Mums on the run: Family car tips for those with kids

As a mum, what should you be thinking about when buying a new family car? Space in the cabin and boot are probably top of your list, and other important points are safety, storage and fuel economy. With these in mind, we’ve run up some key points to help you know what to look for, hopefully saving you some research and giving you a bit more of valuable ‘me’ time!

Size matters

Space is the biggie for many families. Which car is going to have room for the kids, their friends, the dog, suitcases and all? How much might the kids have grown by the time you’re ready for a new model?

Your options are categorised as: small family cars, family cars, estate cars, multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) and sports utility vehicles (SUVs).

Small family cars can be the cheapest to buy and run. And they are often easier to park – a boon when you need to whizz in to pick up a few remembered items whilst the kids are wailing in the back. Some crafty compacts also offer a boot large enough for a double buggy.

Family cars (usually saloons and large hatchbacks), offer more cabin and boot space. Helpful if your children are bigger and you’d like to get something in addition to the buggy in the boot. You’ll be amazed at the range of cars which can fit a folded pushchair – from the popular smaller Ford Fiesta or Kia Ceed, through the larger Ford Mondeo or the Peugeot 308 SW, to the huge Ford Tourneo Connect (can take bikes too) or the classic Land Rover Discovery off-roader!

For a bigger boot still, an estate car might be your best option. But if cabin space is as important, some MPVs and SUVs can be more attractive than some of the smaller estates.

The advantage of MPVs or people-carriers – such as the Citroen Berlingo, named most reliable family MPV last year – is that their seating can be moved to create a variety of cabin and boot space options. The tall roof and more spacious interiors cater for drivers and teenage children needing more head and leg room.

SUVs were initially about four wheel drive cars but now include those that look similar but are only two wheel drive. Like MPVs they have lots of space and raised seating. More recent engine redesigns mean that newer versions can be cleaner and more economical than smaller cars you may be considering. The Renault Captur won the 2014 What Car? Car of the Year award for best small SUV at less than £16,000.

Storage and other family friendly features

Most cars have a range of storage spaces, so you can keep important things out of the reach of little fingers whilst keeping others close by. Look out for under-seat storage, enough room in the front to store large maps, and the all important easily-accessible cup-holder for those oh so regular mealtimes on the run.

Being able to slide seats into new configurations is handy when there’s something you really need to transport. Although, as Mrs Clarkson, Jeremy’s mum, identified in the Mums’ Top Gear episode, manoeuvring them does need to be easy.
Check out the ISOFIX fittings for attaching the child seats. It might be an idea to take them with you to check that, if you do need three in a row, they will fit across the back and line up with the fittings. Some child seats are narrower than others.

Other family friendly features which might catch your eye include washable seat covers on the Dynamique model of the Renault Captur. It might be worth the extra cost to save on that long, hard scrub when it’s time to sell up and move on.
Some models have sliding front doors, great for parking in tight spaces. But, as Richard Hammond’s mum pointed out, on some models the back doors don’t slide. So maybe you’d have to leave your varmints inside. Shame…

Safe and clean

Central locking tends to be standard on most models now, and is pretty essential where tiddlers are involved. Ask what the Euro NCAP rating is for the model you’re considering. Five stars is the top level but as most manufacturers build this in, you may not be able to differentiate on this measure on newer cars. You could also check out the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency for any recalls that have been issued. Think about cars such as the Nissan QashQai, recently hailed as the safest small family car you can buy.

A clean, economical engine is likely to be of interest. If you’re running mainly about town, a petrol model is probably best. The higher cost of diesel is offset by the extra fuel economy offered but they do need a regular run at high speed to clear out the diesel particulate filter which can get clogged up.

Check out the CO2 emissions as well. Modern engines are clean as they are regularly updated to meet Euro 6 emissions regulations. Those emitting under 100 g/km are road tax exempt, however.

Best overall?

The Ford Focus has been the best-selling family hatchback in the UK for some time – a fun-to-drive 5-door, with family-friendly practicality built in and an estate option. It’s in the top-selling cars overall this year, but being beaten in general sales at the moment by the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa. Other generally highly rated family car options include the Citroen C4 Picasso, and SEAT Leon hatchback.

So, now you’re armed with key points to check out, you’re ready to decide which is the best car for you and your family – and remember to take care when you’re doing the school run!