The most affordable family car to own in 2023
With the family budget under more pressure than ever, Drive runs the numbers to find the family car with the cheapest running costs.
Getting value for money has never been more important, especially with interest rates and the cost of living climbing ever upward.
Pressure on family budgets is at a 21st-century high, so buying the right new car to not only suit your needs but your finances is all about having the right information.
It’s also about understanding that your opportunity to save money doesn’t start and end with the purchase transaction.
Choosing a car with a cheap servicing schedule, a more efficient powertrain, better insurance premiums, or cheaper registration costs can easily save you $1500–$2500 a year, and as much as $4000 a year in extreme cases.
Let’s say you’ve got five kids to move, plus mum and dad. Buying a Toyota LandCruiser or a Nissan Patrol means locking yourself into as much as $8600 in car-related outgoings a year – not including the loan you probably took out to buy the car.
But, if you chose instead to move your fast-growing family unit in a Kia Carnival, the yearly outgoings drop to just $4460 per year, a saving of $3940 per year.
That’s an extra $80 per week in your wallet. Who doesn’t want that?
If your brood isn’t of high school age yet, you can save even more by choosing a Volkswagen Caddy, which will only put a $4180 drain on your wallet annually.
Medium SUVs with seven seats like the Honda CR-V and Nissan X-Trail will cost around $4300 annually. Larger SUVs like the Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-8, Toyota Kluger, and Hyundai Santa Fe will only cost $4400 or thereabouts every year.
So, if you’ve got a need for seven or eight seats and want to save some money on running costs, here is what the Drive 2023 Ownership Costs survey recommends.
Before we get into this – you’ll notice the Mazda CX-9 and Peugeot 5008 are both missing from this list. Both vehicles have expired ANCAP safety ratings (tested prior to 2017), which makes them ineligible for consideration.
1. Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed PHEV AWD
Mitsubishi launched the new-generation Outlander in 2021, and it has clearly nailed the brief when it comes to affordable ownership costs because three of our top four seven-seaters are from the Outlander family.
Number one is the Outlander Exceed plug-in hybrid seven-seater, which has low servicing costs and very low refuelling/recharging costs.
So, even though its comprehensive insurance premium is at the pricier end of the spectrum, the overall monthly cost of $337.32 is unbeatable when it comes to moving families.
It’s fair to say that the Outlander won’t suit all families because its third row is far from spacious. But it will do the job for smaller kids – and bigger kids on short drives – so the Outlander has the qualifications to win our Best Value Family Car segment.
2. Volkswagen Caddy TDI320
Second place – and a big surprise – is the Volkswagen Caddy seven-seat van.
This is not everyone’s idea of the ideal family car, because it is styled like a delivery van and it doesn’t have the mod cons to match true family trucksters.
However, it can carry seven and it can do so affordably at just $348.75 per month.
3. Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed Tourer PHEV AWD
Ranking third was another Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid, this time the top-spec Exceed Tourer grade, priced from $70,990 plus on-road costs.
The flagship PHEV costs just $351.11 to run per month and is slightly pricier to maintain than its lower-spec counterpart, due to higher insurance costs.
4. Mitsubishi Outlander LS FWD
The third Outlander to make it into the top five is the LS grade with front-wheel-drive, the first non-PHEV Outlander model to rate a mention.
Sitting one step up from the base grade, the Outlander LS offers seven seats and costs $354.26 per month to run.
As expected, this monthly cost is driven up by its notably higher fuel costs compared to its PHEV counterparts – but servicing and insurance costs are lower.
5. Honda CR-V VTi 7
The Honda CR-V VTi 7 seven-seat medium SUV comes in fifth thanks to a low insurance premium and very affordable servicing costs.
Fuel efficiency isn’t a strong point on this ageing workhorse, but the overall monthly outlay of $356.14 is competitive.
And the best of the rest...
Sixth place goes to a bigger family SUV in the Kia Sorento S. At just over $50,000 plus on-road costs, it is at the cheaper end of the Sorento range and the more affordable end of the large SUV marketplace. But what it lacks in luxury it more than makes up for in affordable running costs, headlined by a frugal yet strong turbo diesel engine that keeps fuel costs down.
Kia could sharpen the pencil more on servicing costs – it’s the most expensive in our top dozen to service – but overall it’s an affordable proposition at $358.59 per month.
Toyota’s first entrant in the ranks is the Toyota Kluger Hybrid at position 17. This large SUV is nowhere near as economical as the smaller Toyota hybrids that rank highly overall, nor can it match turbo diesel rivals for fuel efficiency, but Toyota’s sharp servicing pricing makes it a relatively affordable option overall.
When it comes to powertrains, diesel is clearly the better choice for families on a budget, though you will pay a few thousand more at purchase time. There are very few hybrid options beyond the Kluger and hybrid versions of the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. Plug-in hybrid seven-seaters from Kia can lower running costs a lot if you charge on solar and do lots of short trips, but their higher purchase prices do equal higher insurance premiums.
Interestingly, nine of the top 10 seven-seater family cars have annual servicing costs of $370 per year or less, which is well below the industry average. This is a clear indication that many car companies are doing what they can to help families manage stretched budgets.
To see the full list of Australia's best value cars for 2023, click here.