Every family is unique, and so too are their needs for family-friendly transportation.
Sure, an SUV with eight seats is great – just ask autoTRADER.ca Associate Editor Dustin Woods’s dad, who has owned no fewer than five Chevrolet Suburbans through the years – but it’s probably overkill for an average family of three. The same goes for something smaller, which is perfectly suitable for a nuclear family most of the time, though it starts to make less sense for those shuttling kids and their equipment to hockey practice a couple days a week.
Further complicating matters are budget constraints. Which got us thinking: what would a list of the top five family haulers that cost less than $50,000 look like? And what if they had to take care of a variety of needs rather than simply cover our five favourite three-row SUVs?
That’s why this list has a little something for everyone, from a tiny crossover to the most practical kind of people-mover there is. Here they are, in no particular order.
1. Toyota Sienna
There’s lots to like about the overhauled 2021 Toyota Sienna. First of all, it only comes as a hybrid, which means it burns less gas than a Corolla compact sedan, but there’s enough room inside to shuttle the Clampetts and all their worldly possessions from the backwoods to Beverly Hills.
Beyond all the outright space inside, it’s incredibly usable, too, with more storage than a Tupperware party, and all kinds of flexibility for passengers. Every nook and cranny has been turned into a shelf, cubby, or cupholder, while opting for a trim with second-row captain’s chairs – there’s a pair to pick from in the sub-$50,000 bracket – allows them to be slid back for limo-like legroom while maintaining what seems like a surreal amount of cargo space compared to any SUV this side of something the size of the Ford Expedition.
Not every Sienna trim makes the cut to qualify for this list, which is something of a shame since that means missing out on desirable features like ventilated front seats or a pair of 120-volt outlets that can be used to power household items on the go or at a campsite; but plenty of good stuff is included while remaining within our pricing threshold.
Advanced safety stuff like blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic is standard in every Sienna right down to the roughly $42,000 base model before tax. On top of that, there’s a heated steering wheel and heated front seats, a tri-zone automatic climate control system, and a nine-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Should all-wheel drive be a prerequisite it can be added for $2,000, making this the only minivan on the market that benefits from both a hybrid powertrain and four-wheel traction.
Two additional trims can be had for less than $50,000 before tax, both of which add lots of stuff to like. The XLE ($44,930 for eight-passenger seating and front-wheel drive; $47,330 for seating for seven and all-wheel drive) gets extra equipment like kick sensors for opening the tailgate and two sliding doors, as well as synthetic leather upholstery that’s easy to clean and a power sunroof; while the XSE only comes with captain’s chairs ($47,630 for front-wheel drive; $49,630 for all-wheel drive) and gets a sporty styling kit, unique suspension tuning, and built-in navigation.
2. Nissan Rogue
The Rogue isn’t the most popular SUV this size, but Nissan has done a great job of making this third-generation version that’s new for 2021 a legitimate contender in the compact segment. Dethroning the best-selling Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V is all but impossible, it seems, but it certainly isn’t for a lack of effort on Nissan’s behalf.
The latest Rogue isn’t quite as spacious inside as those competitors but it’s not far behind, with more than enough room for a family of four and all their stuff. The back doors open a full 90 degrees, which is great when it’s time to load little ones into car seats or help with a stuck seatbelt buckle, while legroom is sufficient enough to offer comfortable accommodations for children well into their teen years.
The list of comfort and convenience features grows steadily with the price, though even the most expensive version barely tops $40,000 before tax. That’s where to find stuff like heated seats front and rear, a 10-speaker stereo, digital gauge cluster, and head-up display, though even the mid-grade SV model gets goodies like a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot and a full suite of advanced safety systems and driver aids, including lane-keep assist and what might well be the best adaptive cruise control on the mainstream market.
Rather than fighting to keep the Rogue in the centre of its lane of travel, a frustrating flaw found in many competitor systems, the steering assist here simply provides gentle nudges and is easily overridden. But best of all, it requires both hands on the wheel to work, and the feature can easily be shut off for those who’d rather not use it.
While the base trim misses out on the full gamut of advanced safety items, it gets plenty of good stuff in its own right, including automatic emergency braking front and rear, pedestrian detection up front, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and automatic high-beam headlights. There’s also a government-mandated back-up camera and 10 airbags. That’s a lot of kit for a little more than $30,000 before tax.
3. Hyundai Palisade
Small entries like the Rogue may well be the most popular SUVs on the market, but the larger three-row segment is a tightly contested one. There isn’t much separating them now more than ever, with plenty to pick from that lean towards the premium for less than a premium price, but it’s the Hyundai Palisade that earns its way onto this list for all that it does just right.
Just like the Sienna, there’s no need to shell out for the top trim in order to get a whole heap of good stuff, and for about $48,000 before tax the Palisade Preferred has more than its share of family-friendly features. There are heated seats in both the first and second rows of seats, a heated steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a so-called quiet mode that isolated audio to the front speakers for when the kids are sleeping in the back.
For 2021, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections are wireless – although there’s no wireless charger to go with them in this trim, but there are seven USB ports sprinkled throughout the cabin. There’s also a full suite of advanced safety features, including lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic, and forward automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. (All of that is included in the cheaper Essential trim, too.) There’s also blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, and it includes a warning system to ensure little ones don’t open the back doors in the event of approaching traffic from the rear.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Palisade is among the most spacious entries in the segment, with plenty of room for a family of four or more. Cargo room is plentiful, too, with 509 L behind the third-row seats and 1,297 L with them stowed. It’s also rated to tow 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), and it has the powertrain to do it. The 3.8L V6 that’s under the hood generates 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque, which makes it to all four wheels optionally in its cheapest duds – it’s a $2,000 upgrade for the Essential trim, pushing the pre-tax price to $43,244 – while it’s standard for the Palisade Preferred’s selling price of $48,174 before the government’s share.
4. Subaru Outback
Pound for pound, the Subaru Outback is simply the reigning champ of versatility. It’s not quite as tall as something like the Rogue or RAV4 – or even the Forester from within the Subaru family – but there’s just as much space for people and stuff inside, with the added bonus of not looking like what’s parked in every other driveway on the block.
Subaru insists it’s not a wagon (trust us; it is), but since the Outback isn’t as tall as a traditional entry this size it’s much easier to access any cargo that might make its way onto the roof. Should stuff like skis, bikes, or cargo boxes be in the offing, the Outback employs clever roof rails with integrated crossbars that can be swung across and secured when they’re needed – and those come standard on every Outback sold. It’s also a Subaru, which means standard full-time all-wheel drive and more ground clearance than a RAV4 and most SUVs like it.
Even the cheapest version of the Outback comes with the automaker’s full suite of advanced safety features, so stuff like forward automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights are included for $32,970 before tax.
Also included in the Outback Convenience are twin seven-inch touchscreens – one that handles climate controls and the like, and another for infotainment duty. There’s also standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, satellite radio, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated front seats, while equipment gets progressively better on the way to the pre-tax price of $45,970 for the Outback Premier XT.
Space inside will easily suffice for a family of four, plus what the cargo area lacks in height compared to a conventional SUV this size it makes up for with a little more length, which helps when transporting bulky cargo like hockey bags. The Subaru Outback might be a little unconventional, but it’s certainly worthy of consideration in spite of its quirky disposition.
5. Kia Seltos
If the room provided by the Rogue or Outback isn’t required but a crossover is still on the shopping list, it’s hard to go wrong with the Kia Seltos. While there are plenty of outstanding options on the market that measure up for size – and the money – none are as all-encompassing as this new entry.
First, there’s all the space inside; a family of three or even four could easily live with the Seltos without many complaints – and that’s rare in something this size. The roofline is tall and the doors are massive, making the Seltos reminiscent of its Soul sister in the Kia lineup, but it also benefits from something not offered there: all-wheel drive.
Naturally, all the room inside is included no matter the trim, but the fully loaded SX Turbo comes decked out with everything imaginable, from heated and ventilated front seats to heated rear seats, a head-up display, and a fantastic little turbocharged motor – and the list goes on and on.
That motor – a 1.6L four-cylinder making 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque – makes the mighty little Seltos somewhat playful. That might not be a leading reason to buy a crossover in the first place, so consider it an added bonus. It’s the same engine that powers the Kia Forte5 GT, and helps the Seltos make quick work of merging and passing while keeping fuel consumption to a minimum.
Beyond a government-mandated rearview camera and six airbags, the loaded Seltos is fitted with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward and reverse automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control. However, even a cheaper trim like the Seltos EX includes stuff like lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and auto emergency braking for $29,590 before tax.
The five family haulers listed here are fantastic choices, though there are plenty of other great options out there, too. But whether it’s room for your young family of three or the extra space of seating for seven – or eight – that makes the list of must-haves, any of the ones here are a great place to start.