Drive Car Of The Year

Best Large Car for Families 2023

Best Large Car for Families

Growing, active families need space and safety – and maybe a little style – so which family hauler is Australia's best?

Where once the default choice for Australian families in need of more than a typical five-seat sedan or wagon would have been a people mover, tastes have changed. Thankfully, too, so have some of the eight-seat options available in Australia.

To that end, new vehicles like the Nissan Pathfinder and updated models like the Hyundai Palisade join the eight-seater party tackling the territory once dominated by vehicles like the Kia Carnival.

For this reason, the former Drive Car of the Year Best People Mover category has evolved to mimic the tastes of Australian families who need to accommodate more than just one or two little ones or those that have to carry an extended family on a regular basis.

Winner: Kia Carnival


Kia Carnival

Kia Carnival

8 variants available

$ 47,480 - $ 67,580* MRLP

What we love

  • -Huge interior space
  • -Comfortable ride when fully loaded
  • -5x ISOFIX-compatible seats

What we don't

  • -$52–$72K price range isn't always family budget friendly
  • -Refinement gives way to functionality slightly
  • -Can't match the emotional appeal of SUVs

Loads of space, easy to drive, and packed with thoughtful touches; the Kia Carnival is the ideal car for large families.

There are no two ways about it, the Kia Carnival is an undeniably large car, and that sheer interior volume already sets it up for success in the category. More than that, though, it's thoughtful design touches and inclusions that helped the Kia Carnival secure its win as the Best Large Car for Families in 2023.

The Carnival is clearly focused on the task of moving people. Find yourself in a crowded carpark and the sensible sliding doors, which need only minimal space to open and offer clear access to the seats, really shine. Then there's the access from the front row back, clear and unencumbered for walk-in access to the middle row and quick and simple access into the third row.

The rearmost seats themselves are adult-sized and open up the flexibility of carrying everyone from the youngest members of the family, in one of the two ISOFIX-equipped seats, to being able to comfortably accommodate adults with room to spare – something its SUV counterparts can't accomplish quite so effortlessly.

For those who need them, a total of five ISOFIX mounts, plus the ability to offset middle-row seats to keep little hands clear of each other, adds another advantage.

The Carnival also scoops the pool in terms of cargo space, and while it misses out on features like cargo blinds or hidden under-floor storage, the deep boot balances the ledger with a genuine ability to deal with the carry-on luggage for a full-house interior.

On the road, the Carnival copes even better with a full complement of passengers than it does with just one or two occupants and remains composed and comfortable with a full load.

Judges agreed that while people movers may not hold the emotional appeal of more popular SUVs, the handsome Carnival carries itself well, and the rational points, sheer space, and interior flexibility set the Carnival apart from other vehicles in this field.

In back-to-back testing, we discovered that the Carnival's open interior and space-first philosophy means that refinement and noise suppression isn't as good as something like the Palisade. Rough roads and corrugations revealed that the clever sliding, split-folding, multi-function interior means that not everything is as damped and silent as rivals, though it's not a stark difference, just a subtle step.

The Kia Carnival continues to surprise at just how good it is at dealing with the needs of Australian families. If you need space, this needs to be on your shopping list.

Runner-up: Hyundai Palisade


Hyundai Palisade

Hyundai Palisade

8 variants available

$ 65,900 - $ 79,900* MRLP

What we love

  • -Lounge-like interior comfort
  • -Gargantuan second-row space
  • -Easy access to third row

What we don't

  • -Button-cluttered cabin
  • -Priced at the top of the segment
  • -Dynamically challenged in extreme conditions

Delivering some American style to Australian consumers, the Hyundai Palisade unlocks the right formula of room for up to eight occupants and easy effortless kilometre-clocking cruising comfort.

Either the lower-spec Palisade Elite or the top-spec Palisade Highlander are loaded with premium interiors and luxury features, but in a pay-to-play situation, pricing from just under $66,000 to just under $80,000 before on-road costs makes this one a more top-tier choice among family chariots.

Judges praised the powertrain refinement, with smooth and quiet engines, and commendable ride comfort creating a plush ambience within the cabin. That cabin also won praise for its space too. The gargantuan second row offers limo-like leg room and headroom, with passenger amenities like a plethora of cupholders, easy to access rear climate controls, and inbuilt window blinds on the available features list creating a comfy environment for passengers to set themselves up for long road trips.

One-touch third-row access, and second-row seats that fold forward opening up a big gap to the rearmost seats, makes using all three rows a breeze. A single third-row ISOFIX mount plus USB charging and more cupholders than seat spaces in the rear mean the Palisade is ready to grow as families do.

While the interior maximises storage space up front with a variety of options for stashing everything from drinks to small handbags, the button-heavy layout of the controls can be confronting at first glance and takes time to become familiar with.

Day-to-day driving presented little to dislike, but the finer points of Drive Car of the Year testing revealed that in emergency manoeuvres, the big Hyundai struggles to keep its composure whereas the other class contenders felt more secure and controllable at the limit.

Finalist: Nissan Pathfinder


Nissan Pathfinder

Nissan Pathfinder

2 variants available

$ 54,190 - $ 81,490* MRLP

What we love

  • -Refined V6 engine
  • -Family-friendly third-row seat access
  • -Surprisingly good dynamics

What we don't

  • -Lack of frugal diesel or hybrid engine
  • -Limited third-row legroom
  • -Short on odds and ends storage

Imposing new styling, a greatly improved nine-speed automatic transmission, and a largely fuss-free hard-wearing interior deliver a new Nissan Pathfinder that aims to ease some of the woes of its predecessor.

In on-road testing, the Nissan Pathfinder forged a strong impression with the judging panel thanks to a comfortable ride, a high level of refinement, and safety systems calibrated in such a way as to work with the driver, not against them on the open road. In the heat of emergency swerve and avoid driving, the Pathfinder offered stability that led the pack without the need to fall back on stability-control intervention.

The Pathfinder's clever flip-forward seat system, which allows a forward-facing child seat to remain in place as the second row is folded, also won praise, coupled with wide-opening rear doors that make loading and unloading a breeze.

Unfortunately for the Pathfinder, the top prize was out of reach with some packaging issues like limited third-row leg room, a high-set second-row seat that may leave shorter passengers with their legs dangling, and front seat storage that can't match the sheer volume of oddments storage in the Palisade and Carnival.

The Pathfinder also lacks an alternative powertrain, with its smooth V6 nice to live with but unable to match the more frugal running of the Carnival or Palisade diesel options.

Still, genuine room for eight, an interior that's easy to live with, and exterior dimensions that felt slightly more manageable in the real world mean that the Pathfinder isn't a bad choice in the segment by any means.

You can read about all the other 2023 Drive Car of the Year categories and winners here:
Drive Car of the Year categories and winners

Note: All vehicle specifications pertain to variants tested as part of DCOTY assessment program.

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