Babble Best Picks:
Best Crossovers for the Family
With winter right around the corner and dealers clearing out the lots to make room for next year's models, now is a great time to take advantage of dealer and manufacturer incentives and shop for a new SUV. To help consumers make sense of the increasingly crowded crossover market, I examined the most popular models on the market under $35,000 and chose the best SUVs for families based on price, cargo capacity, safety, features, and fuel economy. Read More »
There are a lot of options to choose from, and many vehicles are very evenly matched. When there was a tough call in deciding which vehicle was best for the category, I took the uncertain economy and the ever-changing price fuel into consideration and gave the top spot to the less-expensive vehicle that got better gas mileage.
Safety is also a big consideration when selecting a vehicle. New car stickers have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's 5-star safety ratings on them, so here we listed the more stringent crash test scores given by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). To cross-check our results, we also listed the Consumer Reports vehicle score and provided their Consumer Satisfaction rating when available.
We hope you find this information helpful in your search for a family crossover. Don't see your favorite vehicle on the list? Nominate it here! - Liane Yvkoff
Best midsize SUV | 2011 Toyota RAV4
MSRP: $22,475- $28,785
FUEL ECONOMY: 22/28 mpg
Not too little, not too big. The 2011 Toyota RAV4 is the Goldilocks of the mid-size SUVs on the market because it does all the things that matter in a medium-sized family hauler right, with two engine options to suit your lifestyle, driving needs (those who carry a lot of cargo or carpool may need more power to move the vehicle, for example), and budget.
Stick shift is not an option in the RAV4. The base model is available with a 179-horsepower, 2.5L engine paired with a 4-speed automatic that achieves 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg. If you plan on carrying a lot of passengers and cargo or live in really hilly areas, you may want to consider upgrading to the bigger 269 hp, 3.5 L engine paired with a 5-speed automatic. But that step up in power comes at a price that you’ll feel at the gas pump: 19/27 mpg.
As far as styling goes, the exterior of the RAV4 leans toward the cute side of SUV design, but the conservative interior isn’t much to brag about.
The RAV4′s back-up camera in rearview mirror is a clever touch, because that’s where drivers are used to looking while in reverse. The downside is that there is no parking guidance, which can be helpful when you’ve got a car full of kids. While many competitors offer dual or panoramic sunroofs, Toyota keeps it simple with a standard-sized opening.
There’s a lot of competition from other mid-size crossovers, like the Escape, Equinox, and CR-V, but the RAV4 seems to have the best drive experience. Crossovers at this price don’t really corner like a car around curves, but the RAV4 was nimble and felt pretty stable. Factor in the fuel economy, cargo capacity, power, and price, and the RAV4 seems to make a case for itself.
SEATING + STORAGE
The RAV4 is available in a five or seven-seat configuration, with an ample amount of storage space for kid gear. Earning the crossover high marks is a second-row seat that slides backward to create more legroom or forward to bring junior closer to the front row. While some higher-end SUVs offer expensive power folding of the third row, the RAV4 offers an equally effective manual option: a lever in the rear cargo space that snaps the seats up. They easily fold flat down for extra cargo room.
The spare tire is stored on the outside of the vehicle, which creates a space for a storage compartment in the rear cargo area, perfect for valuables or winter gear. (On the downside, the rear-mounted spare tire can make it difficult for drivers searching for street parking. But because the RAV4′s tailgate swings open like a door, you’ll need a lot of room behind the vehicle anyway if you’re planning on opening the trunk after you park.)