid or Electric SUV for Families: 2020 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The redesigned Toyota Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient model ever. It also has some of the most family-friendly features ever shown in a three-row Toyota SUV. For the 2021 model year, Toyota will be adding a new model, the Highlander XSE, to its lineup.

Best Large Car for Families: 2020 Toyota Avalon

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

Like its hybrid variant, the Toyota Avalon seats four in comfortable accommodations. It's a large car, but that doesn't mean that it drives like a boat. It also doesn't have stodgy design or a lack of high-tech features.

Best Large SUV for Families: 2020 Ford Expedition

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The three-row Ford Expedition is definitely a truck. It's also an SUV and family hauler. The model isn't as elegant or refined as its sister, the Lincoln Navigator, but it makes up for it with more rugged looks and a lower price tag. Ford recently added King Ranch and Platinum models to the Expedition lineup for the 2020 model year, as well as a new FX4 Off-Road Package.

Best Midsize Car for Families: 2020 Toyota Camry

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Inc.

The Toyota Camry is one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. year after year because it's a good choice for a wide range of people, from singletons to families. This new generation is more fuel-efficient than ever and it has the largest number of tech features. Toyota has also recently started offering the Camry in an all-wheel drive format.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The 2020 Toyota Yaris punches above its weight.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

Folks are always fascinated about what I do for a living. "Oh, you drive a different car every week? That's so exciting!"

What follows is a fairly predictable set of questions. "What's your favorite car?" (Rolls-Royce Wraith). "Have you ever driven on a race track?" (Numerous times.) "What's the fastest you've driven?" (180 MPH in a Porsche Panamera on the Autobahn in Germany.)

But then I'll start asking them questions, trying to learn about what they drive and why. What car do you have and why did you buy it? What other cars did you consider? What do you look for in an automobile?

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris has Toyota looks up front.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It's my own form of market research. I can't review a car if I don't understand who my reader is and how to best guide them. It's part of why I don't dive too deep into horsepower and performance figures — I've found that, performance cars excepted, most vehicles perform adequately for the everyday tasks that people buy them for.

That brings us to this week's car, which is perhaps one of the least-interesting cars I've tested — but in a very good way. The sub-$20,000 2020 Toyota Yaris Hatchback is aimed solidly at folks who want an affordable, entry-level vehicle that's safe, practical, and with just a touch of luxury-ishness.

My tester was the (slightly) fancier XLE trim, pricing out at $19,680. It's equipped with an adequate if unexciting 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a whopping 106-horsepower. The engine might be tiny, but it comes with the added bonus of 32/40/35 mpg (city/highway/combined) fuel economy. It's paired to a six-speed automatic transmission (and a real transmission too, not a continuously variable unit that some folks love to hate).

2020 Toyota Yaris The hatchback is convenient but the car also comes in a sedan variant.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

It has 16-inch wheels, a bunch of airbags, LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a seven-inch color touch screen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has push-button start, keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors. Oh, and there's automatic climate control too, which I've seen missing on cars that cost way more than this.

Here's where things get a bit confusing. Toyota sells the Yaris in other markets around the world, and it's their own in-house vehicle. But the Yaris sold in America is a rebadged Mazda2 that's assembled at Mazda's facility in Salamanca, Mexico. It's related to the Toyota Yaris sedan which used to be called the Scion iA, which is also built by Mazda, but also has the Toyota brand on it.

Whatever.

2020 Toyota Yaris The Yaris rides okay, about what you’d expect for a sub-$20,000 vehicle.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

I've driven a lot of Mazdas and a lot of Toyotas, and it's obvious to me that this is a Mazda. That's not a bad thing. Mazdas vehicles have punched above their weight for a long time (I had a 2011 Mazda3 for years, and I've praised them frequently in these pages), bringing both upscale materials and design to lower-priced segments. That's true here too. The Mazda2 — I mean, Toyota Yaris Hatchback — doesn't feel like a stripped down econobox. It's small and maneuverable and the engine, though a little noisy, gets you through traffic nicely.

It's a great new car for a teenager or for someone looking to spend as little money on a new car as possible. New cars, after all, come with new car warranties and can appeal to folks who don't want to imagine what came before when buying something used.

The Yaris competes with the Honda Fit, which is a perennial favorite in this class, and it seems a little nicer and a little more polished, though with less rear-seat legroom if you anticipate carrying adults back there.

2020 Toyota Yaris Even low-cost models have an infotainment screen these days.Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The front is comfortable and attractive enough, with solid buttons and knobs and dials that are all pleasing to touch and fiddle with (which isn't as common as you'd think). It seems to be a better car than it's bargain-basement price would indicate, with a solid ride, comfortable seats and two reliable names behind it.

I took it to Costco (as I have with all my COVID-era test drives) and, with the 60/40 seats folded down, was able to fill it with ease. It swallowed up toilet paper and paper towels and a case of Diet Dr. Pepper and all manner of other things. It's no Rolls-Royce Wraith, but I'd be happy to recommend the little Yaris to someone looking for a new car that won't break the bank.

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The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is made to be trail-ready

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

If you want to go off-roading but you’re apprehensive behind the wheel? Jeep is introducing the Jeep Adventure Academy, a program that provides hands-on, off-road driving instruction to Jeep 4x4 owners.

"Off-roading is a rite of passage for Jeep 4x4 owners and the new Jeep Adventure Academy will provide key knowledge every off-roader can use for hitting the trails," said Jim Morrison, Head of Jeep Brand, FCA - North America. "The new Jeep Adventure Academy underscores the Jeep brand's commitment to delivering Jeep 4x4 vehicles that provide owners with a sense of capability, safety and security to handle any condition or adventure with confidence."

2021 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Jeep Trailhawk models are trail-tested ahead of their retail salePhoto courtesy of FCA US LLC

The Academy kicks off this October and will take place at select locations nationwide. Instructors from Jeep Jamboree USA will lead the program alongside off-roading experts.

Each Academy session will focus on several essential areas of off-roading instruction, including 4x4 system basics, driving techniques, trail etiquette, vehicle preparation and equipment, how to properly read terrain and challenging obstacles, safety tips and more.

The Jeep Adventure Academy will take place during the first three weeks in October at the following locations:

  • Holly Oaks Off-road Vehicle Park, Holly, Michigan: October 2-4
  • Southern Missouri Off-Road Ranch, Seymour, Missouri: October 9-11
  • Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, Hollister, California: October 16-18

Registration is available at jeepadventureacademy.com. A one-day session starts at $99 and requires Jeep 4x4 vehicle ownership. The academy sessions will be led by professional staff from Jeep Jamboree USA, an organization that has been conducting off-road adventures since 1953.

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