Whether your first little one is on the way or you already have a full house, there comes a time to purchase a vehicle that will meet the changing needs of your family. Most families prioritize the same things – safety, reliability, capacity and fuel-economy. But with the plethora of SUVs, minivans, and wagons available it can be difficult to know where to begin.

The car buying experts at Cartelligent have compiled a list of questions you can ask yourself in order to determine which of these may be a good option for you. In considering the pros and cons of each vehicle type, you should consider not only your needs at the moment but how your family may be changing over the time you own the car.

Is having a top-rated safety pick important to you?

Safety is a universal top priority among car manufacturers, but many families want the added security of choosing a top-rated vehicle for safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) evaluates vehicles based on crashworthiness and crash avoidance/ mitigation. Some of our most-recommended vehicles from the IIHS list include the Subaru Outback, Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Volvo XC90.

Will you often be driving more than four passengers at a time?

If carpools, sports teams or large groups of friends are in your future, you may want to consider a vehicle with three rows of seating. While minivans are the obvious choice, many mid-size and larger SUVs have an optional third row and can comfortably seat up to eight. Our top picks for 7+ passenger vehicles include the Toyota Sienna, Audi Q7 and Mazda CX-9.

Will you be using the vehicle for family road trips regularly?

Road trips require a combination of comfortable seating and cargo capacity for luggage and other gear. Minivans and larger SUVs can be the best choice for both and often can be equipped with rear entertainment options to make the trip more enjoyable. We often recommend the Honda Pilot, Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon and Lexus RX 350 for frequent family car trips.

Do you need extra cargo space for dogs, bikes, etc?

If you’re looking for additional cargo space, but don’t feel you need a third row you may want to think about a mid-sized SUV or wagon. Many wagons actually have more cubic feet of storage area than a small SUV. Consumer Reports has a list of family vehicles with cargo capacity and fuel economy. Some of our favorites from this include the Audi Allroad, BMW X3 and Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen.

Will you be driving the vehicle in winter conditions?

Ski trips to Tahoe and other winter destinations can be a primary motivation for choosing a larger vehicle. Features like AWD and traction control can make driving in snow much safer. Some strong choices for driving the family in wintery conditions include the Chevrolet Tahoe, Subaru XV Crosstrek and Nissan Pathfinder.

Are handling and performance important to you?

Larger SUVs and minivans can feel sizable when you’re driving them and can be somewhat slower to accelerate. The new performance SUV class offers the handling of a sports sedan with the cargo capacity required by your family. If performance is a priority, our recomendations include the Porsche Cayenne Turbo, BMW X6 M, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT.

Do you often park in the city or in lots with tight spaces?

Larger SUVs and minivans can be difficult to park, especially in tight urban spaces. Available parking assist can be a lifesaver in tight spaces, but it might also be beneficial to consider a vehicle with a smaller overall footprint. Good choices for urban families include the MINI Countryman, BMW X1 and Infiniti QX50.

Is fuel economy a top priority for you?

Diesel engines are becoming more common in SUVs and provide greater efficiency. There are also a number of hybrid options that offset the higher weight and less aerodynamic shape of SUVs. Fueleconomy.gov allows you to compare the fuel efficiency of various vehicles and estimate the annual cost for each. Some of our favorite fuel efficient family vehicles include the Volkswagen Touareg TDI, Lexus RX 450h and Toyota Highlander Hybrid.

Once you have decided which vehicle type is best for your family, some other considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Cleaning: Leather or leatherette interiors can be considerably easier to clean than cloth seats when the inevitable spills occur.
  • Rear entertainment systems: Having a DVD player in the back or a WiFi hotspot in the car can be a life-saver on long drives.
  • Back-up cameras: These can make driving a larger vehicle much safer and more comfortable.
  • Interior capacity: If you already have a car-seat and a stroller take them with you when you test drive and make sure they fit into the vehicle.

SUVs, Minivans and sport wagons can be a great choice for a number of reasons, but the wide variety of options available can be confusing and time consuming to decipher. The car buying experts at Cartelligent can help you decide which model makes the most sense for you and your family. For more information on family cars, or any other vehicles, give us a call at 888-427-4270 or get started today

Featured Vehicles

Some of our most recommended family vehicles are listed below.:

2014 Honda Odyssey Touring Elite.

2014 Honda Odyssey
Vehicle Type: Minivan

Why we love it: The Odyssey easily seats eight and offers trim options for several budgets. Available family-friendly extras include a CoolBox to keep drinks cold and a built in vacuum for the inevitable spills.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI
Vehicle Type: Sportwagon

Why we love it: The diesel version of the Jetta wagon combines an impressive 39-mpg highway fuel economy with a large cargo capacity and car-like handling. Easy-to-clean leatherette seating and a back up camera come standard.

2014 Toyota Highlander
Vehicle Type: Mid-size SUV

Why we love it: The redesigned 2014 Highlander can seat 7 or 8 and includes a back-up camera. All wheel drive and hybrid models are also available.

2014 BMW X5
Vehicle Type: Luxury SUV

Why we love it: The X5 is redesigned for 2014 and combines performance, luxury, utility and safety. Available options include a third row of seating and a diesel engine.

2014 Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S 4MATIC Wagon
Vehicle Type: Family dream car

Why we love it: The 577-hp biturbo engine provides 15-hp more than the Ferrari 458 Italia and can go from 0 to 60 in 3.4 seconds. All-wheel drive and a panoramic moonroof come standard.

Whether or not the next car you want is on this list, Cartelligent can help you get a great deal on exactly what you want. Call our team of car-buying experts at 888.427.4270 or get started today.