We’re big on kids at CarGurus. Here on the team, we’ve got them all – little ones that won’t leave you alone, big ones that only want to be alone, ones that are ‘going through a phase’… We’ve wrestled with the car seats, cursed the buggy and generally made all the mistakes that you, as a new parent, will probably also make. Even Harry and Meghan will stand on a piece of Lego at 3am at some point, and all the peerages in the realm doesn’t make that any less traumatic.
So, while we can’t really prepare you for the moment your toddler vomits into your favourite shoes, we can hold your hand when it comes to what you should be looking for in a family car.
And yes, no description is more vague than that of a ‘family car’. Here’s a genre that could mean a £3,000 Ford Fiesta, or it could mean a £50,000 Range Rover. Clearly, budget, safety and practicality are going to be top priorities but here are our top tips for what to look for in a car when you’re upgrading to cater for your first child.
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 in reality, with a baby or small kid, 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 is about as good a family car as you can get at any budget. 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/unpaved wilderness, the arrival of your first child does not mean that you need one. Also, by thinking outside the fashionable SUV box 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 absolute essentials for a parent-on-the-road, and a big, square boot opening will also be worth its weight in Bugaboos. It doesn’t have to be boring, mind. A five-door Volkswagen Golf GTI will be a safe and useful all-round family car, without making you feel terribly boring.
3. KEYLESS ENTRY ISN’T A GIMMICK
Keyless entry and drive is just a joy if you’ve got kids. When you’ve got the baby seat or toddler in one hand, a bag of shopping in the other, and keys lost deep in your pockets or handbag, being able to get into the car without rummaging for your keys is the best feeling in the world. Forget powered bootlids, if you want one luxury convenience, it’s keyless entry and go. Usefully, you can search by keyword on CarGurus, as well as various criteria including number of doors, so a quick look at the keyless five-door cars for sale right now will always turn up something interesting. Or, if you need some guidance, we’d advise starting with the smart-looking, well-equipped and economical Citroen C4 Picasso; a lot of car for the asking price.
4. CHECK THE AIRBAGS
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 as you have to be able to do this if you want to put a rear-facing child seat in the front passenger seat.
The vast majority of cars have this feature as standard, but not all used cars will – especially smaller or older ones – so don’t be afraid to contact the seller and ask. After all, no matter your ambitions to travel light, before you know it a one-night stay at the grandparents will have you folding the back seats and brimming the car with everything from travel cots and play tents to baby bouncers, so you may find you need the passenger seat more often than you imagined. Lexus does fit switchable passenger airbags to all of its recent cars, as well as a huge array of safety stuff including driver aids like lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, and most models even get a reversing camera – rather like the very posh-looking Lexus NX300h.
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. Something like a Hyundai i30 Estate is hard to beat if you are looking for a safe and roomy car for as little money as possible. Something like this can be bought for less than £3,000, but has Isofix fittings in the back seats, a front passenger airbag that can be switched off, a big boot, will be cheap to fuel and insure, and has a great reputation for reliability.
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