Conquering Car Seats & Chaos: The Ultimate She-hicle Guide for Family Road Trips

Kristin Shaw Avatar

photo of the GMC Yukon one of the best vehicles for a road trip.

When you’re taking a road trip, which vehicle works best for your family? One that offers plenty of room to stretch out? Luxury interiors? Amenities like built-in generators, coolers and vacuum cleaners to clean up the Cheerios explosion in the back seat? Depending on the size of your family and your priorities, you may choose a four-door sedan, wagon, crossover, SUV, minivan or even a pickup truck can be the best vehicle for a road trip. Here, we work through all of those options to help you find the best family road trip vehicle for you.

Is a Nissan GT-R sports car road-trip capable? Absolutely, if there are only two of you and you don’t need to carry a lot of luggage. In fact, I took one on a 3-and-a-half hour ride across Texas a few weeks ago. Was it practical? No. Thrilling? Yes.

Most of us, though, need enough room to bring the whole family. While you can’t please everyone, there are vehicles on the market that come pretty darn close.

Here’s a review of family vehicles currently on the market, with a focus on: legroom, headroom, tech features, fuel economy and safety aids like blind-spot monitoring and camera views. Many of these vehicles offer adaptive cruise control, which reduces fatigue on the highway.

Whether you need an adventuring all-wheel-drive SUV, a luxury crossover or a brawny truck to haul your ATVs, camper or boat, there’s an option for you.

Read More: 12 Iconic Road Trips in the USA to Add to Your Family’s Bucket List This Year

Check out SheBuysTravel’s list of the best vehicle for a road with kids:

Mid-Size Three-Row Options for Larger Families

Kia Telluride

Kia Telluride, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Kia Telluride. Photo courtesy of Kia.

Kia’s newest midsize SUV took the industry by storm, earning positive reviews across the board for this three-row family star. The 2021 and 2022 models are virtually identical. They offer a robust V6 engine and seating for eight. Plus standard safety features you’ll appreciate like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring.

You’ll also get six USB ports to keep your electronics-loving passengers happy, smartphone integration and an eight-inch touchscreen — all critical components for a great family road trip vehicle. Upgrade from the base model to the S trim to get captain’s chairs in the middle row and a sunroof.

Base Price: $34,120.

Hyundai Palisade

Hyundai Palisade makes a great family road trip vehicle
Hyundai Palisade. Photo courtesy of Hyundai.

The Palisade launched in 2020, and Hyundai hit a home run with this three-row SUV. At a base price of $34,385 for 2021 models, it’s a steal that includes European styling and a list of driver-assist aids. Gas mileage is a decent 21 miles per gallon on regular fuel, which is helpful.

On family road trips, you’ll appreciate the Rear Seat Quiet Mode feature, which mutes the speakers in the second and third rows. That gives you a chance to listen to your music or podcast while you’re driving up front and the kids can happily listen to their own music on their headphones. And here’s a benefit that comes with any Hyundai or Kia vehicle: 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and five-year/unlimited mileage roadside assistance.

Base Price: $34,385

Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit

SheBuysTravel founder Kim Orlando had the opportunity to test out the new Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. Here’s what she had to say:

Say cheese because the seven-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit is loaded with cameras. Parents will appreciate the FAM CAM that gives the driver a birds-eye view of everyone in the vehicle. If there is nit-picking going on in the backseat, you’ll be able to see who started it. It’s also helpful to keep an eye on rear-facing younger children. However, teens might not be as fond of this feature.

The Night Vision Camera was fun to play with and a first for me. Infrared sensors detect animals or people up to 200 yards away, making it easier to avoid deer or other wildlife that wander onto roads. But after a few minutes, I found it distracting and turned it off to better focus on the road ahead.

The 360 back up camera shows all angles of the Jeep, which I found very helpful when pulling out of tight parking spots. It’s also useful when having to parallel park such a large vehicle.

Riding in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit is a pleasure. The spacious interior of my tester vehicle was gorgeous, with quilted leather on the doors and dash, a wide console for storage and the perfect height to rest an elbow. There’s no skimping on charging ports and legroom- even in the third row. My 24-year-old, music-loving daughter commented on the amazing sound system. A family of 5 could comfortably road-trip for 12+ hours in this vehicle.

Base Price: $58,300

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC-90, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Volvo XC90. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

When you think of Volvo, safety probably comes to mind because that’s a cornerstone of the brand’s messaging. Volvo takes family and safety very seriously, including standard features like adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert (which is so important when watching out for pedestrians, cars and cyclists behind you), and forward collision mitigation. Plus the structure of the vehicle itself is designed for maximum protection in case of a crash.

Even the base model includes wireless charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. All three rows feel luxurious on a long or short trip.

Base Price: $56,545

Chrysler Pacifica

Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. Photo courtesy of Chrysler.

Minivans are designed for comfort and convenience, and Chrysler gets it right with the Pacifica, a perennial favorite. Available in gas-only, hybrid and all-wheel-drive versions, this van is as comfortable as a recliner on wheels for long drives.

The base price on the 2021 Pacifica includes such niceties as remote engine start; a power liftgate; and second-row seats that stow right into the floor or, when the seats are up, act as storage bins.

With the gas-powered version, you’ll get about 22 miles per gallon, and with the hybrid you can go up to 33 miles on the battery alone. At the top of the line, the Limited trim includes wireless headphones and a second-row theater with built-in screens and streaming capabilities.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you choose the hybrid version, the second-row seats can’t fold into the floor because that’s where the battery sits.

Base Price: $37,830

Chevrolet Traverse

Chevy Traverse, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Chevrolet Traverse. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

This three-row SUV from Chevy checks all the boxes: lots of legroom, smart tech like onboard Wi-Fi and a robust drivetrain.

The base price is very affordable, but I highly recommend the High Country trim at the top of the line. Yes, it’s more expensive at closer to $55,000, but it has all the bells and whistles plus some: sunroof, adaptive cruise control and a towing hitch with the ability to tow up to 5,000 pounds. It’s tempting to plan a long road trip and enjoy the ride.

Base Price: $30,995

Honda Odyssey

Honda Odyssey, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Honda Odyssey. Photo courtesy of Honda.

Honda also makes a stellar minivan that will last nearly forever; my sister owns two of them. The Odyssey is extremely comfortable and a great value. I particularly like the deep cargo wells behind the third row, perfect for stowing beach gear or even extra diapers and wipes for a long vacation.

Even in the base model, you’ll get important driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control, along with a standard rear-seat reminder alert that tells you if you left anything or anyone in the car when you park.

Opting for the Touring model adds about $10,000 to the total. But that includes a rear-seat entertainment system and Blu-Ray player as well. PLUS a cabin monitoring system so you can check and see if the little one is sleeping yet. And with 144.9 cubic feet of cargo space, you have plenty of room!

Base Price: $33,265 

Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan Pathfinder, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Nissan Pathfinder. Photo courtesy of Nissan.

For 2022, the Nissan Pathfinder is all new. It has a stunning array of amenities in a three-row, seven-or-eight passenger SUV. Wider and larger, with 80.4 cubic feet of storage available with the second and third-row seats folded, the new Pathfinder is worth waiting for. It’s powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, creating 284 horsepower and 259 pound-feet of torque. That’s a lot of get-up-and-go.

The new Pathfinder has 16 cupholders, which is a whole lot of beverage holding and likely will mean a whole lot of potty stops on a road trip in this family vehicle! It even has a bin in the back that can act as a cooler with a drain plug, which is awesome for camping and tailgating.

Base Price: $33,000 (estimated)

Toyota Highlander

Toyota Highlander, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Toyota Highlander. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

My family drove a Toyota Highlander from Austin, Texas, to Ft. Myers, Florida, over Christmas break. We loved the Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Amazon Alexa smartphone integration as well as the onboard Wi-Fi hotspot and standard Toyota Safety Sense drivers’ aids.

You can buy a Highlander in six different trims. In terms of fuel economy, an AWD Highlander will net 23 miles per gallon and the hybrid a fuel-sipping 36 miles per gallon combined.

Base Price: $37,022 

Mazda CX-9

Mazda CX-9, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Mazda CX-9. Photo courtesy of Mazda.

An unsung hero of the 3-row set is the 2021 Mazda CX-9, which looks and feels more like a wagon than an SUV in the best ways. The base model gives you a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, heated front seats and tri-zone climate control so all three rows can be comfortable. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation and blind-spot monitoring are also standard.

Go for the whole package with the Signature trim, which offers up cushy leather quilted seats, all-wheel drive and second-row captain’s chairs, making it even roomier and more luxurious.

Base Price: $35,610

GMC Yukon

GMC Yukon, one of the best family road trip vehicles
GMC Yukon. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

If you could take an RV and distill it down to a large SUV, the Yukon would be it. The newest Yukon is spectacular inside, with a console in the front that moves several inches back. It can be locked to secure your items while you’re away from your SUV. Big, brawny and long (especially in the XL version), this family road trip vehicle is like driving a living room around.

Standard features include wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, forward collision mitigation and front-wheel drive. But there are a plethora of options including all-wheel drive, an upgraded towing package, rear entertainment system and a ton more.

Base Price: $55,120

2021 Dodge Durango SRT

Dodge Durango SRT, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Dodge Durango SRT. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

I pulled up to the home of the owner of a 33-foot trailer that I was renting for the weekend in a Dodge Durango SRT and he looked at me skeptically. “You’re going to tow with that Durango?” he said. What he didn’t know was that the Durango SRT has a killer towing capacity of 8,700 pounds. I had no problem towing that trailer.

The four of us took it to a campground in northern Michigan and it was incredibly capable. Now, you should know that it’s loud: it has a take-no-prisoners 6.4-liter V8 that roars. Or you could step it up to the SRT Hellcat with a supercharged V8 that makes 710 horsepower. This is the SUV you want for sheer power and driving fun.

Base Price: $31,995

Two-Row SUVs: When Less is More

Honda Passport

Honda Passport, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Honda Passport. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

You can’t go wrong with a Honda for a comfortable vehicle for a road trip. Its five-passenger Passport starts at $33,765 for the 2021 model, and slides up several thousand more for the top Elite trim.

Personally, I think the EX-L version, which is closer to $40,000, adds a ton of options for excellent value: heated leather seats, a sunroof, rear USB ports and a power liftgate to make it easy to pack and unpack.

Base Price: $33,765

Lexus RX 450h

Woman standing in front of a Lexus RX 450h, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Lexus RX 450h. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

I drove my parents out to west Texas in a Lexus RX 450h and they can’t stop raving about it. It’s absolutely a pleasure to drive, with standard all-wheel drive and a 308-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 hybrid powertrain. A premium Mark Levinson audio system is included in the base model, and a crisp eight-inch touchscreen enhances the infotainment system.

This two-row SUV gets a fuel-sipping 30 miles to the gallon, allowing you to go farther without having to stop. As parents, we have to stop often enough with meal and bathroom breaks. Are we there yet?

Base Price: $57,980 

Infiniti QX55

Infinity QX55, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Infinity QX55. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

Infiniti’s newest crossover has nice, big spaces that hold beverages and water bottles. That’s just the start of the list of amenities this luxury vehicle offers. It sports a go-getter turbo four-cylinder engine that is effortless to drive; 25 mpg combined is pretty darn good for an SUV this size.

You and the kids will love the onboard Wi-Fi that supports up to seven devices and wireless Apple CarPlay. The hatchback opening is streamlined and sharply angled but doesn’t sacrifice headroom in the back so your teens won’t feel squished.

Base Price: $46,500

Buick Envision

 

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Buick Envision, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Buick Envision. Photo courtesy of Buick.

Redesigned in 2021, the Buick Envision is better than ever. The 2021 Envision comes with a turbocharged 230-horsepower engine and an elegant interior with thoughtful touches and a very quiet cabin.

Your kids may be loud but at least your SUV can be quiet, right? This SUV is nicely equipped right out of the gate with a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless charging and an eight-inch touchscreen, plus the audio controls are behind the steering wheel for convenient access.

Base Price: $34,830 

BMW X5 xDrive45e

BMW X5-xDrive, one of the best family road trip vehicles
BMW X5 xDrive45e. Photo courtesy of BMW.

This hybrid SUV makes you feel like a million bucks but starts at $75,995. I didn’t realize how much I liked this vehicle until I had a chance to borrow one for a week and drove it all over Texas.

With a 3.0-liter turbo inline 6-cylinder with an integrated electric motor and intelligent all-wheel drive, the X5 xDrive45e (so much alphabet soup!) generates 389 horsepower and has an estimated range of 400 miles. That’s pretty incredible for a luxury vehicle.

It has great touches like convenient fast-charging ports in front of the second row and a super sleek digital interface. Doesn’t hurt that it has a 205-watt, 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, either. Wow.

Base Price: $75,995

Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 

Mercedes-Benz GLE 450, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Mercedes-Benz GLE 450. Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

There’s no doubt that Mercedes-Benz makes luxurious vehicles, and the GLE 450 is no exception. Included in this SUV is a peppy turbocharged six-cylinder engine, ambient lighting, wireless device charging, sunroof, and a massive 12.3-inch touchscreen.

Your passengers won’t have anything to complain about because they’ll be enjoying the plush ride so much. This gorgeous ride was made for resort living.

Base Price: $76,000

Road Trip Vehicles for the Off-Road Adventuring Family

Jeep Gladiator

Jeep Gladiator, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Jeep Gladiator. Photo courtesy of Jeep.

The Gladiator is everything its name suggests: strong, powerful and conquering. In the case of the Jeep Gladiator, you get all the agile fun of a top-off Jeep but with the additional benefit of a truck bed to carry along everything from luggage to camping supplies to mountain bikes.

The Jeep Gladiator is the only convertible pickup on the market, currently, and you and the kids will love peeling back the top to reveal the sun and feel the wind in your hair. Jeep is known for its off-road prowess and in Gladiator form, it doesn’t disappoint.

Base Price: $40,335

Land Rover Defender

Land Rover Defender, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Land Rover Defender. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

Starting at $47,450, you and your family could drive one of the newest versions of a legendary off-roading vehicle in the Land Rover Defender. For 2021, the Defender comes in two-door and four-door versions, and you can even opt for a third row with two additional jump seats.

If you wanted to go on safari or even just off the trail to commune with nature, the Defender can definitely get you there.

Base Price: $47,450

Subaru Outback

Subaru Outback, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Subaru Outback. Photo courtesy of Subaru.

What is amazing about the Subaru Outback is that it looks unassuming. But it is incredibly capable for any adventure you want to take.

It climbs like a mountain goat if your family likes to hit the mountains for some rest and relaxation, and it’s just as comfortable on the road with a continuously variable transmission that clocks 29 miles per gallon. And the hatchback design and wagon shape make it a simple to load it up. Plus roof racks add even more storage capability.

Base Price: $28,351

Rolls-Royce Cullinan

Rolls-Royce Cullinan, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce.

Say what? Is this a typo? Nope, believe it or not Rolls-Royce has an SUV and it has not only the class and elegance we know to expect from the brand, it’s unbelievably capable off-road.

Ask me how I know: I took the Cullinan on a series of off-road obstacles last fall in Texas. But even more convincingly, a friend of mine piloted a Cullinan at the Rebelle Rally, a several-day trek across sand, hills and dirt. And she won.

Base Price: $400,000. What did you expect? It’s a Rolls-Royce.

Trucking in Style

Chevy Silverado High Country

Step ladder tailgate of the Chevy Silverado High Country pick up truck
Stepladder on tailgate of the Chevy Silverado High Country makes it easy to load and unload. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Here’s what Kim Orlando has to say about the pick up that she drove around southern California when her son got married this summer:

The Silverado High Country is a luxurious family car disguised as a workhorse truck. The Silverado and I hauled furniture, maneuvered around Downtown Los Angeles, mini-road tripped between Costa Mesa and Culver City to see my kids, caught some great sunsets and attended my son’s wedding.

The wood panels and leather trim in the enormous cab are gorgeous. My expectation for all pick-up trucks is that they will drive smoothly and the infotainment will be easy to use. The Silverado did not disappoint.

What I didn’t expect was decent gas mileage (20-22mpg on average), superior technology and that I would feel comfortable riding in it in my formal gown on my son’s wedding day.

The huge console in the front holds a medium-sized purse and I used the wireless phone pad so much that I started to leave my chargers at home. Anyone riding in the backseat – big or small – will be comfortable on a long road trip.

We tested the Super Cruise hands-free driving feature on the 405 California highway, but chickened out after a few minutes. While it works great, I did not feel comfortable trusting it in LA traffic. My 26-year-old son loves the Super Cruise – even in LA traffic.

I have to admit that I needed the 360 camera for parking. The truck is large and the side mirrors make it feel even bigger. The cameras made my life so much easier.

YouTube video

My favorite feature of the truck: the retractable running boards, especially in a long dress and heels! Getting in and out of the truck was easy for me and my 75-year-old mom.

I’m also a big fan of the step tailgate. My 2000 Silverado pick up does not have one, but I am adding it to my “can’t live without” list. The integrated step ladder is a game changer. I used it to sit and enjoy the view and for easy access to load luggage and furniture. It was simple for me to open but a bit too heavy for my 8-year-old cousin to operate.

Overall, my family ages 8-78, enjoyed the comforts and utility of the Chevy Silverado HIgh Country. I recommend at least a test drive and don’t forget to try the Super Cruise feature (stick with it longer than our 3 minutes to get the real effect)!

The price for the model I drove is around $72,000. There isn’t a feature I would leave out.

Base price: $59,000

Ram 1500

RAM 1500 pickup truck, one of the best family road trip vehicles
RAM 1500. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

When Ram launched its updated 1500 pickup, families went crazy for it. Ram added a giant touchscreen that controls everything. And it has smart toggle switches behind the steering wheel to quickly change the channel from KidsBop to the 90s station. This is a truck that feels like a plush sedan inside. While it’s certainly big, it drives like a dream.

The Ram 1500 starts at $36,340 for a very basic model. I’d recommend the Laramie trim or higher, which is closer to the $60,000 and up range. If you’re looking to tow a big trailer or boat, the Ram 1500 can handle up to 12,750 pounds with the 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine.

Base Price: $36,340

2021 GMC Sierra Denali

GMC Sierra Denali, one of the best family road trip vehicles
GMC Sierra Denali. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

One of the features I love about the GMC Sierra in the top-of-the-heap Denali trim is the incredible number of available camera angles. It’s easy for you to see where you’re going and what your boat or trailer is doing behind you, and that gives you peace of mind when you’re towing. The Sierra Denali pickup includes handsome side steps that make it an effortless endeavor for the whole family to get in and out.

On top of all of the heavy-duty utility stuff, the Sierra Denali has wireless phone charging, heated second-row seats and USB ports within reach for tablets and gaming systems to stay full of juice on long trips. The Sierra Denali  is very similar to its corporate cousin, the Chevrolet Silverado.

Base Price: $55,600 

2021 Ford F-150

Ford F-150 pickup truck, one of the best family road trip vehicles
Ford F-150. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

There’s a reason Ford’s seminal pickup has been the #1-selling truck for many years. The 2021 model makes a great vehicle for a road trip with kids. It’s got a ton of amenities for families who want to travel in comfort and with plenty of space. Load up the back of the F-150 and slide all of your luggage under a locking tonneau cover to keep it safe and you can go just about anywhere.

What’s really cool about the 2021 version of the F-150 is that you can get an onboard generator that works out of the back. The generator can charge up an astonishing number of appliances (even a TV!) for the best camping and tailgating adventures ever.

Base Price: $28,940

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What size vehicle should I choose for a family road trip?

A: The size of your vehicle will depend on the size of your family and how much luggage you will be bringing. A four-door sedan or wagon may work for a smaller family, while a larger family may need a minivan or SUV.

Q: What amenities should I look for in a road trip vehicle?

A: Some helpful amenities for a road trip vehicle include built-in coolers, entertainment systems, and comfortable seating. Consider what features are important to you and your family when choosing a vehicle.

Q: Should I rent or buy a vehicle for a road trip?

A: This will depend on your personal preferences and budget. Renting a vehicle may be a good option if you don’t want to put wear and tear on your own car, while buying a vehicle may be a better long-term investment if you plan on taking multiple road trips.

Q: How do I prepare my vehicle for a road trip?

A: Before hitting the road, make sure your vehicle is in good condition by performing a thorough inspection. This may include checking the oil, tire pressure, and brakes. It’s also a good idea to pack an emergency kit with items like a spare tire, jumper cables, and a first aid kit.

Q: What are some tips for staying comfortable on a long road trip?

A: To stay comfortable during a long road trip, make sure to pack plenty of snacks, drinks, and entertainment options. Take frequent breaks to stretch your legs and stay hydrated. And consider investing in a comfortable neck pillow or seat cushion to make the ride more enjoyable.

Kristin Shaw Avatar
Kristin Shaw is a freelance writer, adventurer, and motorsports competitor with bylines at Popular Science, Edmunds, The Drive, Motor1, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Forbes Wheels, U.S. News and World Report, GearJunkie, and more. Her work on parenting and relationships has been featured often at The Washington Post and the TODAY show site. Follow Kristin on these channels: Instagram Facebook LinkedIn TikTok
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