If you’re a parent with kids who will soon be headed back to school, you already know exactly what that means: You’re about to start another year of carpool pickups, soccer practices, music lessons and seemingly unending errands. Do you worry that your current car isn’t up to the challenge? Don’t worry: We’ve listed our six favorite new cars for parents about to embark on the latest back-to-school season. Each of our choices is roomy, reliable and, most importantly, very safe, as we’ve only featured vehicles with a 5-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Better yet, every car on our list has a starting price below $25,000 in order to maximize affordability, and each one boasts more than 25 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving.
The Ford Escape is one of our favorite compact crossovers. One reason why is its attractive pricing: The Escape starts around $24,600 with shipping, and even base models offer a long list of desirable features for a parent, including Bluetooth, Ford’s SYNC voice-command system, a backup camera and the brand’s unique MyKey technology, which lets parents set various limits on their teenagers’ driving. We also like the crossover’s fuel economy because even the most basic Escape uses a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that touts 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Back-to-school parents will also like a few other aspects of the Escape, such as its commanding seating position and a cargo area that can fit just about anything a modern kid might carry.
Honda’s reputation for reliability is one reason the CR-V is on our this list. It also boasts many of the same family-friendly attributes as the Ford Escape. The CR-V’s pricing, for instance, is highly affordable, with the well-equipped LX model starting around $24,500 with shipping. We also like the CR-V’s list of standard features, which includes a backup camera, Bluetooth and an easy-to-stow 60/40-split folding second-row seat. The best part? The CR-V returns an amazing 27 mpg city/34 mpg hwy, which is better than many family sedans — and they don’t have anywhere near the CR-V’s ample cargo capacity.
If you’re a car-shopping parent with a child who’s heading back to school, the Hyundai Sonata should be near the top of your shopping list. One reason is its reasonable pricing: With a base MSRP of around $22,000, shoppers will have a lot of room to add equipment and features before they reach our $25,000 price cap — not that they’ll need to, however, because even at $22,000, the Sonata is a parent’s dream. It has a roomy interior, a spacious back seat, side-curtain airbags, front-side airbags and anti-lock brakes. If you decide you don’t mind spending a little extra, however, the Sonata Sport adds a backup camera, automatic headlights and a 5-inch touchscreen — all for just $24,000 with shipping.
If you’re a parent that likes driving, the Mazda CX-5 should be near the top of your shopping list. The Mazda CX-5 offers fuel economy, flair and a little fun. When it comes to fuel economy, the CX-5 is among the best in the compact-crossover class, touting up to 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy with a manual transmission or 26 mpg city/33 mpg hwy with an optional automatic. As for flair, the CX-5 offers bolder styling than most of its rival small SUVs — though it still has all the rear-seat room you could want, more cargo space than you’ll probably need and standard safety features such as anti-lock brakes and side-curtain airbags. As for fun, the CX-5 has that, too: We think it’s among the top SUVs in its class when it comes to handling, cornering and driving dynamics, which makes it surprisingly enjoyable on the road.
Few cars can claim that they offer the same high level of value you can get in the recently redesigned Subaru Legacy. One reason is that all-wheel drive is included in the sedan’s base price of around $22,500, which makes the Legacy unique among midsize sedans. But we’re especially impressed with the Subaru’s EyeSight safety system, which brings adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert to the Legacy 2.5i Premium — all for a total price of less than $25,500 with shipping. Yes, it’s a few hundred dollars over our self-imposed price limit, but the Legacy is one of the least expensive cars you can buy with these types of safety features, and that makes it a major bargain. A 5-star overall NHTSA safety rating and a combined city and highway fuel economy rating of 30 mpg only further help to convince us that this is one of the most impressive new family cars you can buy.
Although you might not think of the Toyota Corolla as a traditional family car, we beg to differ. For one thing, the recently redesigned Corolla offers more room than ever before — including in back, where the back seats are now big enough for most growing kids. The Corolla is also very reasonably priced: It has a base MSRP of around $18,000 with shipping, which means that you can add on virtually every option (including a backup camera, heated seats and a sunroof) and still stay below our budget. Sealing the deal is the Corolla’s 5-star overall NHTSA safety rating, its fuel economy rating of 31 mpg in combined driving and its excellent reputation for long-term dependability.