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It's not just the minivan—Best cars for families

If your idea of a "family car" is an old wagon with a passel of kids tucked in the back, or perhaps a grimy minivan overflowing with soccer gear, you may be in for a surprise when you see the mix of models that topped the charts in the U.S. News and World Report "Best Cars for Families" annual awards.

The magazine took a close look at 259 different vehicles in 19 different categories looking to "highlight vehicles that make family life easier," explained Jamie Page Deaton, who oversees new car rankings. "These are sedans, SUVs and minivans that have good space and good safety," but also offer lots of "family-friendly features."

2015 Honda CR-V
Source: Honda Motors

Those include such niceties as rear-seat video entertainment systems, WiFi hot spots, and back-up cameras, plus safety and security systems, such as GM's OnStar, that can help parents keep track of teen drivers.

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General Motors led in more of those categories—four, in all—than any other manufacturer. But Honda had the distinction of capturing a win for best family minivan for the fifth year in a row: The Honda Odyssey locked down its lead in that segment ever since the Family Cars awards were first announced.

While many parents think of minivans and SUVs as the classic family car, the editors also looked at conventional sedans and even some small hatchbacks, such as the Volkswagen Golf, aiming to satisfy "every family lifestyle and every family budget."

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Family cars have changed a lot since the first time U.S. News tried to compare them, noted Managing Editor Page Deaton. Back then, there were far fewer amenities—especially high-tech connectivity features—and far less advanced safety systems. New safety tech like forward collision warning, she said, "can watch out when you're distracted, yelling at the kids in the back seat."

family cars CHART 150311

Category Vehicle (all are 2015 model year)
Compact carsVolkswagen Golf
Upscale small carsMercedes-Benz C-Class
HatchbacksKia Soul
Midsize carsHyundai Sonata
Upscale midsize carsCadillac CTS
Large carsChevrolet Impala
Luxury large carsKia K900
Hybrid carsFord Fusion Hybrid
WagonsSubaru Outback
Compact SUVsHonda CR-V
Luxury compact SUVs Volvo XC60
2-row SUVsNissan Murano
3-row SUVsToyota Highlander
Luxury 2-row SUVsLexus RX 350
Luxury 3-row SUVsLand Rover Range Rover Sport
Large SUVsChevrolet Suburban
Luxury large SUVsCadillac Escalade
Hybrid SUVsToyota Highlander Hybrid
MinivansHonda Odyssey