Best Family SUVs You Can Buy in the U.S. in 2023

Did you know? In the past two decades, the classic "chicken and egg" problem of family cars has been resolved by SUVs: these vehicles didn't appear before families required transportation, nor did families that like to travel together appear after the introduction of family SUVs.
2024 Cadillac Escalade lineup 10 photos
Photo: Cadillac
2024 Cadillac Escalade2024 Hyundai Palisade2024 Hyundai Santa Fe2024 Jeep Grand Wagoneer L2024 Kia Telluride2024 Lincoln Navigator2024 Subaru Ascent2024 Volkswagen Atlas2024 Volkswagen Tiguan (U.S.)
These two concepts, seemingly incompatible initially, have morphed over the years into creating an unbreakable bond. People have forgotten their station wagons and minivans as second vehicle options and have turned to SUVs as a single means of transportation. Three-row SUVs, in particular, are also known as the answer to 'If you had to buy a single car to do it all, what would you pick?.'

With that in mind, and following my best global family SUVs story, I decided to make a similar list of vehicles, only this time dedicated exclusively to the vast American market, which differs quite a lot from the rest of the world.

Just as before, I've divided the list of the best family SUVs for 2023 into three pricing categories, each having two premium choices and a runner-up.

I Can Barely Afford One ($25k-$50k Starting Prices)

This entry-level category is for buyers who can't or don't want to spend their life savings on an SUV for their family, and it's obviously the most disputed segment.

This means that budget-oriented family SUV buyers in the States are spoiled for choice, and the following three offerings could be swapped with similar models from other carmakers because there is almost no truly dumb choice in this segment.

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe
Photo: Hyundai
I don't know any other car that has switched platforms during a single generation apart from the current Hyundai Santa Fe.

When it was initially launched in 2018, the fourth generation of the crossover/SUV had been developed on the Hyundai/Kia Y6 architecture. Surprisingly, after the mid-cycle facelift it received in 2020, it shifted to the more modern N3 platform, offering hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.

Strangely enough, the model's hard points and dimensions, like the track or wheelbase, are identical to the pre-facelift model, meaning that this is still considered a facelift, not a generational shift.

The fourth-generation Santa Fe has evolved so much compared to the first three that it is almost a paradigm shift. While before it was just a budget alternative to European or American crossover/SUVs, now it's probably one of the best offerings in its segment, if not the best.

Compared to competitors like the Volkswagen Tiguan, it feels a lot more premium, almost plush, inside. It also offers plenty of power and decent fuel economy on its hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions.

For that reason, and since the AWD system is optional on the gasoline versions, I'd recommend going for the hybrid model, which starts at around $36k in the Blue trim level and comes standard with all-wheel-drive.

Coincidentally, besides being the most affordable, the Hyundai Santa Fe in the Blue trim also offers the best MPG, with the EPA rating it at 36 MPG City/31 MPG Highway and no less than 34 MPG Combined.

As a downside, the combined output of the 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder with the electric motor is an unimpressive 226 horsepower, so you will probably arrive late where you're taking your family. Still, you'll get there using very little fuel.

Another downside is that the U.S. version of the Santa Fe no longer offers a third row, probably because it would eat too much from the Palisades' market. With that in mind, those five passengers get a massive 36.4 cu.-ft. (1,030 liters) of luggage space behind the second row.

2024 Subaru Ascent

2024 Subaru Ascent
Photo: Subaru
Like its American-built predecessor, the Tribeca, the Subaru Ascent is unavailable in Japan. It was initially developed for the American market and is manufactured exclusively in Indiana.

On paper, the main deal with the Ascent seems to be the driving feel, especially if the almost total lack of performance of the Hyundai Santa Fe is a cause for concern for some people. Its only available powertrain is a newly developed 2.4-liter, turbocharged Boxer engine with four cylinders, good for 260 HP (264 PS and 277 lb-ft (376 Nm) of torque.

All that oomph is sent to all four wheels through a not-so-sporty but highly efficient CVT transmission, making the mid-size SUV have the best mileage in its segment.

Even though it sits in a higher segment, Subaru's biggest people mover starts at lower pricing than the Hyundai Santa Fe. Still, its most significant selling point is its roominess, with the base Ascent offering no less than 8 seats as standard.

With the third row folded, its luggage space measures a massive 43.5 cu.-ft. (1,231 liters). If that's not impressive enough, Subaru has fitted the Ascent with the most cupholders per passenger capita in the automotive market.

No less than 19 cupholders (and bottleholders) are spread around the car for the 8 passengers! In fact, Subaru would have fitted 20 cupholders if parts of that pesky HVAC system wouldn't have needed space inside the left rear passenger's armrest.

One thing's for sure though: nobody will ever go thirsty in a Subaru Ascent.

Runner-up: 2024 Volkswagen Tiguan

2024 Volkswagen Tiguan \(U\.S\.\)
Photo: Volkswagen
In my global family SUVs article, the Volkswagen Tiguan was among the two main choices, whereas here it only qualifies as a runner-up because it simply can't keep up with the others. Its aging architecture, not exactly 'fun' interior for a young family to spend time in, and lack of all-wheel-drive in the entry-level version are all big minuses in this segment.

That said, the Tiguan can still hold its own for those who want a generous interior and 7 seats as standard in a family crossover/SUV that is still relatively compact on the outside.

The only engine available in the U.S. is the tried and true 2.0 TFSI four-cylinder, which delivers 184 HP and 221 lb-ft (300 Nm) of torque and is mated to an 8-speed torque converter automatic transmission.

The least expensive all-wheel-drive trim level starts at a more than reasonable $29,745 at the time of writing, making it significantly cheaper than the above two rivals.

Despite having a much smaller footprint than the Subaru Ascent, for example, the Tiguan offers 37.6 cu. Ft. (1,065) liters of luggage space behind the second row, slightly better than the similarly sized Hyundai Santa Fe.

I'm Willing to Pay More to get More ($40k+ Starting Prices)

This category is for the more discerning individuals, including slightly more upmarket SUVs but without going overboard. The higher starting prices usually come with a more premium interior, better tech and safety features, and usually even more interior room.

In fact, bang for buck, this category would probably be the sweet spot regarding your search for a family SUV without breaking the bank.

2024 Hyundai Palisade

2024 Hyundai Palisade
Photo: Hyundai
Some of you are probably wondering why Hyundai is featured for the second time on this list, and to tell you the truth, the reasons for that are many. But simply pu, it ticks most of the "what a large family SUV should have" boxes.

The Palisade is Hyundai's longest-ever passenger vehicle, measuring 196.7 in (4,985 mm). Together with a 114.2 in (2,900 mm) wheelbase, it offers sufficient space for up to eight passengers when equipped with a bench seat in the second row or seven passengers with the optional second-row captain seat.

The relatively great packaging means the Palisade offers no less than 18 cu. ft. (510 liters) of luggage space with all the seats in place, and up to a gargantuan 86.4 cu.-ft. (2,447 liters) with both the second and third rows folded.

To put things into perspective, that is more cargo room behind the third row than the similarly sized Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder.

With an eclectic exterior design and arguably premium interior for a less-than-premium price, the Hyundai Palisade is relatively close to being the perfect family SUV.

Naturally, it isn't because things like drivability and overall performance could be better, even in its segment. The suspension is comfortable but way too soft, while the 3.8-liter V6 with direct injection, even though it delivers a relatively healthy 291 HP and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque, is way too underpowered for such a big car.

Despite featuring fuel-sipping technologies like the Atkinson cycle, the Palisade is not very fuel efficient either, with the EPA rating the (optional) AWD version at 19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, and 21 mpg combined.

To end it more positively, the most affordable AWD model starts at under $40,000, and the top-of-the-range Palisades Caligraphy version is a downright premium three-row SUV for just a little over $50,000.

2024 Kia Telluride

2024 Kia Telluride
Photo: Kia
The Hyundai Palisade's brother from another mother, the Kia Telluride has hit a home run in the American market, and for good reason.

First of all, it is the first-ever Kia designed with the United States in mind, with the design having been perfected at the Korean carmaker's Californian Design Center. Not only that but the model is exclusively built and marketed in the U.S.

Second of all, depending on trim level, the Telluride is equipped as standard with various features that are otherwise optional on some of its competitors, like heated and ventilated first and second-row seats or an intercom system that allows the driver to better communicate with passengers in the back.

Just like its platform brother from Hyundai, the Kia Telluride is powered by a 3.8-liter, Atkinson cycle gasoline V6 engine rated at 291 hp (295 PS) and 262 lb-ft (355 Nm) of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission designed in-house by Hyundai-Kia.

Despite the relatively decent numbers, you shouldn't expect any extra performance or driving pleasure from either the Palisade or the Telluride or an overtly good mileage.

That said, the interior space and the many standard amenities recommend the Telluride and its Hyundai brother in equal measure, both vehicles starting at under $40k when equipped with all-wheel-drive.

Speaking of space, the model offers either 7 or 8 seats and has a luggage compartment even bigger than the Palisade, with 21 cu.-ft. (595 liters) of volume behind the third row and up to 87 cu.-ft. (2,463 liters) with both the second and third rows folded.

Runner-Up: 2024 Volkswagen Atlas

2024 Volkswagen Atlas
Photo: Volkswagen
With the Touareg out of the picture in the U.S. market since 2018, Volkswagen decided to replace it with a slightly larger SUV based on a smaller architecture, if that makes any sense.

Built on the same MQB platform as the Golf and all other transverse-engined Volkswagens, including the Tiguan, the Atlas was the biggest SUV ever made by Volkswagen at its introduction.

With a length of over 198 inches (5,050 mm) and a wheelbase of 117.3 in (2,980 mm), the VW Atlas is downright cavernous inside, with the standard three rows of passengers having ample room to stretch in almost all directions.

On top of it, there are 20.6 cu.-ft. (583 liters) of cargo volume behind the third row and a massive 96.8 cu.-ft. (2,741 liters) with the second and third rows folded. Oh, and it has 17 cupholders, just two less than the Subaru Ascent but more than two for each passenger.

Sadly, not everything is fine and dandy with the Atlas, which is not a front-runner on my list. It's also probably why it's not the highest seller on the only market where it's available.

The exterior and interior design is probably too casual for modern families, or maybe it's just trying too hard to blend in with the rest of the Volkswagen lineup.

On top of it, the engine lineup is nothing to write home about, whether we're talking performance or fuel economy. As standard, the VW Atlas is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with just 235 HP (238 PS) and 258 lb-ft (350 Nm) of torque, and the AWD system is optional.

Higher trims come standard with AWD and feature a naturally aspirated, 3.6-liter VR6 with 276 HP (280 PS) and 266 lb-ft (361 Nm) of torque. Pricing starts at just under $40k for the most affordable AWD version and goes a little over $50k for the top-of-the-range V6 model.

Money Is no Object ($80k+ Starting Prices)

Around two decades ago, only a couple of luxury SUVs were bred specifically for the American market, and both were pickup truck-based. Of course, I'm talking about the original 'OGs' of a now-growing segment, the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator.

Still in production, the two full-size luxury SUV nameplates are entirely different nowadays, and despite still being pickup truck-based, they have evolved to a level that was unthinkable a decade or so ago. Not only that, but they have since started to receive competition.

2024 Cadillac Escalade

2024 Cadillac Escalade
Photo: Cadillac
Late to the full-size luxury SUV party, by about a year, the Cadillac Escalade has gone on to experience much higher success than the Lincoln Navigator.

Now in its fifth generation, the Escalade is arguably the daddy of its segment and the entire Cadillac lineup, and it comes with space and amenities that were inconceivable a few years ago.

The driver gets treated with a 38-inch curved OLED screen dashboard, while the other seven passengers have almost literally acres of leather and technology all around them.

The top trim is called Premium Luxury Platinum. I won't suggest it sounds just like what a non-premium carmaker would call it, but it does. With that out of the way, the top-of-the-range Escalade is a truly remarkable space for carrying your family in total comfort and luxury.

A sound system from AKG offers no less than 36 speakers spread around the gigantic cabin. An intercom system allows the driver to communicate individually with each passenger, a helpful feature when the interior space is simply enormous.

Because more is always better, there is also a longer Escalade ESV, which offers a downright impressive 41.5 cu.-ft. (1175 liters) of cargo room behind the third row. In ESV configuration, it actually becomes the longest SUV in the world.

It's available as standard with a 6.2-liter, naturally aspirated V8 with 420 HP (426 PS) and 460 lb-ft (624 Nm) of torque, sent to the wheels through GM's version of the same 10-speed automatic in the Lincoln Navigator. Cadillac also offers an optional Duramax 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder with 277 HP (281 PS) and an identical 460 lb-ft of torque for those who would appreciate some better fuel economy.

Speaking of fuel, the gasoline V8 is EPA rated at a rather atrocious 14 city mpg, 19 highway mpg, and 16 combined mpg. In comparison, the diesel ups those numbers to a much more manageable 22 city mpg, 20 highway mpg, and 26 mpg combined. Both engines are available as standard with RWD, but AWD is an inexpensive option, and I highly recommend it.

Because GM likes to play things differently, there is also a Cadillac Escalade-V, which comes with a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that delivers no less than 682 horsepower (691 PS) and a 653 lb-ft (885 Nm) of torque, enough to propel almost 6,000 pounds (2.7 tons) from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 97 kph) in just 4.4 seconds. That one starts at over $150k, but it's probably the one to have if you want the ultimate excess.

2024 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

2024 Jeep Grand Wagoneer L
Photo: Jeep
The first generation of the Wagoneer established the full-size luxury SUV segment, way before the Range Rover was even a thought in some British engineer's mind. It also stayed in production for almost 30 years with a virtually unchanged body structure, making it one of the longest-produced single-generation cars in U.S. automotive history.

The Wagoneer nameplate went on a hiatus from 1991 until 2021 when Jeep finally decided to resurrect it and jump back on the full-size luxury bandwagon it helped create.

It comes in two model lines, with the 'Grand' denoting a better-equipped version, while the 'L' signaling that you're looking at the more extended model. How long is a Grand Wagoneer L, you ask? It's only a third of an inch shorter than the Cadillac Escalade ESV, at 226.7 in (575 cm).

Obviously, this translates into a more-than-generous interior for up to 7 or 8 people and 44.2 cu.-ft. (1,251 liters) of cargo space behind the third row.

If that's not impressive enough, you can spec it with an intercom system, but you can also watch each passenger on the center display thanks to an interior video camera. Overall, Jeep says there are 75 inches of displays available throughout the cabin.

Depending on the configuration and trim level, the second-generation Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer are powered by either a 5.7-liter mild-hybrid V8, a naturally aspirated 6.4-liter V8, or a newly developed 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six codenamed 'Hurricane,' which is the one I recommend.

The high-output version of the "Hurricane" engine is standard equipment on Grand Wagoneer L models. It makes a healthy 510 horsepower (517 PS) and 500 lb-ft (678 Nm) of torque, more than enough to move the three-metric-ton Grand Wagoneer L in a timely fashion.

Starting at $88k for the Grand Wagoneer model and going for a little over $100,000 for a Grand Wagoneer L in the highest trim level available, you could say that it's probably the best bang for buck full-size luxury SUV on the market right now.

Runner-up: 2024 Lincoln Navigator

2024 Lincoln Navigator
Photo: Lincoln
In 1997, Lincoln was reviving a segment that had been dormant since the original Jeep Wagoneer had gone out of production at the beginning of the decade. The Lincoln Navigator was the first American luxury SUV after the Wagoneer, and, just like the Jeep, it was based on a pickup truck platform.

Now in its fourth generation, the model is not as much in the spotlight as the first. However, it can still hold its own regarding luxury, comfort, and technology features.

Like every Navigator, the current model is based on the Ford Expedition, which, in turn, is based on the Ford F-150. This platform sharing used to have its downsides, cheapening the end product. Still, nowadays, the F-Series is built out of mostly aluminum and is miles away regarding technology compared to pickup trucks of the past.

Not among the most high-tech full-size luxury SUVs today, the current generation of the Navigator was a revolution for Lincoln when it was introduced at the end of 2017.

With a design language based on the now defunct Continental sedan and drenched in luxury amenities for up to eight passengers, the biggest Lincoln ever is firmly established as a significant player in the segment it helped revive.

While a little long in the tooth for the 2024 model year, especially compared to the much newer Cadillac Escalade, the Navigator originally got a lot of flak for no longer offering a V8 option.

The only available powertrain is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 with 440 HP (446 PS) and 510 lb-ft (691 Nm) of torque, mated to a Ford/GM-developed 10-speed automatic transmission. In other words, it's a lot more potent than previous V8-powered Navigators.

Starting at a somewhat reasonable $79k, the model is available with either RWD or AWD, and I would definitely recommend the all-paw version. The high-topping version is still called the Black Label, starting at almost $110k. Unlike the lesser models, it rides on bespoke 22-inch wheels and comes standard with nearly everything that is optional on the more affordable versions.

If a 210 in (533 cm) long SUV feels a bit short for some, Lincoln also offers the Navigator L, which has an extended wheelbase that makes the car 221.9 in (564 cm) long. Available with the exact same trims as the regular model, the Navigator L offers up to 36 cu.-ft. (1019 liters) of luggage space behind the third row.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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