NEWS

2021 Family Car of the Year

By Cars.com Editors

February 11, 2021

What’s eligible: Any 2021 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: 2021 Volkswagen Atlas

For all the talk of minivans being the ultimate family vehicle, most families have chosen otherwise. Through most of 2020, America’s four leading minivans had roughly the combined sales popularity of the Ford Explorer, according to Automotive News. Three-row mid-size SUVs have become the de facto standard of today’s families, even if minivans edge them out for absolute practicality. If the family car is indeed an SUV, then, it’s a good thing families have choices like the Volkswagen Atlas.

Introduced for the 2018 model year, the Atlas combines space and drivability in a way its rivals have yet to beat. The second and third rows can comfortably seat adults, a rarity for third rows in this class. Child-safety seat accommodations are exemplary enough to earn the Atlas repeat inclusion on Cars.com’s Car Seat Check Honor Roll. And in our independent accounting of cargo volume, the SUV packs more luggage room behind its third row than a Chevrolet Tahoe. None of that comes at the expense of drivability, where Volkswagen’s SUV boasts serene ride quality and lively, low-effort steering.

Throw it all together, and the Atlas felled three rivals in a comparison test for its inaugural model year before going on to win our top award for 2018. Volkswagen’s family SUV has aged well since then, with the 2020 model gaining Cars.com’s Family Car of the Year mantle. A mid-cycle refresh for the 2021 model year softens certain styling elements and adds lane-centering steering. A midyear 2021.5 update will bring wireless integration for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

All of that adds appeal, but the Atlas wins on fundamentals. That’s unsurprising given Cars.com’s Family Car of the Year award emphasizes seating accommodations, storage space and overall practicality — attributes less easily leapfrogged by redesigned competitors. Cars that win the award often stay there: The Nissan Rogue won the award for 2016 and again for 2017, while the Chrysler Pacifica earned the mantle for 2018 and again for 2019. So repeats the Volkswagen Atlas, the Cars.com Family Car of the Year for 2020 and, now, 2021. Its qualities have endured the test of time. Even after Cars.com editors owned one for a whole year, most said they’d buy it all over again — and for his family, Managing Editor Joe Bruzek ended up doing just that. If a family-friendly SUV is what you want, the Atlas is the family-friendliest.

Shop the 2021 Volkswagen Atlas near you

Volkswagen Certified
2021 Volkswagen Atlas 3.6L SEL Premium
21,730 mi.
$52,995
Good Deal
CPO Warrantied
Home Delivery
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Used
2021 Volkswagen Atlas 3.6 V6 SEL Premium R-Line
17,330 mi.
$55,995
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ford-expedition-2021-angle-exterior-front-oem.jpg 2021 Ford Expedition | Manufacturer image

2021 Ford Expedition: Nominee

Nearly 30 years ago, the shift out of minivans and into SUVs as family haulers began, as family buyers sought the go-anywhere image (and sometimes the abilities) of pickup-based 4x4s along with the room a huge truck provides. Very little has changed in families’ needs, and the Ford Expedition still meets them with an amazing combination of massive space, surprisingly agile handling, top-notch onboard technology, and hardcore cargo and towing abilities.

The interior is big enough to give every person a comfortable seat, especially the third row, despite newly improved competing models. You can opt for the Expedition Max if you want even more cargo room to haul the family’s stuff. And because it’s built on a truck platform, it has the bones to be a fantastic toy or camper hauler, as well — find us a minivan that can tow up to 9,300 pounds.

You also have a choice of trim levels that can equip your Expedition as a durable family hauler, a capable off-roader or a luxurious limousine. You won’t be burdened by powertrain choices, as there’s only one — a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 making a very robust 375 horsepower (400 hp in the Platinum trim level) and mated to a 10-speed automatic driving either the rear wheels or all four. 

It’s not the cheapest family vehicle, nor the cheapest to fuel, but if your needs run specifically to capability and versatility along with space, it’s hard to find a better vehicle to fit that bill than the 2021 Ford Expedition.

Shop the 2021 Ford Expedition near you

New
2021 Ford Expedition XLT
$64,210 MSRP $65,210
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New
2021 Ford Expedition XL
$55,245 MSRP $56,245
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kia-telluride-2021-angle-exterior-front-oem.jpg 2021 Kia Telluride | Manufacturer image

2021 Kia Telluride: Nominee

As SUVs continue their popularity streak, automakers are answering the call and Kia offers a bunch, from the teeny Seltos to the three-row Telluride. Kia’s largest SUV is a Cars.com Family Car of the Year award nominee for its blend of comfort, safety and value.

First launched in 2020, the Telluride is available in seven- or eight-seat configurations. The sole powertrain comprises a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission that work well together. The powertrain couples with a stable and composed ride for long-trip-comfortable road manners.

Where the Telluride also shines is in the safety department. It has top crashworthiness ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and standard features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keep assist, automatic lane-centering, blind spot detection with braking and steering intervention, and rear cross-traffic alert and intervention. 

Parents will likely appreciate two other safety standards: the rear occupant alert system and the safe exit assistance system for the rear seats, which uses rear-facing radar to detect oncoming traffic and prevent a rear door from opening if an approaching vehicle or bicycle is detected. The Telluride also did well in our Car Seat Check thanks to ample room and easy enough Latch anchors.

All of that plus the SUV’s focus on value — the 2021 Kia Telluride is one of the most affordable options in a crowded field — and its close second-place finish in Cars.com’s 3-Row SUV Challenge helped earn it a nomination for 2021 Family Car of the Year.

Shop the 2021 Kia Telluride near you

Used
2021 Kia Telluride SX
15,339 mi.
$53,750 $250 price drop
Great Deal | $2,958 under
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Kia Certified
2021 Kia Telluride EX
8,412 mi.
$48,750
Good Deal | $387 under
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