My Chevy Astro
My Chevy Astro by Roadsidepictures (CC BY-NC)

50 Classic Family Cars of the Past 50 Years

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My Chevy Astro
My Chevy Astro by Roadsidepictures (CC BY-NC)


The family car means different things to everyone. For some generations, it's a wood-paneled station wagon. For others, it's a blocky minivan with juice-stains on the middle row of seats. More recently, it's evolved from SUVs the size of small buildings to crossover SUVs with fuel efficiency similar to a sedan. We took a look back over the last half-century of family vehicles and found a solid 50 that stand out as the iconic "family car" of their time.

AMC Hornet
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Years produced: 1970-1977
Original starting price: $1,994
The best-selling car the American Motors Corporation ever produced, the Hornet was also the first U.S.-made hatchback. That carried over to its Sportabout station wagon version, which used a liftgate-style hatchback instead of the more common swing-out or fold-down tailgate. That liftgate would set the precedent for the liftgates used in modern SUVs.

Buick Lesabre
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Years produced: 1959-2005
Original starting price: $2,485
Buick sold more of these than any other car it ever built for one reason: It was big. Back when a sedan could be a family car, the LeSabre maxed out at nearly 19 feet long, 7 feet wide, and nearly 20 cubic feet of cargo space. That's more cargo capacity than the current Kia Soul.

66 Chrysler Newport
66 Chrysler Newport by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)


Years produced: 1940-1981
Original starting price: $2,964
After serving as a two-year, one-off vehicle in the '40s and '50s, the Newport settled in as an entry-level sedan and wagon in 1961. Fifty years ago, however, it was transformed into an absolute boat of a vehicle that was the heaviest Chrysler ever produced. This car is a big reason why Chrysler sales plummeted after the 1973 oil crisis. Chrysler sold more of this car than any other, but even a complete retooling in 1979 couldn't save it.

Chrysler Town and Country
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Years produced: 1941-2016
Original starting price: $2,950
Before auto manufacturers covered the sides of their station wagons in fake wood paneling, Chrysler made the first real "woodie" with actual wooden doors and side panels. By 1968, the Town and Country had evolved into a chromed-out station wagon with tailgate and rear washer — and nearly 19 feet of length. Fake wood paneling appeared on this car's biggest form in the 1970s and on its truncated "K-car" version in the '80s. By 1990, however, it had become a wood-paneled minivan and followed families from one iconic vehicle of choice to the next.

1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass
1965 Oldsmobile Cutlass by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)


Years produced: 1961-1999
Original starting price: $2,713
This was introduced as a compact car, but had a wagon variant and slowly edged its way into family-car territory. By 1968, certain models were packing a V8 engine and the Cutlass Cruiser wagon was starting to take on its iconic grocery-getter look. However, it was the long Cutlasses of the 1970s and the shorter, more utilitarian Cutlass family of Cieras, Supremes, and Calais that would make the Cutlass a fixture in family driveways.

Dodge Coronet
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Years produced: 1949-1976
Original starting price: $1,945
None of Dodge's other muscle cars matched the sales of this beast. A family sedan and wagon regularly packaged with brawny V8 engines — including a 7-liter hemi and a 7.2-liner, 440-cubic-inch magnum — the Coronet was rolling hubris. It was built with the belief that even families deserved some muscle under the hood. By the time it reached its last post-oil-crisis incarnation, it was churned out as wood-paneled wagons and oversized, overpowered sedans.

Volkswagen Golf
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Years produced: 1975-today
Original starting price: $3,330
For many frugal families, this was their first introduction to a hatchback. First brought into the U.S. as the Rabbit, the Golf became Volkswagen's best-selling vehicle of all time. It began its run as a three-door hatchback but eventually added a couple of doors and a Sportwagen version. Today, the e-Golf gives families the equivalent of 120 miles per gallon.

Plymouth Fury
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Years produced: 1956-1978
Original starting price: $2,866
This car went through more size and weight fluctuations than some celebrities, but 50 years ago it was everything: A sporty two-door, a practical four-door, a wood-paneled family wagon. By the mid-70s, it had been trimmed from a full-size to a mid-size, but kept its more musclebound engine offerings. By the '80s, all that was left was the "Gran Fury" name slapped onto some of the ugliest big cars imaginable. Plymouth sold more versions of the Fury than any other vehicle, but that wasn't enough to save it.

1966 Chevrolet Impala sedan
1966 Chevrolet Impala sedan by John Llyod (CC BY)


Years produced: 1958-present
Original starting price: $1,735
Gorgeous as a convertible, practical as a sedan, and serviceable as a wagon, the Impala has spent the better portion of its last 50 years as Chevrolet's best seller and the last link to its overpowered commuter cars of the 1960s and 1970s. With high-performance, big-block V8 engines, super-sport packages, and enormous bodies, the Impala was built for families that still had a love of the American road. When rising fuel costs forced an ugly redesign in the late '70s, the Impala limped its way into the '80s before leaving altogether in 1985. The version you see today was built to be a fleet vehicle, but may not survive the switch away from sedans.

Mercedes Benz 300TD
Mercedes Benz 300TD by dave_7 (CC BY)


Years produced: 1979-85
Original starting price: $24,569
A Mercedes-Benz wagon was a novelty in the U.S. when this version was released. With features like anti-lock brakes, a driver airbag, power windows, and a rear-facing rear row of seats, the 300TD started its life as a Cape Cod or Hamptons car. Now considered nearly indestructible, the 300TD has strong resale value and an even stronger following among those who remember when a station wagon could be a status symbol.

Volvo 200 Series
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Years produced: 1975-93
Original starting price: $5,295
At this point in Volvo's history, people drove the brand's cars primarily for their safety. The 200 series had huge front and rear crumple zones, three-point seatbelts everywhere, and, in the early '90s, standard driver and anti-lock brakes standard. However, the boxy exterior, the cubic headlights, and the iconic wagons that made up a third of all Volvo 240 sales – along with beveled headrests and crank-operated moon roofs – made an impression on many American families and remain sought-after to this day.

Jeep Wagoneer
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Years produced: 1963-91
Original starting price: $3,278
If you were filming a movie about a bourgeois New England family vacationing by the coast in the 1980s, this was the vehicle you'd have them drive. Originally designed to be Jeep station wagons, the Wagoneer evolved into full-on, four-wheel-drive sport utility vehicles with wood-paneled exteriors and high ground clearance that made them the vehicle of choice for preppy, outdoorsy parents. Chrysler killed it off in 1991, but it may be revived for 2019.

Ford Escort
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Years produced: 1981-2003
Original starting price: $5,158
It took some companies longer to react to the '70s oil crisis than others. Ford fell on its face when its first small car, the Pinto, would explode in crashes. The Escort, based on a European model, was Ford's first front-wheel-drive model and its biggest step away from both muscle cars and the undersized Fiesta. It was affordable, it was somewhat more fuel efficient than other Fords, and it was versatile (both as a hatchback and wagon). It was also the first sign that U.S. automakers saw where the auto market was headed, and car buyers and their families were grateful.

Honda Civic
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Years produced: 1972-present
Original starting price: $2,150
This car got 40 miles to the gallon on the highway in 1973. That's more than most non-hybrid vehicles can get under the same conditions today. However, Honda ensured that the Civic would last for generations by making it a lot more than an econobox. The car was loaded with safety and entertainment features that could match its miles per gallon. Honda's Civic remains one of the best-selling automobiles in the U.S.

Toyota Corolla
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Years produced: 1969-present
Original starting price: $1,816
Introduced as a tiny sedan and wagon when it first arrived in the U.S. in 1969, it became the best-selling car in the world by 1974. It's small, it's relatively inexpensive, and it's efficient, but it continues to surprise buyers with tech features, trunk space, and a ton of other throw-ins designed to keep people comfortable. People don't typically think this small when they think "family car," but you have to start somewhere.

Toyota Camry
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Years produced: 1983-present
Original starting price: $9,698
The Camry has been around for 35 years and it's still the best-selling car in the U.S. Though it began its life in the U.S. as a boxy bit of nothing, the Camry's reputation for reliability and longevity have cemented its legacy as a family car of choice. You can beat the bejesus out of it, but it will remain roomy, fuel-efficient, and, most importantly, on the road. Toyota has since beefed up both its appearance and safety features, but it's still a dependable utilitarian vehicle.

Volkswagen Transporter
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Years produced: 1951-present
Original starting price: $2,200
Whether you and your extended family spent the Summer of Love in a VW Bus or you a pop-up Vanagon Westfalia, the Volkswagen van has provided a home on the road for many families for nearly 70 years. Otherwise known as the Type 2, this van wasn't beloved for the features it came with, but for what families could do to it to make it their own.

Subaru Legacy
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Years produced: 1990-present
Original starting price: $11,299
The Legacy started out as a midsized competitor to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, but it carved out a niche for Subaru just for being the first to woo families with a wagon. The Legacy is perhaps a step behind the Accord and Camry when it comes to space, fuel efficiency, and technology, but Subaru introduced a wagon early on and brought it in with more ground clearance in 1996. That latter wagon became known as the Outback, and its body design and Subaru's standard all-wheel drive became so popular among buyers that it was spun off into its own line and grew into a crossover SUV.

Volkswagen Passat
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Years produced: 1974-present
Original starting price: $4,100
Previously known as the Dasher, Quantum, and CC, the Passat is now built in Chattanooga, Tenn., and has held on as a full-size vehicle even as SUVs grab more market share. Part of the reason for its success is a combination of the standard sedan's roominess and the wagon version's versatility. The Passat wagon has long held an identity of its own, but attempts in recent years to make it more of a multipurpose vehicle or even a crossover like the Subaru Outback suggest that Volkswagen still sees greater potential for it as a family car.

Pontiac Safari
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Years produced: 1956-1991
Original starting price: $3,140
The Star Chief, Astre, Bonneville, Catalina, Executive, Grand Ville, LeMans, Parisienne, 6000, Sunbird, and Tempest all got the Safari tag for their wagons, but the Grand Safari built on the Bonneville and Grand Ville body was the most impressive. The Safari was more than 19 feet long, had 5.5 feet of interior space from side to side, and weighed nearly 5,300 pounds at its peak. It also included an automated "clamshell" designs with rear glass that slid up into the roof and a "glide-away tailgate" that slid below the floor.

Volvo 740
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Years produced: 1985-1992
Original starting price: $20,130
Meant to be a high-end answer to Volvo's 200 series, the mid-size 740 retained the boxy look and safety features of its predecessor but took greater care with the interior trim, lights and turbo engine. The 740 was short-lived, however, which made wagon versions with rear-facing seats readily available on the used-car market in the early to mid-90s, when middle-class families could suddenly afford a lot more Volvo for their money.

1995 Volvo 850
1995 Volvo 850 by allie™ (CC BY-NC-ND)


Years produced: 1993-97
Original starting price: $24,100
Volvo started rounding its corners, streamlining its looks, and stockpiling more safety features like side-impact protection and self-adjusting seat belts with the 850. However, features like the taillights running up the rear of the wagon, the daytime running lights, and the eventual addition of all-wheel drive made this a favorite among the lacrosse-practice and Whole Foods set.

Volvo V70
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Years produced: 1998-2016
Original starting price: $28,285
Volvo's focus on safety made it a parental favorite until U.S. safety standards finally caught up, which is why we can understand why the brand made a refreshed model each time it punched up the engine options, added all-wheel drive, or made multiple airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, side-impact protection, and whiplash-absorbing seat-back hinges standard.

Honda Accord
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Years produced: 1976-present
Original starting price: $3,995
The Honda Accord made it okay for cars in the U.S. to be dull. A compact car in its early life, but a midsize since the '90s, the Accord is inoffensive, durable and such an afterthought that drivers and vehicle fleets purchase it instinctually. It remains one of the top-selling vehicles in the country largely because it doesn't need a whole lot of gas or maintenance to operate. It also give owners just enough space and features to keep them contented.

Mitsubishi Lancer
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Years produced: 1973-2017
Original starting price: $2,264
When American families first met the Lancer, it was introduced as the Dodge Colt in the middle of an oil crisis. They've since known it as the Chrysler Lancer and Eagle Summit, but when they've needed a compact car that's easy on gas, comes in a station-wagon version, and can be turned into a teenager's dream tuner once they get their license, the Lancer's been there. The Lancer wagon even looked enough like a Volvo from the back to successfully masquerade as yet another car brand. However, with car sales flagging in the U.S., Mitsubishi killed off the Lancer in this market last year.

Ford Taurus
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Years produced: 1986-present
Original starting price: $10,256
When Ford's oversized LTD was getting outsold by the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, Ford gave the Taurus front-wheel drive, a streamlined shape, and did everything it could to increase fuel efficiency — including dropping V8 engines for four-cylinders and V6s. It was visionary, but it didn't last. At the end of the '90s, Ford turned the Taurus into a giant oval and cheapened its features a bit. By 2007, it was dead as a mid-size automobile. It was resurrected as a full-size in 2007, but sales were less than a tenth of what they were a decade earlier.

Mercury Sable LS
Mercury Sable LS by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)


Years produced: 1986-2009
Original starting price: $11,311
The Sable was simply a Taurus with an uglier grille and a whole lot of additional features nobody requested. However, the Sable wagon seemed as ubiquitous as the Taurus version and benefitted from a V6 engine hauling all 16 feet of families and their groceries, sports equipment, and other items around. Though time was less kind to the Sable and the Mercury brand than it was to the Taurus and Ford, the Sable wagon was one of the last dependable wagons to come out of the station wagon's twilight era.

Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser
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Years produced: 1964-1977
Original starting price: $2,938
Alex Chilton and the cast of "That '70s Show" did more for the reputation of the Vista Cruiser than Oldsmobile ever did. With optional rear-facing third-row seating, skylights, and a Rocket V8 engine, the Vista Cruiser was a gem of a wagon. Why Oldsmobile felt the need to sell it alongside at least three other wagons (a Cutlass, Custom Cruiser and a Dynamic 88), and eventually pry out the skylights and slap on fake wood paneling is beyond us.

General Motors Clamshell Wagons
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Years produced: 1971-1976
Original starting price: $4,135
The largest versions of the Chevrolet Kingswood, Belair and Caprice Estates; Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser; and the Buick Estate featured the same "clamshell" design as the Grand Safari. The "glide-away" tailgate only glided away if you put 35 pounds of pressure behind it to lower it. Getting it back up was no dream, either. However, having a tuck-away tailgate solved a problem that even SUV and minivan liftgates haven't figured out: How to you open your cargo door in a tight space like a closed garage.

Ford LTD Country Squire
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Years produced: 1950-1991
Original starting price: $2,253
It had wood doors and wood side panels when it was introduced, but its wood paneling would be often replicated by other automakers and by Ford itself. Its "magic doorgate" flipped down like a truck tailgate or swung open like a door. At 19 feet long and powered by V8 engines, the Country Squire was huge and sold hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year. However, kids of its era remember the side-facing seats, a magnetic checkerboard, optional CB radio, and hidden rear cargo compartment.

Mercury Colony Park Wagon
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Years produced: 1957-1991
Original starting price: $3,677
A woodgrain-paneled wagon from the beginning, the Colony Park was a somewhat snazzier version of Ford's Country Squire. Both had the "magic doorgate" tailgate and sideways-facing third-row seats, but the Colony Park was ventilated all the way to the wayback, had covered headlights, and, later in its life, got a driver's side airbag and three-point seatbelts for all seats.

Dodge Caravan
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Years produced: 1984-present
Original starting price: $9,105
Stretching the Chrysler K-car platform, lowering the floor, and adding car controls and amenities gave Caravan and Plymouth Voyager buyers not only the minivan template we see today, but the foundation for crossover SUVs that would come later. Even after SUV arrived, Chrysler never gave up on the Caravan: Adding improvements like "Stow 'N' Go" rear seating that folds into the floor, airbags, safety features, and, in 1996, the coveted second sliding door.

Oldsmobile Silhouette
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Years produced: 1989-2004
Original starting price: $17,195
The Oldsmobile Silhouette was the upmarket brand with all of the fancy features. It also, as automotive writers noted, bore a resemblance to a Dustbuster handheld vacuum. They were the first vans to use plastic body panels, introduce remote-controlled power sliding doors, and have LCD screens in the back seats (though they were attached to a VCR). However, complaints about the unconventional appearance and the visibility of the front end led General Motors to redesign the Silhouette into a bland, utilitarian fleet vehicle in 1997. It would be gone seven years later.

My Astro
My Astro by Roadsidepictures (CC BY-NC)


Years produced: 1985-2004
Original starting price: $8,195
The stablemates of the Astro, the Chevrolet Venture and Lumina APV, were either more utilitarian or short-lived. The Astro wasn't quite as big as the Venture (the Astro's 15.5-foot extended version was as big as a standard Venture), but it had the platform and inner workings of a light truck and became the first U.S. minivan to add all-wheel drive as a result. It was also among the first to make Scotchgard protection on fabric standard. However, by the mid-'90s, it began looking like an airport shuttle van and fell out of favor with families.

Toyota Van
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Years produced: 1982-1990
Original starting price: $9,548
Originally built as a surf van in Japan, this blandly named minivan had lots of great features for families lucky enough to find one. A dual moonroof, mini loft bed, refrigerator and television were among the options offered, but these vans remain favorites among folks who love the outdoors and like modifying the Toyota Van into movable cabins and all-terrain vehicles.

Buick Roadmaster
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Years produced: 1991-1996
Original starting price: $21,445
In 1991, the minivan was already a well-established presence and SUVs were inching their way toward market dominance. General Motors, seeing one last chance to get in on the wagon market, went big. This 18-foot battleship of a wagon was built on a Cadillac platform and given a 5.7-liter, 300-horsepower V8 Corvette engine and could pull 7,000 pounds. With a second-row sunroof, woodgrain side panels, automatic climate control, and an optional rear-facing third row of seats, the high-end Roadmaster — and its lower-budget siblings, the Chevrolet Caprice wagon and Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser — became the perfect wagon. Alas, perfection came too late.

IMG_0236 by Kol (CC BY-SA)


Years produced: 1991-1997
Original starting price: $13,998
Chrysler's Lee Iaccoca was furious when this minivan arrived in the U.S., but he didn't have much to worry about. It was a Toyota minivan built like a Subaru: Engine mounted between the front seats and available only in rear-wheel or all-wheel drive (which made it great for snowy climates). However, its fuel economy was abysmal, its engine was underpowered, and its design left it to a legacy as "the ugly van from 'Juno.'" It also didn't help that it was more expensive than most minivans.

Jeep Cherokee
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Years produced: 1974-present
Original starting price: $4,161
In the earliest days of the sport utility vehicle, the U was actually the important part of SUV. Utility wasn't just the ability to make the occasional run to Home Depot: It was the ability to go off road and more. The Cherokee did this in its earliest incarnations, but had room for more passengers and cargo thanks to its evolution from the Jeep Wagoneer. However, while the Wagoneer was enormous, the 1984-2001 Jeep Cherokee was right-sized for families and came in an approachable package that gave families room, drivers a better view of the road, and car buyers a better option than wagons.

Ford Explorer
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Years produced: 1991-present
Original starting price: $13,938
This is the SUV that made U.S. drivers stop pretending they were off-roading and start embracing the SUV as a family car. While the Explorer had available four-wheel drive and was mounted on a frame similar to that of the Ford Ranger pickup, it had four doors and began incorporating features like airbags and reverse warning systems. However, it also showed the U.S. why having roads full of drivers on truck bodies might not be such a great idea after tire explosions and rollovers exposed issues with the Explorer's stability. The Explorer's chassis was changed and stability control added in 2002, but a redesign to a car-framed crossover in 2011 led the Explorer into a new era.

Chevrolet Suburban
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Years produced: 1936-present
Original starting price: $685
If you wanted to get from the train station to your home during the early days of the automobile, you took a station wagon: a car with a wooden box built onto the back to hold luggage. If you wanted to take more passengers and gear away from the city, you took a "suburban:" A station wagon mounted onto a van or truck frame. Chevrolet invented several family cars in one stroke when it debuted the Suburban in 1936, but it's rolled into the modern day as the extended, truck-based SUV it's never stopped being.

Toyota 4Runner
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Years produced: 1984-present
Original starting price: $10,298
This SUV started out as a Toyota pickup simply converted into a "Trekker" by Winnebago in the early 1980s. In its first incarnation, it looked like a Toyota pickup with a fiberglass shell over its bed and even had a tailgate much like a pickup truck. It finally got a solid body in 1989, but didn't start resembling a modern SUV until 1995. Taking cues from Toyota's high-end Land Cruiser, Toyota made the four-wheel drive easier to control and added interior features like improved sound systems and controls.

Subaru Outback
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Years produced: 1995-present
Original starting price: $20,095
Once simply the Subaru Legacy in wagon form and with a few more inches of ground clearance, the Outback became its own entity in 2000. It's also grown from 15.5 to 16 feet in length and looks like an SUV without actually being one. It's still very much the wagon that soccer parents knew and loved, but it also has the clearance and the all-wheel drive to make it practical for families living in harsher climates.

Subaru Forester
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Years produced: 1997-present
Original starting price: $18,695
Is it a wagon or an SUV? That answer has changed over the years. Built on the same platform as the compact Impreza, the Forester began its life as a taller wagon. It's boxy frame became a familiar sight at farmer's markets and on leaf-peeping vacations, but U.S. drivers' continued drift toward SUVs led Subaru to stretch the Forester from 14.6 feet to 15 feet, while increasing its wheelbase by nearly a foot.

Toyota Prius
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Years produced: 2001-present
Original starting price: $19,995
How can you tell the Prius has become a family car? Not by the suite of safety features Toyota has squeezed into it. Not by the continuous improvements in mileage with each passing model year. No, the introduction of a wagon in 2011 made it clear that Prius was not only a family car, but one that was going to stick around a while.

Toyota Sienna
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Years produced: 1998-present
Original starting price: $21,140
It's the Toyota minivan that stuck. After more than a decade of trying to get the right van into the U.S. market, Toyota struck gold with this one. Cargo space and overall volume have increased, a second sliding door was added, flat-folding seats were installed, and all-wheel drive became an option, but it's the more minor perks that make the Sienna a minivan mainstay. With power sliding doors, keyless entry, power liftgate in the back, backup cameras, and more, the Sienna has kept up with the times and hasn't let SUVs and crossovers pass it by.

Honda Odyssey
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Years produced: 1995-present
Original starting price: $24,995
The Odyssey was once so bad at being a minivan it didn't have sliding doors and had a four-cylinder engine that could barely carry its own weight. However, after a massive redesign in 1999, it's been near the top of the minivan heap for nearly two decades. Its versatile cabin seats up to eight, while a removable center console offers a useful flip-up trash-bag holder and "cool box" beverage cooler.

Honda Pilot
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Years produced: 2003-present
Original starting price: $24,995
The Honda Pilot illustrates exactly how the minivan era ended. It was introduced as a cavernous three-row SUV for people who didn't want to be caught in a minivan. The rear row of seats folded flat like a minivan's, it had a DVD player and moonroof like a minivan, and it even has the same platform as the Honda Odyssey minivan. Even recent improvements like a hands-free tailgate, gauge cluster, and infotainment system are all from the Honda Odyssey. The Pilot is essentially a repackaged Odyssey for parents who aren't ready to admit they're parents.

Honda CR-V
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Years produced: 1997-present
Original starting price: $19,300
The small crossover SUV changed everything when it was introduced in the late '90s. The CRV gave families mileage close to the Honda Civic with more space than a Civic could provide. Families soon discovered they didn't need huge SUVs, just bigger compact cars. As a result, the CR-V's cargo space and amenities have kept it near the front of the crossover pack and made it as much as staple for modern families as minivans and wagons were for other generations.

Toyota RAV4
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Years produced: 1996-present
Original starting price: $15,998
For years, it was "the one with the wheel on the back" among a field of crossovers. Today, it's Toyota's best-selling vehicle and the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. that doesn't have a pickup bed. It hasn't been drastically redesigned, but the cargo space, fold-flat rear seat, power liftgate, heated front seats, and a suite of safety features keep it foremost in parents' minds when pricing out small SUVs.

Ford Escape
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Years produced: 2001-present
Original starting price: $18,185
How was Ford able to build a compact SUV to compete with Toyota and Honda? By getting some help from Mazda. While the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute didn't take off in Japan or other markets, they became big favorites in North America and have only seen sales increase from fewer than 150,000 in 2002 to more than 308,000 in 2017.