Top 12 Fun and Safe Family Cars Made in America

One out of every four Americans wants to buy an American vehicle. Which models that are fun to drive, safe for families, and priced under $50,000 qualify?

According to the 2017 American Made Index, 25 percent of people surveyed want to buy an American car. That’s almost double the number of people who said so in 2016, and it doesn’t take an astrophysicist to figure out why. President Trump has clearly made Americans aware again.

Whether you agree or disagree with the man and his policies, it certainly doesn’t hurt this country’s economic fortunes to deliberately choose a vehicle that is designed, engineered, and built in America using American ingenuity, parts and labor. The question, of course, is this: What the hell is an American car in the first place?

Some people follow the profits. Ford Motor Company, General Motors, and Tesla are the only car companies currently headquartered in the United States (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is incorporated in the Netherlands with an HQ in London). But does that make a Buick Envision built in China an American car?

Some people consider the brand. Fiat Chrysler is a now single company serving as an umbrella for multiple legacy brands. Is an Italian-made Alfa Romeo Stelvio as American as a Detroit-built Jeep Grand Cherokee? Is an Italian-built Jeep Renegade as American as a Michigan-made Ram 1500?

Some people consider where a car is actually assembled. The Toyota Camry is built in Kentucky. The Ford Fusion is hecho en Mexico. Which one is American? Both? Neither?

With the help of American University’s Made in America Index, Speedy Daddy aims to define an “American” car.

We considered that index’s Total Domestic Content rating, seeking vehicles with a TDC of 66.5 percent or greater. We also considered whether a vehicle was assembled in the good ‘ol U.S.A. by American workers, whether a vehicle’s parent company was headquartered in the U.S., and even whether a brand was, historically, considered to be American.

With this information, we then determined which qualifying family-friendly vehicles are fun to drive, safe in terms of crash-test performance, and priced under $50,000. Just 12 models made the final cut.

Acura MDX

2017 Acura MDX Advance in White
The Acura MDX is built in Alabama. Image copyright Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

Built in Alabama, the Acura MDX is a midsize, 3-row crossover SUV. Acura is the luxury division of Honda, and its products aim to deliver a higher level of performance. Especially when equipped with the available torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, the MDX does not disappoint.

Roomy, safe, enjoyable to drive, and in Sport Hybrid guise remarkably fuel-efficient, the Acura MDX helps to keep Americans employed. Just be sure to upgrade to the Technology Package to get the larger 20-inch wheels.

Read my full review of the Acura MDX

Acura TLX A-Spec

2018 Acura TLX A-Spec in White
The Acura TLX is built in Ohio. Image copyright Acura for editorial use only.

Freshened up for the 2018 model year, and available in a new A-Spec trim level with enhanced handling capabilities, the Acura TLX is built in Ohio.

A midsize car with room for up to five people, the TLX A-Spec has a powerful 290-horsepower V6 engine, available torque-vectoring SH-AWD, revised steering and suspension tuning, and larger 19-inch wheels with more aggressive tires. Styling changes convey the car’s extra dose of attitude.

Official crash-test data is unavailable for the 2018 TLX, but last year this car aced its assessments with the exception of an “Acceptable” rather than “Good” rating in the small overlap frontal offset examination.

Buick LaCrosse 

2017 Buick LaCrosse Premium in Silver
The Buick LaCrosse is built in Michigan. Image copyright Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

Yep, a Buick is on this list. And it’s the full-size LaCrosse, no less. No, we haven’t lost our minds. There is a good explanation. You need to order a Detroit-built Buick LaCrosse in a very specific way in order for it to qualify for Speedy Daddy approval.

First, choose Premium trim. It comes with an excellent 310-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine.

Second, get the Dynamic Drive option package. It adds 20-inch wheels, a real-time damping suspension, a HiPer Strut front suspension design, and a Sport driving mode.

Third, take this Buick down a favorite back road. You will be amazed by how well it can perform.

See my video review of the Buick LaCrosse

Cadillac ATS

2017 Cadillac ATS in Gray
The Cadillac ATS is built in Michigan. Image copyright Cadillac for editorial use only.

Designed and engineered to be just as much fun to drive as the vaunted BMW 3 Series, the Cadillac ATS is too often overlooked. Certainly, a cramped back seat and a tight trunk don’t help this car to sell in greater numbers, but once you’re behind the wheel and rocketing down the road you won’t much care.

Sourced from a factory in Michigan, the ATS is offered with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, a V6 engine, or a twin-turbocharged V6 that gets the car to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. That model, the ATS-V, is priced higher than our window sticker cap, but is certainly worth mentioning.

With the Caddy ATS, you can get a manual gearbox or an automatic transmission, rear-wheel or all-wheel drive, and a slew of upgrades that raise the luxury quotient. What you can’t get are crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but the NHTSA gives this car a 5-star overall rating (4 stars for the ATS-V).

Chevrolet Malibu Premier

2017 Chevrolet Malibu Premier in Red
The Chevrolet Malibu is built in Kansas. Image copyright Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

In order to get a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine whipping up 250 horsepower and even more torque, you need to upgrade to the Premier trim level. That’s OK, though, because even when fully loaded, the Chevy Malibu is priced at about what the average American spends on a new set of wheels.

Redesigned for 2016, the Malibu is dramatically improved. Stylishly sculpted, quick and fun to drive, and technologically sophisticated, this midsize family sedan is built in Kansas. Upgrade to the 19-inch wheels shown above, and you won’t be disappointed by how this car manages a winding road.

See my video review of the Chevy Malibu

Ford Escape Titanium

2017 Ford Escape Titanium in Red
The Ford Escape is built in Kentucky. Image copyright Ford Motor Company for editorial use only.

When equipped with its optional turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and available 19-inch wheels and tires, the Ford Escape is a remarkably quick and nimble little crossover SUV. A major freshening improved the Escape for 2017, including its performance in the small overlap frontal-impact crash test conducted by the IIHS.

Built in Kentucky, the Escape is a compact crossover SUV offering room for up to five people.

Ford Taurus SHO

2017 Ford Taurus SHO in Red
The Ford Taurus is built in Illinois. Image copyright Ford Motor Company for editorial use only.

Once upon a time, “SHO” stood for “Super High Output.” That’s still the case, what with the Taurus SHO’s twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine cranking out 365 horsepower and nearly that amount of torque, delivered to all four wheels through a standard all-wheel-drive system. Still, driving enthusiasts have forgotten about the Chicago-built SHO.

This car is old, yes, and that is reflected in its “Acceptable” rating in the small overlap frontal-impact test conducted by the IIHS. But, the Taurus SHO still possesses the ability to impress. Quick, roomy, safe, and equipped with an absolutely huge 20.1 cubic-foot trunk, the full-size Taurus SHO might prove to be just the car for parents seeking the perfect American sport sedan.

Honda Accord Sport and Touring

2017 Honda Accord Touring in Dark Gray
The Honda Accord is built in Ohio. Image copyright Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.

Honda builds the Accord in Ohio, and though the company doesn’t pitch the car as fun to drive, there is a good reason that it makes the Car and Driver “10 Best” list every year. Especially in 4-cylinder Sport and Touring V6 trim levels, a Honda Accord is remarkably athletic. You can even get a manual transmission for the Accord Sport!

A redesigned Accord is coming for 2018, and Honda is dropping the current engine lineup for turbocharged 4-cylinder power plants along with yet another upgraded hybrid drivetrain. Though manual gearbox is returning, which is downright miraculous, if you want the excellent V6 engine you’d better grab a leftover Accord during the summer of 2017 while you still have a chance.

See my video review of the Honda Accord

Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport

2017 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport in Silver
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is built in Alabama. Image copyright Mercedes-Benz for editorial use only.

Bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you?

Built in Alabama, and equipped with a U.S.-sourced, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, the C300 Sport is easily capable of putting a big smile on a driver’s face. Better yet, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this American-made C-Class and one that comes from Germany.

Upgrade to the AMG C43 and the drivetrain is sourced out of Europe. But that variant exceeds our price cap, anyway.

Toyota Camry XSE

2018 Toyota Camry XSE V6 in White
The Toyota Camry is built in Kentucky. Image copyright Toyota for editorial use only.

Toyota employs a whole bunch of Americans. For example, its got a brand-new North American headquarters in Dallas. And its got several factories fed by local suppliers all around the U.S. The one in Georgetown, Kentucky is especially busy because it builds the Camry, which is the best-selling car in America.

Redesigned for 2018, every version of the Camry is better to drive than it was before, and that is especially true of the sporty XSE model equipped with the largest wheel choice and a 3.5-liter V6 engine cranking out more than 300 horsepower.

Granted, we are fudging things a bit by including this car on this list because it has not been crash-tested yet. But Toyota’s all new global platform is almost guaranteed to perform better than the old Camry’s did, and that car was a crash-test rock star.

Read my review of the redesigned 2018 Camry

Toyota Highlander SE

2017 Toyota Highlander SE in Red
The Toyota Highlander is built in Indiana. Image copyright Toyota for editorial use only.

Since the Ford Explorer Sport flunks the small overlap frontal-impact crash test, the Toyota Highlander is the only mainstream, midsize crossover SUV to make our list.

New for 2017, the SE version of the 7-passenger Toyota Highlander comes with bigger wheels and tires, as well as a stiffer suspension. That’s a fairly thin argument for inclusion here, but the changes do make a difference in how the Highlander drives.

In any case, the Highlander enjoys a strong 295-horsepower V6 engine, available all-wheel drive, lots of interior room for people and cargo, and impressive crashworthiness. Plus, it enjoys a deserved reputation for reliability. Toyota makes the Highlander in Indiana.

Read my review of the Toyota Highlander

Toyota Sienna SE

2017 Toyota Sienna SE in Red
The Toyota Sienna is built in Indiana. Image copyright Toyota for editorial use only.

Toyota’s “swagger wagon” makes the cut by virtue of its stiffer suspension tuning and larger wheel/tire combination, not it’s boy-racer body kit. Available only for the SE trim level, these bits and pieces give the roomy family hauler a bit of extra dynamism that is lacking in other Sienna models.

Last redesigned for the 2011 model year, the Indiana-sourced Sienna is old, and Toyota simply refreshes it for 2018 rather than replaces it. The minivan’s age is reflected in an “Acceptable” rather than “Good” small overlap frontal-impact rating from the IIHS.

Otherwise, the company has done a good job of keeping the Sienna competitive, and it is the only model in its segment to offer an optional all-wheel-drive system.

By Christian Wardlaw

A driving enthusiast and father of four, I've got 25 years of experience working in automotive journalism. Currently, I contribute content to CarGurus, J.D. Power Cars and Kelley Blue Book. When I'm not working, I'm doing something fun with my family, preferably in Hawaii.

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