So, your battered old family car has just given up the ghost after many years of sterling service and it’s time to replace it with something all shiny and new. But what do you go for? Here are our tips to securing a great family car, and also a couple of recommendations for which modern vehicles you should consider looking at first of all…
An obvious one, maybe, but you need space. Lots of it. Conversely, even more of it if your kids are tiny, as they then have to be transported around with all kinds of crazy clobber, paraphernalia and mad plastic stuff that no one outside the world of parenthood has the first clue what its function might actually be. To that end, you’re probably going to need a big vehicle with a commodious cabin – if only so you can sit your most shrieky of children physically further away from you on long, stressful journeys.
Bear in mind, here, your clan’s numbers. Got two kids of more advanced years? You’re probably going to be OK with a big hatchback or a decent estate car. Got three kids, of varying ages and sizes? Perhaps a high-roofed, five-seat MPV or a crossover would do the trick. Got multiple offspring of all the heights going? Then you’re going to need a seven-seat conveyance, which automatically means a big SUV or the largest MPVs. Or a van, if the brood is particularly numerous and belligerent.
The most obvious storage you’re going to need to look at is the boot, because you’re going to throw all manner of things in there – pushchairs, stuffed toys, a medium-sized replica of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and so on – and thus it needs to have the dimensions of a small cave, even when you’ve got a full complement of people on board. But also take note of the positioning of cupholders, not just in the front but in the second (and, if you’ve gone seven-seat, third) row(s) of seats. Can you cram a one-litre bottle of drink into the door bins? Are there sliding drawers under some of the passenger seats? Is the lid of the centre armrest hiding a massive void underneath that might reach all the way down to subterranean levels of the Earth? All this sort of stuff is very useful, because a multitude of odds and sods will soon be cluttering up the cabin of any self-respecting family car.
Look beyond the obvious storage facilities and wipe-down surfaces of a family motor, and check out some of the neater touches. Like USB sockets in the rear of the vehicle, so children can keep attention-occupying electronic devices fully charged up for the lengthy trip to granny’s house down in Portmagee. Or small, secondary mirrors above the main rear-view item that allow the driver to keep an eye on the sibling-powered mayhem ensuing in rows two and three of the car, while also still being able to look at traffic travelling behind them. Or cupholders with five moulded dots in the bottom of them, allowing the harassed parent in the front the ability to open twist-top bottles one-handed. And, of course, make sure your family motor has seats that fold, slide and adjust every which way, allowing for the maximum of configurability for varied loads.
The last thing you want, with loads of people on board, is the sort of ride quality that wouldn’t be out of place on a rose-jointed race car. Huge, 20-inch wheels might look nice, but as you’re thudding and crashing through potholes on your sports suspension (because you had to have the racy-looking model, didn’t you?), with the ever-present threat of your queasiest of sprogs doing a huge technicolour yawn over your back because ‘this car’s way too bouncy, mummy/daddy, please make it stop’, then you’ll regret not going for the comfort-oriented model with the smaller alloys and its bigger, plumper-sidewall tyres (55-profile and above is always a good bet). Take a test drive in the potential family-chariot-to-be and see if it glides along badly rutted roads, or bounces along like the suspension is quite badly broken in some way. You’ll be wanting the former.
- Ease of driving
Any good family car needs to be clever, capacious and comfortable first and foremost, but – linked to the last of these traits – it also needs to be easy to drive, for the sake of the sanity of the person sitting behind the steering wheel on the most regular occasions. You want a nice, smooth drivetrain with lots of torque (the latest, cleanest turbodiesels are good for this sort of thing) and, if you can get it, an automatic gearbox with almost imperceptible shifts. You want light but responsive steering. You want well-judged, consistent throttle response. And, most of all, you want good visibility out – there are going to be enough distractions on board at the best of times to confuddle the driver, so don’t add to your problems by picking a car that has some honking great blind spots for other traffic to hide in, as well.