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Choosing a family car is all about balancing your needs with the cost and size of the car. Depending on the number in your family and how far (and where) you tend to drive, you will have some different needs to attend to. For example, how many seats will you need? Do you need to contend with a car seat? Will you need a large boot space for all your stuff?
Starting to answer some of these questions in a bit more detail will help you to narrow down what you really need and what you should realistically expect to be able to buy with your budget.
The first thing you should always consider when searching for a suitable family car is space. It is the most important thing for a couple of reasons: firstly, if your kids are squashed up together, they are definitely going to get irritated with each other; second, any long journeys you take will always be significantly more comfortable with more space than without. Essentially, the perfect car for a road trip is what you are looking for.
The width of your seats is usually the first thing you might want to think about. Having that little bit more room to sit comfortably will make a huge difference to your travels. But you should also think about headspace. It is surprising just how many cars are quite low down with a lower roof, but when you look SUVs are quite good for allowing a little more room. This is ideal for when you are leaning in to help with seatbelts and car seats, but will also make the ride a lot more comfortable for tall people!
If you are also responsible for driving your parents around, you should also think about the amount of space they will need. With dodgy hips and knees, getting in and out of cars can be really difficult if you don’t have much room to maneuver. However, if you have got a little bit more space, and a slightly higher seat, it will be much easier for them.
The number of seats you need will depend on the number of children you have. The average car will hold 5 people including the driver, which in practice means you, your partner and 3 kids squished in the back. However, more cars now offer 7 seats, with two that are kind of in the boot that are quite easily raised and flattened depending on your needs.
You might also like to think about the type of kids car seats you will need. There are 3 basic types of car seat: one for babies, one for toddlers and one for children. The main purpose of these seats is to make sure that your kids are as safe as possible while travelling in the car so making sure that you have the right seat for the right child is essential!
For babies, a rear-facing seat is always best. This is because babies and young toddlers weighing less than 30 pounds tend to have much more delicate heads and spinal cords. So, while you certainly aren’t planning to crash, this type of seat will offer much more protection in both headlong and side crashes.
Toddlers will also require some extra protection though once they are a bit bigger, their seat will mainly be raising and pushing them forwards a bit. These seats are often convertible and can become a booster seat suitable for young children later on. Buying this kind of seat is usually a more practical purchase, especially if you have younger children who will be at exactly the right age to inherit it once your older child is big enough to sit just wearing the seatbelt.
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Saloon or SUV?
Of course, there are a few significant differences between saloon cars and SUVs but both could be appropriate for a family, depending on what your needs are and the size of your family. Saloon cars are often a bit lower to the ground but they are also very comfortable to travel in and are perfect for driving in town. SUVs are higher but are also bigger and therefore often a little bit more expensive to run. On the other hand, if you are a wild outdoorsy kind of family, you can happily fit everyone in and go off-roading together if you want to.
One of the key things to look for when you are deciding which type of car to go for is how the boot works and how much space there is. Many SUVs come with seats that can be raised in the back which will certainly impact on the amount of space you have in the boot. While this might not be a problem day to day, it could be more difficult if you are planning to take a trip. Saloon cars often come with a wide boot space, though again this can be compromised because while it is wide it is often not very tall. Plus, many saloon car boots have a lip at the bottom which requires to you lift things a little higher to get them in, rather than just slide them in.
In the end, choosing between an SUV and a saloon design will come down to your personal preference as a driver. While most cars now offer plenty of different adjustable seating positions, you can’t get away from the fact that saloon car drivers will always be sat a little lower than SUV drivers. The best advice, really, is to try out both kinds of car at somewhere like West County Volvo and see which one you take to.
SatNav is definitely one of those things where once you have it, you can’t quite remember how you used to find anything without it. And so, just as smartphones now dominate, having SatNav in your car has become an essential for family driving. Given the number of activities your kids do and all the friends’ houses you will need to drive them around to, having SatNav will certainly benefit you and take the stress off trying to get to the right place at the right time.
Now many new cars are being built with a smart screen (more on that in just a moment) which allows you to interact with the car much more seamlessly. It also makes a huge difference to your ability to follow the SatNav – no longer will you have to squint at a tiny screen mounted on your dashboard. This feature is widespread but you should still make a point of looking for the best SatNav system for you and consider whether it is possible to download a better app if the SatNav your car comes with isn’t quite right for you. Which brings us neatly on to the Smart Screen.
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These screens are called slightly different things depending on the manufacturer, but, in general, they are an inbuilt screen that sits on the central panel, allowing you to use SatNav, change the temperature, find different radio channels, see where you are reversing and much, much more! And, this year, Google plans to introduce Assistant for even more benefits.
The benefit of this type of screen is that, in general, as they are much easier to use, you aren’t so distracted by them. Some are also voice controlled meaning that your eyes won’t ever have to leave the road – a much safer way to change the channel or make a phone call.
For families, this type of screen is an ideal extra to have. Not only will it make your driving safer, but you will also be able to make the most of your car without all the faffing about. Plus, since your passenger can use the smart screen too, you should be able to find a nice balance for what everyone wants without the driver having to field a million requests from the back.
Another little luxury you might want to consider are heated seats. They might be completely useless to you if you live in a warm climate, but in colder regions, these seats are a truly brilliant innovation. There is nothing worse than getting into the car and immediately feeling frozen. When you can’t wait for the heating to start blowing warm air, these seats offer instant heat and comfort. Plus, since each seat can be warmed individually, if you have one family member who is always cold, they can quite happily sit in warmth while the rest of you won’t feel a thing.
Once you have your priorities for your family car sorted, thinking about those additional benefits of SatNav, smart screens and heated seats could take your car from being great to being perfect. However, you should always weigh up the cost of each benefit to make a sensible decision about what you can really afford.
Having room for everyone and being able to drive in as much safety as possible is always the first thing to consider when choosing a family car and while you won’t get this in your dream convertible sports car, the modern car industry is really thinking about comfort as well as practicality for families. If ever there was a time to buy a new family car, it is now.