Picking Best Family Vehicle as part of this year's Motor1.com Star Awards was no easy task. With so many good sedans, minivans, crossovers, and SUVs available in 2021, it took time for us to decide on four finalists that best met the mark. By our measure, a good family vehicle needs to nail the basics: It should be comfortable, safe, efficient, and just a bit fun to drive.

Based on that criteria, the four highly-qualified crossovers that made the final cut were the Nissan Rogue, Kia Sorento, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, and Nissan Pathfinder. All four of these SUVs scored highly in our initial reviews due to their impressive space, solid efficiency, and affordability (and a few of them were even nice to drive).

After nearly a week of testing, though, only one of these family vehicles stood out as the winner – the Kia Sorento. It wasn't a unanimous decision, admittedly, but the Sorento hit every one of our marks better than the three alternatives. Read on to find out how it beat the others.

The Contenders

  Jeep Grand Cherokee L Kia Sorento Nissan Pathfinder Nissan Rogue
Engine 3.6-Liter V6 Turbocharged 2.5-liter I4 3.5-Liter V6 2.5-Liter I4
Output 293 Horsepower / 260 Pound-Feet 281 Horsepower / 311 Pound-Feet 284 Horsepower / 259 Pound-Feet 181 Horsepower / 181 Pound-Fee
Transmission Eight-Speed Automatic Eight-Speed DCT Nine-Speed Automatic Continuously Variable
Drive Type Four-Wheel Drive All-Wheel Drive All-Wheel Drive All-Wheel Drive
Efficiency 18 City / 25 Highway / 21 Combined 21 City / 28 Highway / 24 Combined 20 City / 25 Highway / 22 Combined 25 City / 32 Highway / 28 Combined
Seating Capacity 7 7 7 5
Cargo Volume 17.2 / 46.9 / 84.6 Cubic Feet 12.6 / 45.0 / 75.5 Cubic Feet 16.6 / 45.0 / 80.5 Cubic Feet 36.9 / 72.9 Cubic Feet
Towing Capacity 6,200 Pounds 3,500 Pounds 6,000 Pounds 1,350 Pounds
Base Price $38,635 + $1,695 Destination $29,390 + $1,175 Destination $33,410 + $1,175 Destination $27,225 + $1,175 Destination
As-Tested Price $62,720 $44,285 $51,790 $36,705

With limited options in the sedan and station wagon space these days, all four of our finalists were indeed SUVs. The Jeep Grand Cherokee L is the newest of the group and the first three-row Grand Cherokee ever from the Jeep brand. And it was a strong newcomer; the Jeep Grand Cherokee L scored 9.3 out of 10 points in our initial star review, earning high marks in technology by touting two 10.0-plus-inch screens and scoring a perfect 10 in the safety department thanks to its impressive active equipment.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee L
2022 Nissan Pathfinder

The second three-row to make the final four was the new-and-improved Nissan Pathfinder. This isn't the Pathfinder you remember; the latest model debuted this year with rugged styling, a high-end interior, and a more comfortable ride. The Pathfinder also ditched its much-maligned continuously variable transmission for a proper automatic this go ‘round. That helped it score 9.2 out of 10 points in our star review.

A step below the Pathfinder – in terms of size, at least – is its brand-mate, the Nissan Rogue. The fully revamped Rogue made the grade thanks to its comfortable ride and impressive ProPilot safety equipment, scoring 9.7 out of 10 possible points. It's one of the highest-rated vehicles in any segment that we drove in 2021. The Rogue was also the cheapest option of the bunch, asking $36,705 as-tested, which made up for its lack of a third row.

2021 Nisan Rogue
2021 Kia Sorento

But our winner, the Kia Sorento, brought more to the table than either of the two Nissans or the Jeep. It's the best-looking of the bunch, in our opinion, and also the nicest to drive thanks to its optional turbocharged 2.5-liter engine and dual-clutch transmission. Scoring 9.4 out of 10 points in our initial review, it won our hearts after competing side-by-side with the other finalists.

How We Tested

Best Family Vehicle Testing

As with our other Star Awards tests, we took these four family vehicles to the mountainous roads around our base in Santa Clarita, California. But for these various 25-mile loops, we focused less on performance and handling and more on comfort and overall ride quality. The occasional stretch of broken pavement and dirt path allowed us to put the suspension of all four of these vehicles to the test, while the smoother highways gave us the opportunity to measure things like noise, vibration, and harshness and active safety equipment.

With the vehicles parked, we pored over the interiors and measured material quality. We also jumped into and out of the third rows to see how easy it was to get back there. We also noted things like the seating quality and overall spaciousness of each vehicle, with the three three-rows offering cushy second-row captain's chairs, and all of them sporting full leather surfaces.

To top it off, we looked at the pricing of each vehicle and what they offer as configured. Although some of the crossovers in this class were pricier – particularly the three-rows – each one brought something different to the table in terms of options and features.

Why The Kia Sorento Is This Year's Best Family Vehicle

The first time we laid eyes on the Kia Sorento, it wowed us with its good looks. The rugged styling with the X-Line package gives it a distinctive appearance in a class that's typically less than thrilling. The X-Line package also added a slight lift and more cladding on the exterior, plus the unfortunately named but beautiful Rust interior upholstery that perfectly suits the tougher persona.

Beyond looks though, the Kia Sorento was the most fun to drive of the group with its turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet, plus its standard dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive. The Sorento was peppy with plenty of power off the line, and it was decently fun to fling around in the corners. But that's not the main reason we picked it.

2021 Kia Sorento
2021 Kia Sorento
2021 Kia Sorento

The Kia Sorento has the best interior of the four – hands down. The highly supportive Rust-colored seats we mentioned wore quilted leather that was soft and supple, with great butt and back support over long distances. Beyond the test we did here, though, we've taken the Sorento on a number of road trips, and we've yet to find a better long-distance companion for this class. Our only major comfort complaint is a cramped and narrow third row, plus the lack of third-row vents. But for families of four who occasionally need to drive the carpool, it’s unbeatable.

Price-wise, the $44,285 Sorento wasn't the most affordable (that nod goes to the Nissan Rogue), but Kia's mid-size three-row feels well-priced for all that you get. The 10.3-inch touchscreen with the appealing Kia infotainment system was among our favorite features, as was the active safety equipment.

With adaptive cruise control, a lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, and Highway Driving Assist – which is as close to hands-off as hands-off gets – the Sorento is sublime over long distances. We used Kia’s active safety equipment more than any of the others in the group because it was so solid.

Like we said, Best Family Vehicle was one the toughest awards to decide given the number of great options out there. But the Kia Sorento shined brightest. It's the SUV to get if you're looking for something great for the whole family.

Other Winners

Stay tuned for much more on the first annual Motor1.com Star Awards. As always, we welcome your feedback at feedback@motor1.com.

Gallery: 2021 Motor1 Star Award For Best Family Vehicle

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