Best family cars 2023
The best family cars can shrug off the school run and facilitate busy summer schedules, all while keeping everyone safe and comfortable
Looking for the perfect family car? You're likely going to want something that's safe and comfortable, with good in-car entertainment and decent luggage space if you need room for pushchairs. The good news is there are countless options available to you in various shapes and sizes. Each of them has a slightly different take on what makes the ideal family car, but many of them tick those four key boxes, and we consider them to be some of the best family cars on the market.
While you have a seemingly endless choice of high-rise SUVs, cavernous MPVs and ever-practical family hatchbacks, some are better than others when it comes to levels of equipment, price and driver satisfaction, while there is also a selection of smaller family cars that might not provide the space you require. Getting a balance of all these, along with other important things like strong fuel economy, is difficult to achieve, but we've picked out 10 family cars that offer the best of all these worlds.
Some models, like the Audi A3, even offer a dash of luxury to the family car formula. Other options such as the Skoda Octavia provide space to stretch out while more and more families are making the move to crossovers, like the Peugeot 3008, that combine the affordable running costs and comfort of a hatchback with the higher driving position and practicality of a sport utility vehicle (SUV).
Yet, it's impossible to discount the good old people carrier - also known as multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) - with models like the Ford Galaxy feeling like a penthouse suite compared to the standard doubles that are some hatchbacks. So if you need maximum space for the minimum price, they're well worth considering.
So we've helped to get your shortlist off to a head start, by narrowing down the best family cars for different budgets and family sizes. Browse our pick of the best family cars by scrolling down or click below to go straight to a particular model.
Best family cars
Best family car for space and value
The Skoda Octavia is the car that's about as close as can you get to defining what a family hatchback should be. It shares mechanical parts with the excellent VW Golf, which ensures it's incredibly well built, but it's a bigger car, with a 590-litre boot (210 litres larger than the Golf) and more rear passenger space, too. In fact, the Octavia feels roomier than crossovers such as the Nissan Qashqai, and the fact it's lower to the ground makes it feel much more involving to drive, too.
There’s more to the Octavia than just space, though. It’s comfortable, quiet and efficient. The Skoda badge means that it’s cheaper than the Golf too, not to mention the recent arrival of the new Octavia, so expect prices of this outgoing model to be reduced further still.
The 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol is surprisingly nippy, too, and is a great fit for the Octavia if you tend to ride solo and don't venture on long motorway trips too often.
Best family car for an all-round package
The song, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better", could have been written for the Volkswagen Golf. There’s nothing the best-known family hatchback isn’t good at, which goes some way to explaining why it was Britain’s second best-selling car in 2019. It was replaced by a new model in 2020, but there's still plenty here to get excited about.
A relatively recent update to this older model brought more economical engines, a digital dashboard with an improved touchscreen, more sophisticated technology and some small changes to the design. Unchanged is the Golf's solid build quality, from the doors that close with a satisfying thud to the quality interior materials.
Despite these improvements, it remains competitively priced and as good to drive as ever, with the smooth ride comfort being of particular note. Inside it’s roomy, with enough space in the back for three adults. Boot space is only ok, though; a week’s family shop can easily fill it. If you travel less than 20-30 miles per day, the plug-in hybrid 'GTE' version could make a great choice.
Best family car for stylish design in a high-riding SUV
The high-tech Volvo XC40 has won plenty of awards already, despite being only released in 2018. It’s cool in a way that only something Scandinavian can be, complete with a high-tech and innovative interior. The quality of materials and their fit rivals manufacturers like BMW and Audi too.
It’s also surprisingly good to drive – the days of lumpen-like Volvos are long gone – especially with the surprisingly powerful petrol engines. As you’d imagine, the SUV scores highly on safety too. The XC40 has software that can detect potential collisions with other cars, pedestrians, and cyclists and will try and prevent them.
If you're looking at later models, the T3 became the B3 P. The main difference was the addition of mild hybrid tech, which should help eek out a couple of extra miles per tank.
Best family car for driving fun
When the latest Ford Focus arrived in 2018 it brought an updated interior more equipment and a new look. The good news is it remains as fun to drive as its predecessors.
We all expect a high level of safety kit these days and the Focus is certainly packed full, with optional features including adaptive cruise control, sign recognition and even a head-up display. Naturally, there’s a large touchscreen and a range of connectivity features including Wi-Fi.
Under the bonnet is a choice of efficient petrol engines plus some new diesels with low carbon dioxide emissions for drivers with an eye on company car tax. Crucially, for a family car, there’s more room for passengers and their luggage, and the centre-seat passenger in the back is better looked after than normal because the floor is completely flat, so they won't need to sit with feet splayed.
Best family car for crossover style
The arrival of the Peugeot 3008 sparked a change in buyers’ perceptions of this previously much-maligned French brand. It's a very polished family SUV, and far removed from the frankly sub-par old model.
Inside it’s as well built as a Volkswagen, outside it’s a stylish and daring shape, and underneath the bonnet there is a selection of frugal engines. The 3008 is particularly good when fitted with the 1.2-litre petrol engine and automatic gearbox.
Best of all, owner satisfaction is sky-high, as it was voted as the best car to own in 2018’s Auto Express Driver Power customer satisfaction survey.
Best family car for interior quality
To go with the expense, the Audi A3 benefits from an incredibly high-quality interior, with a media system that’s easier to use thanks to intuitive controls and responsive software. The whole experience feels a class above many of its rivals. Mid-spec Sport has enough for most people, but because top-spec S line sold so well, they are more common and don't cost an awful lot more used, which is why we recommend it.
A recent update has improved the technology further, while the A3 is also more comfortable and quieter than the Golf, and there's also a healthy choice of engines offering plenty of power, or fuel economy, or both. A new version was introduced for 2020, so prices for the previous generation should be on a downward trend.
Best family car for agile cornering and sporty looks
The Mazda 3 is the family hatch for people bored with the usual suspects. It’s more of a driver’s car that feels nimble and responsive when you are faced with an open road and no passengers aboard.
Equipment levels are generous with all versions having alloy wheels, a seven-inch display and air-conditioning. Sport Nav cars are particularly well-equipped with 18-inch alloy wheels, a head-up display and bright LED headlights.
The interior looks smart but is not in the same class as the Audi A3. And it’s also not as accommodating as many cars in its class. But if you value standing out of the crowd, that may be a sacrifice you’d be prepared to make.
Best family car for a great view out
With models as good as the C4 SpaceTourer, and in the face of the massed hordes of SUVs, MPVs deserve to fight another day. A light, airy cabin offering great visibility is the C4’s strong point. That and a well thought out interior bristling with features and technology.
But people buy an MPV for space and versatility above all. Here the C4 does not disappoint - three individual rear seats with plenty of legroom, thanks to the fact there's no transmission tunnel, is a good start. Each has Isofix child seat mountings, too. The rear seats can be slid forwards and backwards to create more or less boot space. Want more space? The rear seats can be folded completely flat. Then there are the picnic tables on the front seatbacks, a pop-out torch for those nocturnal missing toy searches and lots of storage cubbyholes.
The C4 majors on ride comfort over performance. It really soaks up bumps and rough roads remarkably well. The huge windscreen, deep front quarter windows and raised ride height give a wonderful view out for everyone. All the engines are economical. The 130hp PureTech petrol is perfect for average mileage drivers but if long-distance touring or commuting is on the cards, then the 130hp BlueHDi diesel is the way to go. If you need space for seven, you could consider the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer.
Best family car for versatility and comfort
A crossover combines a car-like driving experience with SUV looks, and the Karoq is one of the best. Its secret is offering not just plenty of space for passengers but a space which, thanks to a sliding rear seat, can be adapted to suit your requirements.
The Skoda Karoq follows the brand's pattern as a top value proposition, but where once this meant you had to put up with scratchy plastics, the Karoq surrounds you in plush materials. Top-spec versions rival even the upmarket VW Tiguan in this respect.
The diesels are strong pullers but expensive, so if you drive less than 15,000 miles a year we’d recommend one of the petrols. Our pick is the economical but punchy 1.5-litre petrol engine with 150hp for effortless motoring, solo or with the whole family aboard. Add a comfortable ride and tidy handling for a tall car, and no question, the Karoq is the complete crossover.
Best family car for a safe SUV motoring
The family SUV that started our present-day love affair with tall and bulky continues to lead from the front. Well, almost, since it’s constantly being challenged by new rivals.
No matter – for many families it offers a perfect blend of practicality, versatility, ease of driving and value for money. Nissan has had a few years to get the SUV formula right and it shows in the current Qashqai which, to keep it fresh, was updated a couple of years ago. If you're looking at pre-update cars, the 1.2-litre petrol is a good choice.
It only really loses ground in the quality and appearance of the interior which is beginning to look and feel a little dated. Otherwise, it can lay claim to some cutting-edge safety technology that leaves rivals trailing. For example, N-Connecta models have an Around View Monitor that lets you see what’s happening around the vehicle, plus Safety Shield offering features such as rear cross traffic alert, blind-spot warning and a self-parking system.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
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