Small Family Cars

family in a model T

There are few things as American as the small family car. But there are so many to choose from. Which is right for you?

That depends in large part on your family, of course. Are you a first-time parent, with a baby on the way? A multigenerational household? An active clan with four kids on sports teams? Do you have teen-age drivers?

Whatever your family's unique situation, the odds are good that when shopping for a new car, you are particularly concerned about safety, value, and reliability. You are likely also interested in fuel economy, sticker price, and the many entertainment options that keep children occupied on long car rides -- or just on the way to daycare. We've got you covered. LendingTree has scoped out ten small family cars, at least one of which should be perfect for your family.

1. Always Reliable

Children are expensive. That's why parents seek out small family cars that offer excellent value. The Honda Civic does just that -- and has for decades.

With a starting price under $20,000, an MPG rating of 30/39, and room for at least four, the Honda Civic is the car every family should at least consider buying.

2. A Car to Pass On

They grow up so fast, don't they? The car once relied on for a long daily commute is appropriated by teenagers for trips to the mall, the movie theater or to football games.

If this is your future, consider the Volkswagen Golf, Motor Trend's 2015 Car of the Year.

The Golf is available as a sedan or hatchback, and offers a choice of gas, electric or diesel engine. The Golf also has a well-earned reputation for design, performance and value. It's just the thing for a car expected to deliver many, many years of heavy use.

3. Green & Urban

The Toyota Prius C hatchback may be the ideal small family car for those as concerned about the environment as they are their budget. The Prius C hybrid garners a stellar 53 MPG in the city, can seat four, and has a 4-star crash safety rating. It also comes in a variety of snazzy colors. KBB buyers gave the Prius C a 9.3 out of 10 satisfaction rating.

Be aware, however, that the Prius C is noticeably smaller than the standard Toyota Prius. It's 99hp engine certainly won't help you in any high-speed chases, either. Also note that while you should save substantially on gas, this smaller Prius doesn't come cheap. The starting price is about $25,000.

4. Speed & Style

Having a family does not mean you have to (completely) abandon fun. If you like speed, pick-up and excellent handling around the curves, the attractive Mazda 3 may be the car for you. The base model comes with a 155hp engine, manual transmission and a pleasing interior.

The Mazda 3 is still a practical choice, however. Parents Magazine named the Mazda 3 one of the best family cars, and it was named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

5. For the Professional

Small family does not always equal small budget. You can, if your willing to pay for it, drive an elegant small family car. If you're in this fortunate position, consider the moderately luxurious Lexus CT 200, a hybrid with a starting price of $32,000.

A top safety pick, the Lexus CT hatchback comes loaded with technology and delivers a 42-MPG EPA-estimated mileage rating, along with some eye-catching design.

6. For the Cool Parents

Raising a family certainly does not mean you lose your cool, or your sense of fun. With its funky design, bright colors and array of customizable features, the Kia Soul may be the right car for you.

With a base price at about $15,000, the Kia Soul is very affordable. Perhaps that's why named the Kia Soul the "best deal for small families."

7. European Sophistication

The Fiat 500 is a small hatchback with true European bloodlines and a distinct Italian design. With Fiat's merger with Chrysler, the 500 has quickly become one of the more popular vehicles in America.

The Fiat 500 comes in several models, starting at just under $20,000, and sports above-average fuel efficiency ratings of 31 city / 40 highway.

Note, however, that while the Fiat 500 received overall good crash test ratings, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety graded it "poor" in the "small overlap frontal" crash test.

8. For the Family on a Budget

The Chevrolet Cruze may be the perfect vehicle for the family on a budget. The Cruze sedan has four doors, sizable trunk space, and offers excellent gas mileage. A highly practical choice, the Cruze is available for under $20,000, though a more expensive diesel model is also available.

The Cruze also sports a overall 5-star government crash test rating.

9. More on the Way

Many small families soon become big families. Add another child, an in-law or a grandparent, and soon that small family car is bursting at the seams. If you think you may need something a bit bigger than a compact, consider the popular Ford Escape. This family-focused SUV is available for just under $30,000 and is designed for today's busy parents.

Features include a hands-free hatch, plenty of cargo space, four-wheel drive and automated park assist.

10. Safety First

While most newer cars do well on both government and insurance industry safety tests, the Audi A4 sedan is one of the very few cars in 2015 to receive an across-the-board 5-star rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Board.

In addition to its safety score, the Audi A4 sedan is a sleek, sporty German-engineered beauty chock full of the latest gadgets and premium features. Be aware that these come with a hefty sticker price. It's unlikely you will get a new Audi A4 for under $40,000.


We understand that all families are different, and that every family's needs changes over the years. At least one of the cars we've highlighted here should meet your needs today and well into the future. Safe driving!

Picture by William Creswell, used under CC license.

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