It’s a wonder that Dante didn’t make the school run the tenth circle of hell, really. The gridlocked car park and those mocking yellow zig-zags would fit in perfectly with the firey, never-ending torment theme he had going on. The school run might not be the best part of the day, but it is a necessary evil.
There are ways to make it more tolerable, and we’re not talking about chocolate and coffee (although those definitely help in any situation). Picking the right car is a case of figuring out what your priorities are, but the best school run motors are generally small, comfortable and economical.
These days, it’s great to have a car with some luxuries – a panoramic glass roof, air-con and USB inputs in the back seats all help to keep the kids quiet, and you happy. So here’s our pick of the school run specialists, from the budget-busting microcar to opulent SUV one-upmanship for every budget.
Try zipping through the school run
Introducing: Toyota iQ 1.0 VVTi manual
Price: £2000 – £4000
This is one for you if you’ve only got two kids (at most) to drop off, but a torturous city route to fight through to achieve that. The Toyota iQ is a quirky little car that’s a little longer and wider than a Smart ForTwo, but not much.
It will technically seat four, but you’ll feel pretty cramped with all the seats in use, and the boot is small enough that the extra space freed up with a spare seat will be useful. It is a three-door car with restrictive access to the slim, firm-based rear seats, so getting little ones into the back seats will be annoying at best and calamitous at worst.
Still, there’s a lot to say for the iQ, which feels like a big car to drive despite its diminutive dimensions and tiny turning circle. You’ll feel more than comfortable and safe enough to use it on the motorway and fast dual-carriageways. Plus, it’s remarkably safe and comes with nine airbags and a glowing Euro NCAP safety rating. It’ll cost buttons to fuel, and there’s no road tax to pay if you go for the 1.0-litre that we’d recommend.
When comfort is Queen
Introducing: Hyundai i10 1.2 Comfort
Price: £2000 – £5000
The first-generation Hyundai I10 was sold between 2008 – 2013, and it’s a great little car. It looks a bit gawky with its high, narrow body, but if you can look past that, then it’s got about the most spacious and comfortable interior of any small car like this.
It’s light and precise to drive and swing through a car park, and it’s safe and comfortable. Plus, they’re reliable, widely available and cheap to buy and run. This is the sensible option, through and through. Small enough to park easily, roomy and comfortable enough to keep everyone happy, and cheap even for an example with low mileage.
When there’s an army to deliver on the school run
Introducing: Vauxhall Zafira Tourer 1.4 Turbo
Price: £4000 – £10,000
The venerable Vauxhall Zafira is a great seven-seat solution if you regularly do the school run (or football/ballet/judo lesson run) needing to carry more than two kids. Even though you can get three into most hatchbacks just fine, having the freedom to carry seven passengers when necessary, or to put the neighbour’s moderately annoying kid further away from you in the back of the car, is a boon.
The Zafira is a comfy car, you can get it with a glass roof that kids always love. All models get air-con in the back. The diesels are far easier to find than the 1.4 turbocharged petrol, so don’t discount them. The 1.6-litre diesel is particularly good, but the 2.0-litre is just fine. However, petrol is preferable for driving into busy school areas, plus it’s a really nice engine to use and generally cheaper to buy than equivalent diesels.
Do the school run in style
Introducing: Lexus LS600h
Price: £9000 – £12,000
You might not be familiar with this one, as the big luxury Lexus limo is not a common sight. Unsurprisingly, given that it cost a fortune new and runs a 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine alongside an electric motor.
Hear us out on this one, because if you’ve got a bit of money to spend and you want a comfortable, luxurious school run car, and maybe even something that’ll do the family weekend getaways in style, this is an exceptional amount of car for the money.
The seats will massage you and even the kids if you have optional rear massage seats offered in the ‘L’ long-wheelbase cars. And regardless of the spec, everyone gets to enjoy their own climate control, ridiculously comfy leather seats. A Mark Levinson sound system swish enough to embarrass a mid-range concert hall is also included.
This is executive luxury at its best, only for used family hatchback money. Even better, it runs on pure electric power at low speeds, so you won’t be gassing your kids’ schoolmates while you wait to find somewhere to stop.
Even reliability is said to be great, what with this being a Lexus and all. If you don’t mind a big car (it’s huge, but easy to drive and has cameras everywhere to help manoeuvre safely), then this will make the school run more relaxing than anything else short of a chauffeur to do it for you. Maybe consider one of those, too…
Try some substance with your school run style
Introducing: Volvo XC90 2.4 D5
Price: £1500 – £21,000
The Volvo XC90 is a big, cushy, lavish seven-seat SUV that can be yours for as little as £2000 or less. Later, low mileage examples will stretch right up to £20,000 and beyond, so choosing the age and spec of the car you want is critical.
Honestly, the very high mileage, early cars (the XC90 was launched in 2002) are a big risk. They’re not inherently unreliable cars, but you’re talking about an 18-year-old car with hundreds of thousands of miles on it. The maintenance can often cost more than the car did.
Go for a slightly younger one with a few less miles – £5000 will get you a car that’s been well looked after and with less than 100,000 miles on it. You’ll be getting a cracking school-run SUV. Kerbs, floods, journeys with your kids’ mates on board, the XC90 is an urban specialist just as much as a 4×4. It’ll make light work of any school run.