Best Used Family Car 2013: The Car Connection's Picks

May 10, 2013

Family cars are a nebulous idea--what's perfect for our crew (a turbodiesel manual wagon of imported extraction) might not be ideal for yours (uh, minivan?).

Shopping for a family car--whether it's a crossover or SUV, sedan or hatchback, minivan or green machine--doesn't have to be that difficult, though. That holds true even if you're steering clear of the new-vehicle market and aiming squarely for the big values to be had among used cars. A good three-year-old used car can hold extraordinary value, while also promising years of solid service--if you make the right choices.

We've set out to help with those choices, by scanning over the best-used-car guides we've assembled this year, and by culling them for the vehicles particularly interesting for families. That means we've focused on those with pricetags of $50,000 or less when new, and removed the coupes, convertibles, and performance hardware from the equation. But as we've done in other used-car studies, we've applied some guidelines to the decision process, rules we think will lead you to a great used family-car choice.

Our list of Best Used Family Car 2013 candidates have all passed a series of tests, which including scoring:

  • at least an 8.0 rating on The Car Connection's full reviews from three years ago--in this case, the 2011 model year
  • at least four circles on J.D. Power's predicted-dependability rankings, or at least average reliability on Consumer Reports
  • no reported score lower than four stars overall from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

After sorting the data, more than 70 vehicles make the cut--it's a wealth of choices we've separated into categories, with sedans alone meriting three different subdivisions. By the standards we've set, we've come up with the following choices as the best used family cars on the road today, with the bottom line from our 2011 review and with links to thousands of listings so you can shop today.

Honda Odyssey

The 2011 Honda Odyssey remains the best-handling of the minivans, with some of the most innovative seating configurations and entertainment features, but it's also the priciest. Read more »

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited

2011 Toyota Sienna Limited

Toyota Sienna

The 2011 Toyota Sienna adds room and adult-duty second-row seats, but leaves ultimate flexibility and entertainment to the competition. Read more »

Small Sedans

2011 Hyundai Elantra

2011 Hyundai Elantra


Hyundai Elantra

A sleek, sophisticated look; 38 mpg; and even more value for the money confirm that this little sedan has officially left the Corolla in the dust. Read more »

2011 Kia Forte sedan

2011 Kia Forte sedan

Kia Forte

The 2011 Kia Forte exemplifies the new direction of Kia, with a simple, elegant style, unexpected levels of refinement, and lots of value for the money. Read more »

2011 Mazda MAZDA3 4-door Sedan Auto i Sport Side Exterior View

2011 Mazda MAZDA3 4-door Sedan Auto i Sport Side Exterior View

Mazda 3

The 2011 Mazda3 provides more driving enjoyment than most other small-car models, along with a stylish, racy look; but with a tight, noisy cabin, it’s not without compromise. Read more »

Mid-Size Sedans


2011 Buick Regal

2011 Buick Regal

Buick Regal

We’ve always wanted a sedan as sleek and comfortable as this—but if the Regal’s going to wear a Buick badge, it probably needs more room and more power. Read more »

2011 Ford Fusion Sport

2011 Ford Fusion Sport

Ford Fusion

The 2011 Ford Fusion comes in a few finely developed flavors; Sport, Hybrid and base are a few of the best tastes. Read more »

2011 Honda Accord Sedan

2011 Honda Accord Sedan

Honda Accord

Though the 2011 Honda Accord is missing Bluetooth connectivity on the more affordable trims, it’s a very compelling package otherwise, with top-notch refinement, performance, and comfort. Read more »

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T

2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T

Hyundai Sonata

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata takes some smart styling and performance risks to raise its profile. Read more »

2011 Kia Optima Turbo

2011 Kia Optima Turbo

Kia Optima

Kia simply gets it; basic doesn't have to be boring, and the 2011 Kia Optima shows that mid-size sedan shoppers don't have to settle to design boredom or a lack of features. Read more »

2011 Mazda MAZDA6 4-door Sedan Auto i Grand Touring Side Exterior View

2011 Mazda MAZDA6 4-door Sedan Auto i Grand Touring Side Exterior View

Mazda 6

The 2011 Mazda Mazda6 is a great pick for practically-minded family-car shoppers who also value driving enjoyment. Read more »

2011 Subaru Legacy

2011 Subaru Legacy

Subaru Legacy

The 2011 Subaru Legacy is one of the best-handling mid-size sedans, and the only mainstream one to offer standard all-wheel drive. Read more »

 

Large Sedans

2011 Buick LaCrosse

2011 Buick LaCrosse

Buick LaCrosse

The 2011 Buick LaCrosse hits new levels of style, sophistication, and driving engagement without alienating the brand's comfort-oriented customer base. Read more »

2011 Chrysler 300

2011 Chrysler 300

Chrysler 300

A riper, more mature Chrysler 300 renews our faith in restrained American styling--and in big V-8, rear-drive fun. Read more »

2011 Ford Taurus

2011 Ford Taurus

Ford Taurus

The 2011 Ford Taurus isn’t quite a game-changing sedan, but it's a handsome, solid, high-quality choice. Read more »

2011 Toyota Avalon

2011 Toyota Avalon

Toyota Avalon

The 2011 Toyota Avalon is at once traditional and modern, with a classy, comfortable luxury-car look and feel combined with top-notch safety and a great feature set. Read more »

Premium Sedans

2011 Acura TL

2011 Acura TL

Acura TL

If the bold exterior is to your liking, the 2011 Acura TL is a solid luxury value—and the SH-AWD has true sport-sedan chops. Read more »

2011 Audi A4

2011 Audi A4

Audi A4

With strong performance, good practicality, and respectable fuel economy, the attractively styled 2011 Audi A4 strikes a great balance for an everyday-driving sport sedan. Read more »

2011 Lincoln MKS

2011 Lincoln MKS

Lincoln MKS

The 2011 Lincoln MKS won’t win over the Town Car or the M5 crowd, but it’s blessed with smart performance, subdued good looks, and a roomy interior. Read more »

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Lincoln MKZ

The 2011 Lincoln MKZ has a foot in both luxury worlds, with buttery leather and wood for traditionalists, and hybrid power with flower petals for the high-minded greens. Read more »

2011 Volkswagen CC

2011 Volkswagen CC

Volkswagen CC

 

The 2011 Volkswagen CC has performance that doesn't altogether match its sexy shape, and seating space is disappointing, but otherwise there's a lot to like. Read more »

2011 Volvo S60

2011 Volvo S60

Volvo S60

Volvo is no longer just for those who want to play it safe; the new S60 is a stylish and well-designed sport sedan that's very enjoyable to drive - even if it trades off a bit of edginess for comfort and refinement. Read more »

2011 Volvo S80

2011 Volvo S80

Volvo S80

The 2011 Volvo S80 is safe and secure, fashion-forward, and just right for affluent families. Read more »

Luxury Sedans

2011 BMW 5-Series 4-door Sedan 535i RWD Angular Front Exterior View

2011 BMW 5-Series 4-door Sedan 535i RWD Angular Front Exterior View

BMW 5-Series

The new 2011 BMW 5-Series might be a conservative evolution in terms of styling and design, but it’s a quite radical one with regard to how BMW’s most important model drives. Read more »

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan 4-door Sedan Side Exterior View

2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sedan 4-door Sedan Side Exterior View

Cadillac CTS

Attention-getting style, solid driving dynamics, quality materials, and a very competitive price put the entire 2011 Cadillac CTS lineup on level-or-better footing with most of the competition. Read more »

2011 Hyundai Equus

2011 Hyundai Equus

Hyundai Equus

The 2011 Hyundai Equus sets a high-water mark for the Korean brand, and rings like a warning shot to the folks over at Lexus. Read more »

2011 Infiniti M37

2011 Infiniti M37

Infiniti M

The 2011 Infiniti M pairs beauty with a beastly V-8 engine—and at last, Infiniti makes its marque in a class full of winners. Read more »

2011 Mercedes-Benz E 350 Bluetec

2011 Mercedes-Benz E 350 Bluetec

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan swings to the masculine side of the pendulum and sharpens its driving appeal in the process. Read more »

Crossovers and SUVs

2011 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

2011 Chevrolet Equinox LTZ

2011 Chevrolet Equinox

If you don’t need a third row, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox is just right for small families; it’s refined, secure, and versatile, and gets very impressive fuel economy in four-cylinder form. Read more »

2011 Chevrolet Traverse

2011 Chevrolet Traverse

2011 Chevrolet TraverseThe 2011 Chevrolet Traverse isn’t fun to drive, but it’s one of the best large crossover wagons for transporting the family comfortably and safely. Read more » 

2011 Dodge Durango 2WD 4-door Crew Front Exterior View

2011 Dodge Durango 2WD 4-door Crew Front Exterior View

2011 Dodge Durango

The 2011 Dodge Durango is the anti-crossover, especially with the HEMI and R/T trim, and if the world still sanctioned big SUVs for small families, the Durango would be elbowing its way to driveways everywhere. Read more »

2011 Ford Edge 4-door SE FWD Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Ford Edge 4-door SE FWD Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Ford Edge

Provided you don't need a third-row seat, the 2011 Ford Edge is at last, at the leading edge of mid-size crossovers, with one of the best driver interfaces in the business. Read more »

2011 GMC Terrain

2011 GMC Terrain

2011 GMC Terrain

The 2011 GMC Terrain looks bold and edgy on the outside, but it’s a softy inside, with a comfortable, refined cabin and excellent fuel economy. Read more »

2011 Hyundai Tucson FWD 4-door Auto Limited PZEV Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Hyundai Tucson FWD 4-door Auto Limited PZEV Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Hyundai Tucson

Much better than its predecessor, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson needs a touch more power and steering feel to top carlike utes like the Nissan Rogue. Read more »

2011 Kia Sportage

2011 Kia Sportage

2011 Kia Sportage

Kia hits game reset, and gives the 2011 Sportage an appealing new look and feel.

2011 Mazda CX-9

2011 Mazda CX-9

2011 Mazda CX-9

The 2011 Mazda CX-9 can carry seven in comfort, but it loves curves more than almost any other roomy crossover. Read more »

2011 Subaru Forester

2011 Subaru Forester

2011 Subaru Forester

The roomy, versatile 2011 Subaru Forester handles better than just about any other small crossover, though the need for a more modern transmission and a little more cabin refinement keep it from greatness. Read more »

2011 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 4-door V6 SR5 (GS) Side Exterior View

2011 Toyota 4Runner 4WD 4-door V6 SR5 (GS) Side Exterior View

2011 Toyota 4Runner

If off-road capability is a top requirement, the brawny 2011 Toyota 4Runner is a good choice—with surprisingly good road manners to boot. Read more »

 

Luxury Crossovers and SUVs

2011 Acura MDX

2011 Acura MDX

2011 Acura MDX

 

With a few notable flaws in styling and features, the 2011 Acura MDX still impresses us with its friendly handling and gutsy power. Read more »

 

2011 Audi Q5

2011 Audi Q5

 

2011 Audi Q5

 

The 2011 Audi Q5 is one of the best upscale picks in a compact crossover, thanks to its sleek lines, practical interior, responsive feel, and city-savvy size. Read more »

 

2011 Cadillac Escalade AWD 4-door Base Side Exterior View

2011 Cadillac Escalade AWD 4-door Base Side Exterior View

 

2011 Cadillac Escalade

 

The 2011 Cadillac Escalade delivers solid, luxurious, and spacious accommodations with an advanced feature set. If you can live with the thirst of non-Hybrid models, it's unbeatable. Read more »

 

2011 Cadillac SRX FWD 4-door Performance Collection Side Exterior View

2011 Cadillac SRX FWD 4-door Performance Collection Side Exterior View

 

2011 Cadillac SRX

 

The 2011 SRX has the comfort and refinement luxury crossovers expect—plus a little Cadillac attitude. Read more »

 

2011 Lincoln MKT

2011 Lincoln MKT

 

2011 Lincoln MKT

 

The swinging style sets an audacious mood—and the 2011 Lincoln MKT backs it up with turbo V-6 thrust. Read more »

 

2011 Lincoln MKX FWD 4-door Side Exterior View

2011 Lincoln MKX FWD 4-door Side Exterior View

 

2011 Lincoln MKX

You won't need any excuses to say you've chosen the 2011 Lincoln MKX; it delivers on the promise of the brand: top-notch American luxury, with some of the best luxury and tech features wrapped in. Read more »

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4Matic

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class has the rugged look U.S. shoppers want, in a sensibly sized package. We only wish it were a little more fuel-efficient.Read more »

2011 Volvo XC60 FWD 4-door 3.2L Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Volvo XC60 FWD 4-door 3.2L Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Volvo XC60

The 2011 Volvo XC60 offers top in-car tech and luxury features, in a secure package that's big enough for small families. Read more »

Hatchbacks

2011 Audi A3 4-door HB S tronic 2.0T FrontTrak Premium Side Exterior View

2011 Audi A3 4-door HB S tronic 2.0T FrontTrak Premium Side Exterior View

Audi A3

The 2011 Audi A3 is stylish, refined, and versatile—and nearly as good for the city as for the highway. Read more »

2011 Honda Fit Sport

2011 Honda Fit Sport

Honda Fit

The 2011 Honda Fit is like a mini-minivan in some respects, with an incredibly space-efficient design; yet it's peppy, frugal, and fun to drive. Read more »

2011 Kia Forte hatchback, Catskill Mountains, Nov 2011

2011 Kia Forte hatchback, Catskill Mountains, Nov 2011

Kia Forte

The 2011 Kia Forte exemplifies the new direction of Kia, with a simple, elegant style, unexpected levels of refinement, and lots of value for the money. Read more »

2011 Kia Soul 5dr Wagon Auto Sport Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Kia Soul 5dr Wagon Auto Sport Angular Front Exterior View

Kia Soul

The 2011 Kia Soul is fashion-forward and fun-to-drive—and unlike most of its urban-wagon rivals, it's just as practical as it looks. Read more »

2011 Mazda MAZDA3 5dr HB Auto s Grand Touring Side Exterior View

2011 Mazda MAZDA3 5dr HB Auto s Grand Touring Side Exterior View

Mazda 3

The 2011 Mazda3 provides more driving enjoyment than most other small-car models, along with a stylish, racy look; but with a tight, noisy cabin, it’s not without compromise. Read more »

2011 Subaru WRX STI

2011 Subaru WRX STI

Subaru WRX

The 2011 Subaru Impreza WRX and WRX STI are fast, fun cars to drive in any situation, and they're comfortable, safe, and practical enough for small-family use; poor fuel economy and a lack of automatic transmissions limit its appeal, though. Read more »

Hybrids and Diesels

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2011 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion

The 2011 Ford Fusion comes in a few finely developed flavors; Sport, Hybrid and base are a few of the best tastes. Read more »

2011 Lexus RX 450h

2011 Lexus RX 450h

Lexus RX

Much of the appeal of the 2011 Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h rests in the way they provide comfort and security to driver and passengers while sealing out the world. Read more »

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Lincoln MKZ

The 2011 Lincoln MKZ has a foot in both luxury worlds, with buttery leather and wood for traditionalists, and hybrid power with flower petals for the high-minded greens. Read more »


2011 Audi A3 4-door HB S tronic 2.0T FrontTrak Premium Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Audi A3 4-door HB S tronic 2.0T FrontTrak Premium Angular Front Exterior View

 

Audi A3 TDI

The 2011 Audi A3 is stylish, refined, and versatile—and nearly as good for the city as for the highway. Read more »

 

2011 Mercedes-Benz E Class 4-door Sedan Sport 3.5L RWD Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Mercedes-Benz E Class 4-door Sedan Sport 3.5L RWD Angular Front Exterior View

 

Mercedes-Benz E350 Bluetec

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan swings to the masculine side of the pendulum and sharpens its driving appeal in the process. Read more »

 

2011 Mercedes-Benz M Class RWD 4-door 3.5L Angular Front Exterior View

2011 Mercedes-Benz M Class RWD 4-door 3.5L Angular Front Exterior View

 

Mercedes-Benz ML350 Bluetec

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class earns respect with neat styling riffs, shock-and-awe AMG power, and your choice of earth-saving powertrains. Read more »

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDI

Volkswagen Golf TDI

The 2011 Volkswagen Golf has an upscale feel that's a notch above competitors; the TDI diesel gets exceptional, hybrid-like fuel economy. Read more »

 

2011 Volkswagen Jetta

2011 Volkswagen Jetta

Volkswagen Jetta Sedan

The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta steps back in tech time and lowers its German street cred—but still delivers a better driving feel and more back-seat room than many other compact sedans. Read more »

2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

2011 Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen

The 2011 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen isn't quite as roomy as the 2011 Jetta Sedan, but its premium look and feel are going to win over anyone who wants more versatility. Read more »

Wagons

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

Acura TSX Wagon

The 2011 Acura TSX is the essence of what the brand should be: compact, light, efficient, and user-friendly—not to mention fully equipped. Read more »

BMW 3-Series

The 2011 BMW 3-Series continues the tradition of excellent handling, brisk performance, and high quality, though its relatively compact size does result in some compromises. Read more »

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

Attention-getting style, solid driving dynamics, quality materials, and a very competitive price put the entire 2011 Cadillac CTS lineup on level-or-better footing with most of the competition. Read more »

Audi A4 Avant

With strong performance, good practicality, and respectable fuel economy, the attractively styled 2011 Audi A4 strikes a great balance for an everyday-driving sport sedan. Read more »

Audi A6 Avant

The 2011 Audi A6 is elegant and agile, although its cabin design is looking somewhat dated. Read more »

Subaru Outback

The 2011 Subaru Outback is the equivalent of a good cross-trainer—offering satisfying on-road performance, modest trail capability, and enviable interior versatility and space, all with just a taste of luxury, too. Read more »

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Wagon

The 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan swings to the masculine side of the pendulum and sharpens its driving appeal in the process. Read more »

Volvo XC70

With the V70 deleted from the Swedish automaker's lineup, the Volvo XC70 crossover wagon is the flagship wagon of the Volvo line Read more »

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