Yes, nothing could be more vague a description than the ‘family car’. Here’s a genre that could cover anything with five doors. It could mean a £3000 Ford Fiesta, or it could mean a £50,000 Range Rover.
First up, here are our top tips for what to look for in a car when you’re upgrading to cater for your first child, and then click through to our top first-time parent cars to suit your budget.
For Your Kids.
1. You don’t need an SUV
Don’t get us wrong, we love an SUV as much as the next parent. The high seating position, the tall roof, the sense of superiority, it’s all good. But actually, with a small kid and a big buggy, it’s lugging stuff endlessly in and out of the boot that gets wearisome and, believe it or not, an estate or hatchback is more practical on this front. The lower boot lip and boxy opening of an estate such as the Skoda Superb estate that’s our favourite big, budget family car (you can even get it with four-wheel drive) is great for saving your back. Plus, estate cars are generally better to drive and cheaper to buy.
So, we’ll say it again: you don’t need an SUV. You might want one, but unless you live in the far-flung, muddy/snowy/unpathed wilderness, or tow a horse around (in which case you probably already have one), the arrival of your first child does not mean that you need one. If you are stuck on the idea though, the Skoda Yeti and the Hyundai Santa Fe are options worth considering.
Think outside the SUV box and you’ll get more car for your money.
2. Give up your coupe
We know – you love your Audi TT, and it’s got rear seats, right? It’ll be fine! Well, good luck. Easy family motoring is all about easy access. Four wide-opening doors and four full-sized seats with a couple of Isofix fittings are your basic parent-on-the-road 101, and a big, square boot opening will also be worth its weight in Bugaboos.
3. Keyless entry isn’t a gimmick
Nope, keyless entry and go is just wonderful if you’ve got kids. When you’ve got the baby seat or toddler in hand, bag of shopping in the other, handbag over your shoulder, being able to get into the car without rummaging in your pocket or bag is invaluable. If you want one critical ‘convenience’ in a family car, forget powered bootlids – keyless entry and go is a godsend.
4. Airbags aren’t always good
Undoubtedly you’ve mumsnetted car safety for kids until you see Isofix fittings and car seat star ratings on the inside of your eyelids, but it is worth checking that any car you’re looking at has a front passenger airbag that you can turn off. Not all cars have this feature as standard – even new ones in 2019 – so don’t be afraid to contact the seller and ask. You have to be able to turn the front airbag off if you want to put a child seat in the passenger seat and – from travel cots and play tents to breastfeeding machines and baby bouncers – you can fill a large family car with one tiny person and its associated paraphernalia, regardless of your ambitions to ‘travel light’. You may find you need the front seat more often than you imagined.
5. Check your Isofix
The vast majority of cars built in the last decade or so will have two pairs of Isofix fittings (solid metal hoops that you can click Isofix-compatible car seats into), one on each of the outer rear seats. Even so, it’s worth doing your research to double check – especially if you’re buying a smaller or older car.
Now, check out our guide to the best first-time parent family cars.