A couple of years back "family car" would appear among the items all "true" car enthusiasts held in contempt. However, with the intensive changes the car industry has been through, we can say these times are long gone. Now the market offers great opportunities to get a decent family car without giving up on your little bit of petrol-heaven. There are quite literally hundreds of models available that will satisfy your need to transport your kids and pets safely, all with some style, panache and usable horsepower.
What is a family car?
The question “What is a family car?” can’t really be answered, it’s a little like asking what the best car is, or the fastest colour, or the best value for money, etc. It’s purely subjective and depends a great deal on your specific need for a family car.
Having said that, we can safely rule out two-seater sports cars, maybe a G-Wiz or a Smart, we’ll also discount three-wheelers and anything that can’t fit more than a single bag of shopping in the boot.
A family car is more about safety, practicality, reliability and everyday functionality, something that will fit you, your spouse, the kids, pets, toys and luggage in, something that isn’t going to upset you when you find a half-chewed sweet or chocolate bar melted in to the upholstery. Finally, it’s something that is just going to work, come rain or shine, muddy feet, tantrums or even on those rare occasions that every parent yearns for solitude (just once in a while).
Safe and practical
The key factors in choosing a family car generally revolve around how safe or practical it will be – no one wants to think of the worst happening, but in the event of an accident, you want to know that all the occupants stand the best chance possible.
Equally, a two-door coupe is just going to be a faff when you’re constantly having to readjust your seat each and every time someone climbs in the back, and where would the school bags, dog or shopping fit?
Of course it doesn’t have to be a minibus (although they can be surprisingly good as family cars), but substance generally comes before style. All things considered, what cars can we recommend?
Our top five family cars
#1 Volkswagen Golf
No list of best family cars would be complete without the ubiquitous Golf – it just does everything and does it well. With a starting price of just over £18,000, it certainly isn’t the cheapest, but it offers incredible reliability, comfort and good looks. It’s the sort of car that is happy being abused by toddlers on the school run, and then a quick clean up will see it fitting in happily with more expensive cars parked outside a 5-star hotel. It just works. No wonder Volkswagen was the second best selling car brand in 2017.
#2 Volvo XC90
The big Volvo has been a contender on the list since its introduction back in 2002, ever popular and perhaps the most safety conscious. Volvo are known for their safety minded approach to motoring, in fact it wasn’t that long ago that they stated by the year 2020, they want to have zero deaths for any occupants in their cars involved in a collision. That’s a big statement. There is a downside, however, and that’s the near £50,000 starting price.
#3 Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
Vauxhall have been dominating the UK buyers’ market for a number of years now, and the Insignia Grand Sport has gone a long way to proving that a family car doesn’t have to be too boring.
£17,185 will get you started, and even the base model has a surprising level of comfort and refinement. It seems that Vauxhall have upped their game slightly and the new Grand Sport offers something pretty stylish and reliable, and for those of you that don’t like dawdling, it can have a fair turn of speed also.
#4 Hyundai i30
Good value for money, stylish and reliable. Don’t let the low price (£16,995) fool you – even the base model comes equipped with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and automatic dip on the headlights.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to the i30 is the small 1.0 litre engine, which certainly lacks a little when on fast A roads or motorways. Maybe think about the next engine up if you’re planning on motorway style driving. Big plus points for reliability though – Hyundai always score very well in the reliability surveys.
#5 Land Rover Discovery
The venerable Land Rover Discovery.
Space to spare, enough toys and tricks for anyone, superb off-roading ability (ideal for bumping up kerbs outside the school) and plenty of usable power. The big Disco would be our choice. The base model comes in at £44,000 which is considerably cheaper than the Volvo, but add in a few toys and you can easily spend upwards of £65,000.
It’s worth remembering that the internal combustion engine (as a single power source) has its days numbered, diesel in particular has been hit hard over the last year – sales figures showed over 30% decline from December 2016 – 17.
While that statistic itself isn’t perhaps that relevant, it’s worth knowing when it comes to settling on an asking price – running a family is an expensive business, your car doesn’t have to be the biggest expense.
We all know that driving in the UK can be fraught with problems, but with a little forethought and knowledge, you can settle down to years of carefree motoring without having to worry about your little ones when they’re in the car. Or worry about your car. Or where to put ‘stuff’ (which everyone knows goes hand in hand with children).