It’s never been the most glamorous automotive sector, but family cars have to cope with a lot of demands. Adults, children and pets all have very different requirements. It can be very difficult to work out which vehicle will best meet the needs of your family in terms of practicality, reliability, comfort, safety and budget. Consider the following points before laying down your cash:
Hatchback or saloon?
The more traditional family cars have generally fitted into one of these categories. From the outside, saloons tend to look like the bigger car, but in fact the hatchback flexibility of interior space can be far more useful when it comes to loading prams and other equipment. Pets also tend to fit better into most hatchbacks. When looking at potential new cars, hatchback or saloon, consider the width of the loading space and the height of the load lips – wide, flat apertures make it much easier to load and unload heavy items. When viewing new cars, always take your pushchair, dog’s travel cage or other regularly used items with you to test how well they fit.
Five door cars tend to be more popular with families for their ease of access to the rear passenger seats. However, check the aperture width on individual models, as some have rather small doors which, even when fully open, can be very tight while trying to fit car seats and install younger passengers. This can be a real problem is you suffer back pain or regularly carry taller adults in the back. Sliding or rear hinged back doors can make access far easier in cramped spots such as multi-storey car parks, and your children are far less likely to damage neighbouring vehicles with sharply opened doors.
The modern breed of family cars often offer what is known as ‘stadium seating’, which means the rear passenger seats are higher than the front level. This is designed both to make it easier for adults bending to install child seats and to give young passengers a better view of the windscreen, as this can apparently help to prevent travel sickness.
If you have three or more children or often have to transports groups or bulky equipment, you may have to bite the bullet and invest in an MPV. Sometimes dismissed for high running costs, they are often the safest and most practical option for large families, and the modern breed of MPV can be just as economical as the more traditional estate or other large family car. Smaller vehicles can rarely accommodate three child seats in the back row, and seven seat SUVs and crossovers tend to leave little space for luggage.
Child friendly features
Apart from useful entertainment options such as DVD screens, consider the specific safety requirements for transporting children. Rear facing child seats cannot be used with airbags, so make sure there is a deactivation switch in place. Isofix mounting points are useful for easier installation of child seats, but make sure your system is compatible with the car you are considering. Check Euro NCAP safety ratings to make sure you are happy with the level of protection a potential new car offers.