Choosing a family car

How to choose a family car: from motorised rear doors to tray tables. The best features to look out for

Leon Poultney
Nov 23, 2016

Transporting a car full of kids is one of the most stressful situations life can throw at tired, grumpy and emotionally-drained parents.

That's why the world's largest auto-makers have spent years perfecting family-friendly vehicles that are absolutely packed to the gunwales with handy features that make some of the smallest, yet often most annoying tasks, that bit easier.

Whether its practical iPad holders located on the seat backs for entertaining little eyes on longer journeys, or tray tables in the rear for kiddy colouring-in competitions, there's a whole host of brilliant standard and optional features that now come with the latest models that are guaranteed to take some strain out of domestic duties.

We've highlighted features that any family, no matter the size, should look for in a new or used car. All of these have been selected for their practicality and usefulness on a daily basis.

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Choosing a good family car: raised ride height

It's no wonder that the recent spate of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers have proven so popular with customers, as their jacked-up suspension not only afford the driver a more commanding view of the road ahead, they also make loading little ones into the cabin much easier.

Child seats are often at the perfect height for strapping in babies and toddlers, while handy features, such as a waist-height boot, make loading shopping simpler.
Renault's Kadjar and the popular Nissan Qashqai both offer plenty of interior roominess and a large boot for family accoutrements at a reasonable price, while Jaguar's stunning F-Pace delivers on the practicality but boasts an extra dollop of premium luxury.

The Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery are two equally stunning SUVs with a ride height that matches the lofty price tag, or customers could look towards the basic yet extremely affordable Dacia Duster if pennies must be pinched.

Our pick

Seat Ateca 1.6 TDI 115PS Ecomotive SE 5dr

Seat's newcomer has made an impressive impact on the busy SUV market, blending a great drive with good looks and an affordable price tag.

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Choosing a good family car: extra rearview mirror

The basic device that was once for aiding reversing manoeuvres and checking following traffic soon becomes a vital tool for keeping an eye on the kids when a family starts to grow.

However, constantly craning to view a traditional rear-view mirror can be a pain (and dangerous), so it's worth considering a car that tackles this hurdle with an additional device.

The Ford B-Max, for example, boasts a supplementary mirror that's perfectly set-up for quick glances in the rear quarters. Similarly, the larger and equally family-friendly Citroen C4 Picasso and Grand C4 Picasso feature a comparable system.

Volkswagen have taken the notion one step further in the new seven-seat Touran, as its dashboard screen is compatible with a GoPro camera, which can be mounted in the rear and will stream live footage of kids bouncing off the walls directly to the infotainment system.

Our pick: Citroen Grand C4 Picasso Feel BlueHDi 120 S&S EAT6 Auto
This cavernous Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) is perfectly set up for large family life and includes a superb panoramic mirror for checking rear occupants.
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Choosing a good family car: Reversing camera

Bulky child seats, stacked up baggage and lively children can all get in the way of parking manoeuvres, which is why reversing cameras and parking assist functionality is now a prerequisite for most buyers.

As such, a reversing camera system comes as standard on the spacious and capable Kia Sportage, so long as buyers opt for the mid-range 2 trim level, while rear parking sensors come fitted to all Hyundai Tucson SE models.

Of course, customers can go one step further and specify their vehicle with fully autonomous parking functionality, meaning the car hunts down a space using radar technology and then automatically parks the car with little to no input from the driver.

Ford's gargantuan S-Max MPV can be specified with the marque's useful Active Park Assist functionality but many rivals offer similar technology.

Our pick: Nissan Qashqai N-Connecta
These well-specified SUVs come with Nissan's excellent Around View Monitor, which gives the driver a birds-eye view of surroundings via a series of cameras, making difficult parking a doddle.

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Choosing a good family car: sliding rear doors

The elongated nature of large MPVs, such as the Volkswagen Sharan, Ford Galaxy and Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, typically means that they sport sliding rear doors, which peel back on a special running hinge to open up as much of the interior as possible.

It makes clambering in and out of the vehicle easier, particularly when said people transporter features an extra row of thrones in the rear, so it can seat seven or more people.

Unfortunately, opting for sliding doors also means giving up on kerb appeal, as they are typically quite bulbous and a far cry from a sleek saloon or attractive estate.

However, Ford has decked out its smaller B-Max model with sliding rear doors, as did Citroen with the Berlingo Multispace, proving that families don't have to upgrade to an ungainly vehicle in the search of easy access doors.

Our pick: Seat Alhambra
What the big Seat lacks in panache, it definitely makes up for with bags of practicality, including the extra large sliding rear doors.

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Choosing a good family car: Clever seats

A car that can adapt to every eventuality is central to peaceful family motoring and easy-to-fold or intelligent seating is a great way of maximising space and improving practicality.

Honda's tiny Jazz is perhaps one of the greatest example of this phenomenon, with its Magic Seat design seeing the rear pews almost disappear into the floor with the pull of a lever, freeing up enough space in the rear of the diminutive city car for even the most audacious Ikea trips.

Better still, Land Rover has just revealed details of its 2017 Discovery model, which boasts app-controlled seating that can be arranged from the comfort of the family home via bespoke smartphone software.

Intelligent Seat Fold technology allows the owner to adjust the seats remotely from anywhere in the world. The second and third row of seating can be fully declined and put upright at the touch of a button.

Our pick: Volvo XC90
Both the second and third row of seating can be folded completely flat with the simply pull of lever. It has the ability to transform this large SUV into a luxurious Transit van rival.

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