How to choose the right car for your family

Advice and guidance on how to transport your brood around in comfort.

It might have been, once upon a time, that the phrase ‘family car’ described a large four-door saloon with a 1.6- or 2.0-litre engine, but such is the proliferation of new car niches these days that ‘family car’ might be appended to anything from a vehicle the size of a Volkswagen Golf, up to SUVs like the Audi Q7. So how do you go about choosing the right machine for you? Read on to find out…

Size matters

This might seem ridiculously obvious, but the first thing to determine is how big is the family that you’re looking to transport. So, if you’ve got one child of the age of nine, a C-segment hatchback (Volkswagen Golf, Ford Focus, Opel Astra, Peugeot 308 etc) is going to be more than enough to suit your needs. Younger children, specifically babies and toddlers, bring their own challenges, because they need both car seats and space in the boot to transport clobber – again, anything up to two kids is fine here and you should be OK with the estate version of the cars we’ve mentioned above, but the minute you’ve got three children, it becomes tricky. This is because there’s only a handful of vehicles on the market that can fit three child seats across their second row of chairs, and they’re all seven-seat MPVs and SUVs. So, while there might only be five of you in your clan, if you’re reasonably new parents you’re still going to need something like a Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, Volvo XC90 or similar.

Petrol, diesel, hybrid or electric?

This applies to all car buyers, not just family users, but which fuel type is going to suit your needs best? The rough rule of thumb is that, if you do less than 20,000km a year or all of your journeys are short, urban routes, then choose petrol; more than 20,000km and you want a diesel. And, unless you’re buying very old used cars as family transport, don’t worry about a diesel backlash, as most modern cars have cleaner engines that shouldn’t be penalised by any forthcoming legislation. In terms of hybrids and electric cars, the key here is how often you can charge them – if you can juice them up often, they make sense. If you’re going to be using a hybrid’s combustion engine more often than not, then stick to the traditional fuel types.

What price reliability?

Having your whole family stranded at the side of the road is no one’s idea of a good time, so a car that will always get you from A to B is worth its weight in gold. Japanese makes, like Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru, are particularly strong in this regard, while the two big Korean marques – Hyundai and Kia – both offer very long warranties, which make their cars desirable on the used market.

Lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle…

If you’ve got two older children and you like doing lots of outdoorsy stuff, you don’t so much need an SUV as a big estate car. Vehicles with roof bars – allowing the fitment of roof boxes and bike racks – and colossal boots will swallow all of your cycling/kayaking/surfing (delete as appropriate) clobber with the minimum of fuss. Skodas are particularly good at this sort of thing, with cars like the Octavia Combi and Superb Combi being excellent to drive, too. Also consider the Opel Insignia Sports Tourer, which is another fantastic big wagon.