The best family cars have to tick a lot of boxes: they need to be spacious, safe, economical, practical, well equipped and easy to drive.
In other words, they need to be great all-rounders - and luckily, there are plenty to choose from. So how do you go about picking the right one for your family?
Don’t worry - we’ve done the hard work for you. In this guide, we explain what to look for in a family car and give you our top five best family cars.
What to look for in a family car
If you want to find the best family car, there are a number of things you should be looking out for. Here’s a list of things to consider to help you decide which family car ticks all your boxes:
- What size car do you need? There’s no one-size-fits-all family car. The size you choose will depend on a number of factors, including how many people you need to fit in it, how much gear you need to carry and where you’ll park.
Family hatchbacks are a great choice for those who want something more compact. They’re spacious enough inside for most families, with ample boot space, but still small enough to park on busy streets.
For those who want more interior space, an SUV or crossover could be a good choice, and for the largest families, an MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle) might be the answer.
- Do the doors allow easy access? Five-door cars are usually the most convenient for families, as they provide good access to the back seats. If ease of access is particularly important to you, an MPV with a sliding rear door may be an option.
If you take a car for a test drive, check to see whether its doors are wide-opening. Wide-opening doors make installing child seats much easier, and also give adults more room to get in and out - particularly useful for those who find it difficult to do so.
Another thing to test is whether the doors swing shut on you if you’ve parked on an incline - this can be an inconvenience when getting children in and out.
- What shape is the car? Taller cars tend to be the most practical for families. They’re easier on your back, as you won’t have to bend down so much to get children or buggies in and out, and they also give you a higher driving position.
If interior space is a key factor for you, look for a boxy shape. Although this may not sound the most stylish, it will allow you to really maximise the amount of usable room inside.
- How safe is the car? Safety is, of course, of paramount importance when looking for the best family cars. The Euro NCAP rating is a good way of checking how safe a particular family car is.
This is the standardised crash safety rating system used for all new cars in Europe. It gives each car a safety rating out of five stars based on a series of vehicle tests: the more stars it has, the safer it is.
You can also check how the car scored on various individual safety parameters. For example, the Skoda Octavia is one of the safest family cars available, with a score of 88% for child occupant protection and 92% for adult occupant protection. You can see Euro NCAP’s list of the safest family cars here.
Another thing to check is whether you can deactivate the front airbag. You’ll need to do this if you want to install a rear-facing child seat in the front.
- Do the seats allow flexibility? There are several things to consider when it comes to seats. The best family cars have a good level of flexibility, so check for seats that slide forward and back to give extra legroom or make it easier to access the back.
Check whether the seats are easy to fold away for extra boot capacity. If you plan to use child safety seats, find out how many Isofix points there are for securing them.
And if you’re worried about spillages, opting for a darker coloured seat material is a good idea!
- What options can you add? Choosing the right specifications for your new family car can make a big difference - and it may help you get a better price if you sell it.
There are often plenty of family-friendly features you can specify for a new car. Things like sun blinds and tinted windows with UV filtering help to protect kids from the sun, while a DVD screen or tablet setup could be a godsend on long trips.
Another good option to consider is hill hold assist, which stops you from rolling back when starting on an incline. Reversing sensors and a reversing camera can make life much easier too.
- How much storage space is there? Plenty of boot space is likely to be an important factor for many families - take a look at our guide to the best cars with big boots to see which cars win in this area.
Look at how many storage compartments there are throughout the vehicle, and how easy they are to access. A few handily-placed cubbies in the back can be great for storing the kids’ toys on long journeys.
The best family cars: Our top five
So, now you know what to look for in a family car - which one will you go for? To help you make your decision, here’s our pick of the best family cars:
The Skoda Octavia is affordable, well-equipped and comfortable to drive, and has a truly enormous boot that dwarfs the competition. In short, it ticks all the boxes, placing it firmly on our list of the best family cars.
- How safe is it? The Skoda Octavia has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It scores 92% for adult occupant protection and 88% for child occupant protection. Standard safety features include seven airbags, hill hold assist, stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and a system that automatically brakes immediately after a crash to avoid a second impact.
- Is it practical? The Octavia is incredibly spacious, with plenty of room in both the front and back. Its class-leading boot is a whopping 591 litres - that’s big enough to hold 11 carry-on suitcases. Cabin storage is good too, with a variety of pockets and cubbies to stash your stuff in.
- What’s it like to drive? The Octavia is lively and responsive to drive, and even with the entry level 1.0 litre engine it’s got plenty of power. It offers a comfortable ride, and is generally smooth and quiet - especially once it gets up to cruising speed. All the seats are supportive with a large range of adjustment, and the driving position feels natural.
The Toyota Corolla is a family-friendly hybrid that offers impressive fuel economy - among the best in its class - and low CO2 emissions. It comes with loads of equipment as standard and benefits from Toyota’s strong reliability record, making it an attractive proposition as a family car.
- How safe is it? The Toyota Corolla has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It scores 95% for adult occupant protection and 84% for child occupant protection. Its standard safety features include lane-departure warning, traffic sign recognition, automatic emergency braking and automatic high beam assistance.
- Is it practical? There’s plenty of space in the front, even for taller people, although the rear is somewhat cramped in comparison to most of the Corolla’s rivals. The amount of space you have in the boot depends on the engine you choose - the 1.8 litre hybrid model can comfortably fit six carry-on suitcases, but the 2.0 litre version has less space.
- What’s it like to drive? Unlike some other hybrids, you don’t need to charge the Corolla - you can treat it just like a standard petrol car. It’s by far one of the best family cars for comfort, offering an exceedingly smooth ride. When driving in town the electric motor renders progress pretty much silent, although things get noticeably louder on faster roads.
BMW 1 Series
If you’re after a premium family car, you can’t go wrong with the BMW 1 Series. It combines decent practicality and comfort with a high-end interior, a great infotainment system and lively handling.
- How safe is it? The BMW 1 Series has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It scores 83% for adult occupant protection and 87% for child occupant protection. It comes with plenty of safety equipment as standard, including traffic sign recognition, speed limit assist, automatic emergency braking, and a system that warns you if you’re too close to the car in front.
- Is it practical? There’s a good amount of space in both the front and back - the tallest adults may struggle a little in the back, but anyone shorter should be more than comfortable. At 380 litres, boot capacity is comparable to the 1 Series’ premium rivals. However, that includes the space under the boot floor - the space above should fit around five carry-on suitcases.
- What’s it like to drive? The 1 Series offers a sporty drive thanks to its sharp and agile steering. It’s also an impressively comfortable ride, with minimal wind and road noise at high speeds. There’s plenty of adjustment for both the driver’s seat and steering wheel, so you can find the perfect driving position.
The Peugeot 3008’s strong engines, practicality and striking looks make it one of the best family SUVs you can buy. It’s well-equipped with safety features too, and its stylish interior and large boot are particular highlights.
- How safe is it? The Peugeot 3008 has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It scores 86% for adult occupant protection and 81% for child occupant protection. It comes with plenty of safety kit as standard, including lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and speed limit recognition.
- Is it practical? As you’d expect from an SUV, the 3008 is very spacious. The front can comfortably accommodate taller adults, with plenty of head and legroom, and the same goes for the back. However, if you’ll be carrying adults in the back it’s best to avoid the optional panoramic sunroof, as this significantly reduces rear headroom. There’s loads of storage throughout, and at 520 litres it has one of the bigger boots in the family SUV class.
- What’s it like to drive? All the different engine options provide strong performance and respectable acceleration. The ride is comfortable and quiet on the whole, but the handling is less agile than rivals like the Skoda Karoq and SEAT Ateca. The driving position feels comfy and supportive, although the low steering wheel may take some getting used to.
For those who want maximum space, the Volkswagen Touran is a great MPV option and one of the best family cars out there. It’s well built, good to drive and has an interior that manages to be both practical and plush.
- How safe is it? The Volkswagen Touran has a five-star Euro NCAP rating. It scores 88% for adult occupant protection and 89% for child occupant protection. It comes with seven airbags as standard, and all models except the entry level S trim level come with automatic emergency braking and a system that warns you if you’re too close to the car ahead. You can also add blindspot monitoring and lane departure warning to all trims except the S.
- Is it practical? In the front, you get plenty of headroom and class-leading legroom. The second row has three identically-sized seats, with more space than most rivals. The third row has two seats that can be folded completely away into the floor, and there’s plenty of room back here too, even for adults. Access to all the seats is easy, thanks to wide-opening doors and middle row seats that tilt and slide forward. Unusually, all the rear seats - including the third row - have Isofix fittings. The boot is spacious, holding 937 litres with the third row folded away.
- What’s it like to drive? The Touran feels stable and consistent to drive, with plenty of grip and neat steering. It offers a smooth ride with all but the biggest bumps nicely softened, and it’s quiet enough by MPV standards. Despite its capacious interior, it’s more compact than many MPVs, making it easier to park than some of its rivals.
The Best Family Cars: Our Top 5
Whatever your budget and requirements, the perfect family car is out there. We hope our guide to the best family cars has helped point you in the right direction.
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