Best New and Used Family SUVs and Crossovers

By Anthony Sophinos

The SUV and the crossover have morphed into the ideal family vehicles. They aren’t just high-riding and spacious; they also offer the latest must-have features like AWD, intuitive touchscreens, and ample cupholders and USB ports. But that doesn’t mean all SUVs and crossovers are created equal. So which are best suited for hauling the kids around?

To answer that question we evaluated four chief parameters to determine the best family-friendly SUVs and crossovers: safety, efficiency, affordability, and reliability. Cargo space, legroom, and passenger space were also considered. Off-road aptitude was not.

We ultimately came up with four winners and four runner-ups from more affordable automakers. We also determined the top four family-friendly SUVs in the luxury market.

Starting with our recent study on the longest-lasting cars, we analyzed 15.8 million vehicles sold in 2019 to learn which SUVs and crossovers had the highest likelihood of lasting 200,000 miles. Then we conducted further analysis on average fuel economy across all available powertrains, government safety ratings, average prices for both new and 3-year old used models, and available interior space. These data points were used to rank each model.

Because we wanted to know the best of the best, we established a high bar for these vehicles: average fuel economy of more than 20 mpg, a safety rating of at least 4.5 stars, and greater than 1 percent of the vehicles for a given model lasting more than 200,000 miles. That last parameter might not sound noteworthy, but the average likelihood for any given model to reach 200,000 miles is just 1 percent, according to our study. 

Plenty of models could hit two of these three expectations, but only four mainstream models managed the triple crown:

Best Affordable Family SUVs

 

1. Toyota Highlander Hybrid

 

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 4.20%

Average fuel economy: 28 mpg

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Highlander Hybrid: $44,613

Average price of a 3-year-old Highlander Hybrid: $35,215

The Toyota Highlander Hybrid can lay an objective claim to being the best family SUV currently on the market. It’s reliable, with 4.20 percent of vehicles for this model lasting more than 200,000 miles. It’s safe, earning a 5-star NHTSA crash test rating. And by combining a four-cylinder engine with a battery and generator, it earns an average fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon - by far the best gas mileage on this list.

The Highlander Hybrid also offers three rows of seating for up to eight people and 13.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row, checking off the box for interior roominess. And it’ll even tow 3,500 pounds. It’s an all-star family SUV.

New models sell for an average of $44,613, while 3-year old used models are a more affordable $35,215. 

2. Toyota Highlander

 

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 1.30%

Average fuel economy: 22.5 mpg

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Highlander: $41,270

Average price of a 3-year-old used Highlander: $29,586

Nearly as good as the Hybrid version is the regular Toyota Highlander. At 1.30 percent of vehicles for this model reaching 200,000 miles, it doesn’t have quite the same track record of the Highlander Hybrid for being long-lasting. The average fuel economy for the ordinary Highlander is also a full 5.5 mpg less than the Hybrid model. That difference adds up over the course of a vehicle’s life.

Still, the Highlander is a winner. Like the Hybrid, it is safe and reliable, and the 8-passenger seating option and roomy interior make it a great choice for families regularly toting around a gaggle of children. 

Available all-wheel drive is a boon for snowy climates. It’s also a fair bit cheaper than the hybrid version, with the average price of a new model ringing in at $41,270. Three-year-old used models are a wallet-pleasing $29,586.

3. Honda Pilot

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 2.40%

Average fuel economy: 21.7 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Pilot: $40,302

Average price of a three-year-old used Pilot: $29,922

More reliable but less fuel-efficient, the Honda Pilot is essentially Honda’s take on the formula Toyota followed with the Highlander: an 8-seat roomy crossover that can tow 3,500 pounds and is financially in reach of most families. 

With 16.5 cubic feet of space behind the third row, the Pilot also has more cargo area than both Highlanders.

On average, the Pilot sells new for $40,302 and used for $29,922. 

4. Honda CR-V

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 1.10%

Average fuel economy: 29.1 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new CR-V: $29,745

Average price of a three-year-old used CR-V: $23,425

If you don’t need three rows, the Honda CR-V should be on the top of your list. Among its many selling points are its above-average chance of reaching 200,000 miles, a 5-star safety rating, and average fuel economy of 29 mpg. 

Honda’s excellent HondaSensing suite of safety features is standard as well, which means every trim level comes with adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, and emergency braking.

Beyond all this, the CR-V is also affordable. New models sell for an average of $29,745; 3-year old used models trade hands for just $23,425. At those prices, the CR-V is a no-brainer.

Best Affordable Family SUVs: The Runner-Ups

The four preceding Honda and Toyota models were the only mainstream vehicles that met all three parameters we established, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other great SUVs and crossovers out there. 

Here are a few that narrowly missed at least one of our benchmarks but remain excellent choices.

1. Hyundai Santa Fe

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.90%

Average fuel economy: 21.4 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Santa Fe: $31,398

Average price of a three-year-old used Santa Fe: $23,537

Only 0.90 percent of Hyundai Santa Fe models reach 200,000 miles, which is good but not good enough to rank with the top models from Honda and Toyota. But there’s still a lot of crossover here for the money. New models sell for only $31,398 on average and used typically go for $23,537. 

Like the other top-ranked models, it carries a 5-star safety rating from the NHTSA. The average fuel economy is a decent 21.4 mpg, in line with most of the other crossovers profiled here. Another choice that’s similar to the Santa Fe is its corporate cousin, the Kia Sorrento.

2. Subaru Outback

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.80%

Average fuel economy: 26.1 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Outback: $35,137

Average price of a three-year-old used Outback: $23,953

How you categorize the Subaru Outback depends on how liberal you are with your definitions. Technically it could be considered a crossover, as it rides on a modified passenger car platform with additional ground clearance. On the other hand, it clearly wears styling that’s suggestive of a wagon - especially when compared to showroom siblings like the Subaru Ascent and Subaru Forester. 

Whatever your thoughts, the Outback makes an excellent choice for families seeking a two-row vehicle that doesn’t disappoint in reliability, space, economy, or affordability. It earned a 5-star safety rating from the government and its average fuel economy is 26.1 mpg. Prices on average are $35,137 for new models and $23,953 for used examples, keeping it well in the realm of affordability.

As just 0.80 percent of vehicles for this model reach 200,000 miles, it didn’t earn a place in the winner’s circle, but the Outback remains an excellent option for those wanting something a bit different than the typical crossover.

3. Nissan Pathfinder

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.80%

Average fuel economy: 22.4 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Pathfinder: $34,705

Average price of a three-year-old used Pathfinder: $22,436

The Nissan Pathfinder is built with unibody construction, as opposed to a body-on-frame design. Yet it’s still capable of towing 6,000 pounds, making it the first SUV on our list with serious towing capability. 

Despite its size and heft, the Pathfinder is capable of an impressive average fuel economy of 22.4 mpg. Also impressive is its 5-star safety rating, which is not a bad showing for a vehicle that hasn’t seen a refresh in 7 years.

With 0.80 percent of vehicles for this model reaching 200,000 miles, the Pathfinder doesn’t have the longevity achieved by other SUVs that ride on a full frame. But it’s far cheaper than those models, with an average selling price of $34,705 new and $22,436 used for 3 years. 

If you need lots of room and towing capability on the cheap, the Pathfinder is an excellent choice.

4. Ford Explorer

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.90%

Average fuel economy: 19.3 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Explorer: $46,804

Average price of a three-year-old used Explorer: $27,382

The Ford Explorer missed two of our three criteria, but it remains an enticing choice for a 3-row SUV. With an average fuel economy of 19.3 mpg, the Explorer falls just short of our 20-mpg cutoff cleared by all other models already mentioned. Yet this Ford can also tow up to 5,000 pounds through the 2019 model year - the new 2020 model ups that to 5,600 pounds (but was not part of our analysis).

New Explorers aren’t cheap. The average price is $46,804 for a new model, which is the highest of any mainstream SUV or crossover ranked on this list. But 3-year old used models are a much better deal, costing on average $27,382. 

Best Luxury Family SUVs

The luxury SUV market is as crowded as the entry-level arena, but we used the same criteria of safety, economy, and longevity to rank the best luxury SUVs for families. 

1. Acura MDX

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 1.60%

Average fuel economy: 22.4 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new MDX: $51,166

Average price of a three-year-old used MDX: $32,904

The Acura MDX is a close corporate cousin to the Honda Pilot, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise it tops our list of luxury family SUVs. It’s buoyed by its reliability, as 1.60 percent of vehicles for this model reach 200,000 miles - a far better stat than most luxury crossovers. 

The MDX also nets an average 22.4 mpg and boasts a 5-star safety rating. Luxury abounds with the MDX, and available features include second-row captain’s chairs and a rear-seat entertainment system.

By nature luxury cars aren’t cheap, but the MDX gives families an affordable entry into a 3-row crossover of distinguished pedigree. Average prices for new models are $51,166, which is just $5,000 more than the workaday Ford Explorer. Used MDXs average $32,904. 

2. Lincoln Navigator

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 2.60%

Average fuel economy: 18.0 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new Navigator: $88,528

Average price of a three-year-old used Navigator: $39,914

The Lincoln Navigator fails on the economy and affordability front, but in all other respects is a vehicle worthy of consideration. Look past its sumptuous interior - that offers optional 30-way power-adjustable front seats - and brash styling, and you’ll find practical attributes including abundant room for seven or eight passengers, towing capacity of over 8,000 pounds, and a bevy of safety features that help contribute to its 5-star safety rating. 

Average fuel economy from its twin-turbo V6 engine is just 18 mpg, but considering its massive size and office-building aerodynamics, we won’t fault it.

But all this goodness doesn’t come cheap. New models sell for $88,528 on average, while 3-year old used models typically sell for $39,914. That used price makes a compelling case for the spacious, reliable Navigator. 

3. Volvo XC90

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.70

Average fuel economy: 32.1 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new XC90: $61,056

Average price of a three-year-old used XC90: $40,121

The Volvo XC90 is another top luxury SUV for families. Its long list of standard-equipment advanced safety systems like automatic emergency braking is the real calling card of Volvo, a brand that built its reputation on its propensity to protect occupants in a crash. 

The XC90 is also surprisingly efficient, with an average fuel economy of 32.1 mpg. And behind the third-row seats is a generous 15.8 cubic feet of cargo space, making the Volvo a paragon of practicality.

As for affordability, the Volvo slots in between the MDX and the Navigator. On average, new models sell for $61,056 and used ones go for $40,121. 

4. Lexus RX350

Vehicles with more than 200,000 miles: 0.40%

Average fuel economy: 22.5 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: 5 stars

Average price of a new RX350: $53,787

Average price of a three-year-old used RX350: $36,660

Last on our list of best luxury family SUVs and crossovers is the Lexus RX350. This is the original luxury crossover, having debuted back in 1999. Twenty-plus years later, this family-friendly crossover retains its appeal as a safe, efficient, and roomy segment mainstay. The fact that 0.40 percent of vehicles for this model to reach 200,000 miles showcases its reliability - a high percentage among luxury crossovers. 

The RX350 represents a good deal. New they sell for $53,787 on average, while a 3-year old example typically goes for $36,660. 

 

If you’re in the market for a new or used family vehicle, you can search over 4 million used and new cars, trucks, and SUVs with iSeeCars’ award-winning car search engine that helps shoppers find the best car deals by providing key insights and valuable resources, like the iSeeCars VIN check report. Filter by price, fuel economy, third-row availability, and other family-friendly parameters to narrow down your crossover or SUV search.