Car Buyer Labs

Car Buying Advice, Tips, and Reviews

A burgundy 2018 Chevy Traverse is driving around a winding road in front of trees after leaving a used car dealer.

Top 3 Coolest (and Safest) Used SUVs for Families

We know, we know. Safety is of primary importance when shopping for a used family car. Visit any used car dealer and tell them you want a quality used vehicle for your family, and we guarantee they’ll show you something safe. But what if good looks matter too? We say you can have both! There are plenty of incredibly safe SUVs that also have a high cool factor.

With that in mind, we propose a different – and much more enjoyable – flavor of used car shopping: why not find the coolest, most exciting-to-drive used family car out there (with a 5-star crash rating, of course)? The term “cool family car” is not an oxymoron. There are quite a few vehicles that tick the hip and trendy box without sacrificing all the must-haves most families demand.

So, where do you find a vehicle that has the space, seating, and cool factor you want? Sometimes the best kept secrets are the ones you discover when you choose to look from a different perspective. We picked a few SUVs and crossovers that contain everything a growing family needs in a package that’s both attractive and luxurious. And different enough that you’ll stand out from the usual SUV pack.

We know it’s not much fun to sit in the carpool line or transport Junior back and forth to soccer practice, but when you love what you drive, it gets a whole lot more enjoyable. We recommend checking out these standouts to see if what they have to offer suits your tastes. These vehicles are elegant without being stuffy and are available with some pretty plush interior features.

The Chevy Traverse

First off, let’s define cool. To us, cool means your SUV isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. You’ve gone out on a limb and opted for a vehicle that is just a little bit different. That’s why we love the Chevy Traverse. Most buyers are caught up in the myth that imported nameplates are superior. To this, we say, not so fast. There’s a better alternative right here on our shores.

The Traverse is Chevrolet’s mid-size family SUV, and it’s available in 7 and 8-seat configurations. That’s a lot of room for people-moving or for cargo with the seats folded down. In fact, it’s longer, wider, and taller than most of its competitors. In the SUV wars, size matters, and that’s a battle the Traverse almost always wins. And its styling? It’s the opposite of a cookie-cutter design.

The Chevy Traverse made its debut back in 2009 and is currently in its second generation. We think the 2018 model year is a great sweet spot. Three-year leasers are turning their low-mileage Traverses in now, so dealers should be receiving a regular influx of gently used inventory. In addition, this is a model year that includes plenty of changes and updates.

In fact, 2018 saw a comprehensive refresh that transformed the Traverse into a bit of a miniaturized Suburban. The Traverse is a pure-bred SUV, not a crossover. You won’t find soft lines and car-like styling here, yet handling is still agile and responsive, thanks to a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 310 horsepower.

If luxury is what you’re after, look for a Traverse High Country. Leather seats and tasteful metallic accents highlight the interior cabin. The available 4G LTE Wi-Fi, upgraded premium Bose audio system, dual sunroof, and heated and ventilated front seats make for a cushy and connected interior environment that will keep all occupants comfortable and entertained.

A gray 2017 Buick Encore is driving on a highway overlooking a town and shown from a high angle.

The Buick Encore

Named a Consumer Reports Best Used Car Under $20,000 (2017 – 2019 model years), the Encore is our pick for the cutest – and coolest – compact SUV. Small families will love its athletic exterior stance, and luxury Buick touches. It’s a fun combination of both, and because of that, it stands out from other crossovers in its class.

Today’s Buicks are all crossovers, and they’re designed to appeal to younger buyers who don’t want to go with the usual Japanese import that everyone else is driving yet don’t want to stretch into the more expensive luxury SUV segment.

Even some of Buick’s recent television commercials make light of the fact that this new lineup is hard to recognize as a Buick. We agree. At first glance, the Encore almost seems like a German luxury import. Consumer Reports highlighted two of the Encore’s key attributes – the quiet cabin and comfortable ride – as exceptional compared with its competitors.

We took a look back at some reviews of the 2017 Encore and found that automotive journalists overwhelmingly rated it a standout in its category. Car and Driver reported that it “has an upscale aura, particularly inside” and delivers a “surprisingly supple ride” and has “exceptionally low interior noise levels.”

The Encore sits at an interesting intersection: value and luxury. Top-of-the-line new 2017 Encores were priced at under $30,000 and equipped with tons of features that overlapped luxury brands like Audi and BMW. If you’re looking for small size and big luxury, look no further than the Encore.

A black 2015 Chevy Suburban is driving in front of a wooden fence.

The Chevy Suburban

The Suburban is a legend. It’s the Frank Sinatra of SUVs. Cool, classy, and larger than life. When you choose a Suburban, it’s clear that you value size and nameplate credibility. And that’s OK. It’s better than OK. Suburbans are cool, and they always will be. No explanation is needed.

What’s our favorite model year? We think choosing a Suburban that doesn’t empty your wallet should be the goal. Any Suburban will tick the safety and utility boxes, so why not find the best value? We vectored in on the 2015 Suburban. The first year of its eleventh generation remodel, the 2015 Suburban benefits from all of Chevrolet’s safety and tech advancements while going pretty easy on the wallet.

If you’re lucky enough to find a low mileage 2015 Suburban, we say grab it. New 2015 Suburbans ranged in price from $47,000 all the way up to nearly $70,000 for the top-of-the-line LTZ trim and can easily be found for half that today. Sure, you’ll be buying a used SUV with higher mileage, but reliability is so good on the Suburban that the odometer reading is not a big concern.

Eleventh-generation Suburbans offer access to newer driver-assist safety technology, a feature that families might appreciate. Backup cameras and blind spot monitoring ability come in handy when you’re navigating a land yacht through congested in-town roads and parking lots.

Don’t forget, the Suburban is also a capable towing machine, so if your family is active, you’ll love hitching up the boat trailer or small RV and road-tripping to your next vacation in spacious comfort. Bottom line: the Suburban is for you if you want to go big.

You zag when others zig, which is why buying a so-so run-of-the-mill crossover isn’t in the cards for you. Instead, you want to find the hidden jewel. We get it. There’s a lot about raising kids that isn’t all that exciting. Shouldn’t the car you drive add a bit of fun and excitement?