For less than $40,000, these are the best cars for family fun.
Before purchasing a new car, many buyers factor in how the vehicle will fit their family needs. What good is a new car if it can't haul the entire family comfortably and also provide an enjoyable experience? We didn't want our choices for the best family vehicle to only be dictated by practical considerations like cargo space and safety features, there needs to be a fun element as well.
That is why our Family Fun award is aimed at vehicled that are enjoyable to drive while also accommodating a family of different sizes on a relatively small budget (less than $40,000).
Some vehicles that just missed the cut for this list include the Honda Passport, Kia Soul, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota Camry TRD. Our list consists of an assortment of family vehicles including one sedan, one minivan, and a tie between two SUVs (that are practically twins).
The Volkswagen Jetta GLI has always played second fiddle to the Golf GTI, until now. VW updated the GLI for its seventh-generation and it finally drives as well as its hatchback sibling. Power comes from the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the GTI, delivering the same 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can opt for either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed dual-clutch, making this the only three-pedal vehicle on this list.
It may not be as practical as an SUV or minivan, but someone with only one or two children will easily have enough space in the GLI and we wanted to factor in vehicles for families of all sizes. The GLI's back seats are massive for the segment (and bigger than the GTI) and the trunk is pretty cavernous as well. It is also significantly cheaper than the GTI with a starting price of $25,995 and a fully-loaded price of just $29,995. If you are one of the lone holdouts trying to avoid buying an SUV, the GLI is a fantastic option for a budding family.
When children grow up into adulthood, they often rebel against the vehicle their parents drove. This is why there is an entire generation of adults who hate station wagons and why a new generation is emerging who hate minivans and prefer "cooler" crossovers. Well, if you have a look around any residential neighborhood, the SUV is clearly winning the battle against the minivan, which kind of makes minivans the "cool" alternative choice these days.
The 2019 Chrysler Pacifica is by far the best minivan we tested this year. Some people believe minivans are boring to drive but the Pacifica's 3.6-liter V6 with 287 hp offers more character than many boring crossovers with their generic turbocharged four-cylinder mills. There's even a compelling plug-in hybrid model with 360 hp, though at $40,245 it's a bit pricey.
But the Pacifica isn't just surprisingly fun to drive, it's fun for the kids as well. If your kids run out of battery on their smartphones, Chrysler has included some cool infotainment screens in the back seats filled with games and music/movie players. The Stow 'n Go seats are still unbeatable for practicality in this segment so if you have two or more kids plus their friends, we highly recommend the Pacifica.
The 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Hyundai Palisade are essentially the same models with different badges so it was impossible to pick one over the other. These two mid-size, three-row SUVs have taken the market by storm and should have other automakers shaking in fear. Both are powered by a solid 3.8-liter V6 producing 291 hp and both offer seating for up to eight passengers. And unlike many of their competitors, the Telluride and Palisade both have third rows that adults can fit into.
The Telluride starts at $31,690 and the Palisade starts at $31,550, meaning both offer great value in the segment and easily fit under our $40,000 budget restriction. At the top end, the Telluride SX and Palisade Limited trims come in at $41,490 and $44,700 respectively and include amazing features like rear ventilated seats, which are absent from many SUVs with six-figure price tags. We're looking at you BMW X7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS.
We slightly prefer the Telluride's rugged styling but the Palisade offers some exclusive features like a digital gauge cluster and a powered third row. If you have narrowed your buying choice down to these two, we recommend driving them both back-to-back and picking the one you think is more attractive. No matter which one you choose, you will have made a great decision.