What’s eligible: Any 2020 model vehicle regardless of when it was introduced or last updated.
Criteria: Along with crash tests, safety features and accommodation of family members and their gear, we consider family-friendly features and overall excellence.
Winner: 2020 Volkswagen Atlas
There are two types of parents out there: those who realize the inevitability of a minivan and embrace the living room on wheels and all its inherent uncoolness with open (and likely exhausted) arms, and those who cringe at the thought and search for something … different. For you rebels, there’s an SUV that comes close to offering a minivan’s level of comfort, room and utility: the 2020 Volkswagen Atlas, Cars.com’s Family Car of the Year.
It’s no secret we’re fans of this three-row SUV. The Atlas is a large family hauler that debuted for 2018 and quickly won us over with its cavernous interior, long list of creature comforts and long-trip-worthy road manners. The SUV took top honors in the 2017 Three-Row SUV Challenge and later won Cars.com’s Best of 2018 award.
Inside, there’s ample room for seven occupants in three rows of seats, and there isn’t a bad one in the house. Even the third row is roomy enough for adults, and what’s more, getting back there is easier than in most SUVs thanks to a tilt-and-slide second row in either bench or captain’s chair versions that allows you to keep a child-safety seat installed while moving those second-row seats. The second-row bench also has ample room to fit three car seats across, something some competitors can’t do. The Atlas earned straight-A grades in our Car Seat Check, a rarity. As confirmed in our more recent 2020 3-Row SUV Challenge between seven current models, the Atlas combined the best third row with the highest measured cargo volume behind those seats — meaning you can carry all of your kin and a good amount of stuff at the same time.
The Atlas also has a full complement of standard and available advanced safety features, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and prevention, blind spot warning, a 360-degree camera system, rear cross-traffic detection, reverse automatic braking, front parking sensors and automatic high-beam headlights.
And although it’s big, the Atlas doesn’t drive like it. Power comes from either a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder or an optional 3.6-liter V-6. Even when the Atlas is fully loaded, the torquey little four-cylinder holds its own in traffic. It may not be the most athletic-handling SUV out there, but that’s not its mission. It’s a comfortable, quiet and capable people hauler, and — depending on whom you ask — it might even make you look cool.
2020 Ford Expedition
Few vehicles offer comfortable accommodations for a lot of people and their stuff at the same time, but a full-size SUV can, and the 2020 Ford Expedition is our pick. Large outside and in, the Expedition is one of the few full-size SUVs that provides the spacious interior suggested by its exterior bulk, with the hands-down roomiest third row even if you don’t opt for the extended Expedition Max. With a maximum seating capacity of eight, it easily accommodates your kids, their friends and the dog while towing the camper … which happens to include the kitchen sink.
Power comes from Ford’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost V-6, which makes 375 horsepower in most trim levels and 400 hp in the top Platinum. It’s paired with a standard 10-speed automatic transmission and is available with either rear- or four-wheel drive. Not only is power ample, it’s also smooth and delivery is linear for a refined driving experience.
This may be a truck-based SUV, but its interior is anything but crude: There are power ports in every row, the Sync 3 multimedia system with an 8-inch touchscreen and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a family entertainment system, and in-vehicle Wi-Fi that can handle up to 10 connections and operate within 50 feet from the vehicle.
Redesigned for 2018 with more interior space as well as additional comfort and convenience features, the Full-Size SUV Challenge-winning Expedition returned for 2019 with few significant changes. It remains competitive and claims a spot as a Family Car of the Year nominee again for 2020.
2020 Hyundai Santa Fe
SUVs continue to take over the sales charts, and Hyundai offers a bunch of them, from the teeny Venue to the three-row Palisade. Somewhere in the middle is the Santa Fe, nominated for Cars.com’s Family Car of the Year award for its blend of comfort, safety and value.
The five-seat Santa Fe was redesigned for 2019 and returns for 2020 with additional safety features. Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that makes 185 horsepower or a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder good for 235 hp; both are available with front- or all-wheel drive. And although its road manners are commendable, what really stands out are its safety features.
New for 2020 is the standard Blind-View Monitor, which helpfully displays a camera view of your blind spot when the turn signal is activated. Also standard is a rear occupant detection system; it alerts the driver when someone has been left in the backseat.
Last — but certainly not least for parents with kids in car seats — the Santa Fe earned straight A grades in our Car Seat Check thanks to ample room and easy-access Latch anchors.
All of that plus the SUV’s focus on value — the 2020 Santa Fe remains one of the more affordable options in a crowded field of two-row mid-size SUVs — and its win in Cars.com’s Mid-Size SUV Challenge helped earn it a nomination for 2020 Family Car of the Year.