Families come in all different sizes. Whether it’s just you and your partner, or a Brady Bunch-sized brood, finding the right family car can be a daunting task. You want a vehicle that will hold the whole family and their gear, and will adapt as your family changes. A compact car may not be the best choice if you’re planning on having more kids in the next few years, and a minivan may not make the most sense if your nest is emptying. Before you head to the dealership, set aside time to think about the kind of car that will work best for your family, no matter the size.
Compact Cars and Hatchbacks
If it’s just you and your significant other, you’ve got it easy. Maybe you haven’t had kids yet or aren’t planning on having any for a while. Or, maybe your kids have flown the nest. Either way, you can get by with a car that focuses on front-seat comfort. Just keep in mind how your situation may change. If you’re a couple who’s just starting out, you may want to go with something that can accommodate a car seat or two down the road. The Honda Fit is a compact car that works well for newlyweds who live in the city, but it can also handle stroller and car seat duty when the stork arrives. The same is true of the four-door Volkswagen Golf and Mazda Mazda3. These cars give young couples a low monthly payment, a little bit of fun and room to expand their family.
Even if your kids are grown and have moved out, you may not want to buy a sports car just yet. Getting something that’s comfortable for you and your partner should be a priority, but don’t write off getting a car with a back seat, so you can take the grandkids for the weekend. The Honda Civic and Chevrolet Cruze are reliable, safe options that are also affordable. They also have plenty of room for a grandkid or two.
Midsize Cars, Crossovers and Wagons
If you have one or two kids and aren’t planning on adding anything more than a new pet to your family, you might want to skip the big SUV or minivan and go for a midsize car. Many midsize cars have enough space for two car seats, and offer features that will keep older kids happy. The Chrysler 200, for example, has an optional Wi-Fi connection, allowing kids to play with their tablets or cell phones while they hang out in the back seat.
If you have more gear than the trunk of a midsize car can handle, consider a compact or midsize crossover, or a full-size wagon. Like sedans, these vehicles typically fit two car seats or three passengers in the back seat, but they generally offer more cargo space than a midsize car. A wagon or crossover is also a good choice for families with pets, since they can ride in the cargo area.
If you already have one or two kids, are thinking about having more or routinely car pool, you should consider a midsize crossover with a third row. While the third row of some midsize crossovers isn’t usually spacious enough for adults, it’s fine for kids and can bring your seating capacity up to eight people. The Ford Flex seats up to seven, has a comfortable third row and can even be outfitted with features like a refrigerated console.
Large Cars, Crossovers, SUVs and Vans
Families with more than two or three kids and families with teenagers are going to want more space. If you just have one or two teens, consider a large car. That will give them space to stretch out without too much of a fuel economy penalty for you. The Buick LaCrosse has a back seat that most reviewers say is exceptionally spacious, and if you go for the optional V6 engine, it’ll be engaging for you to drive as well.
If you must accommodate more than two or three kids, you should look at a large crossover, SUV or minivan. They usually offer three rows of standard seating and, depending on the model, have seats for up to nine. These types of vehicles also tend to be the Taj Mahals of family comfort. It’s easy to find models with available DVD players and some can become a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. The downside is that these large vehicles tend to use a lot of gas. Minivans and crossovers should get you better gas mileage, but if you go for a large SUV, you can save some gas by considering a hybrid, like the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, or a diesel, like the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec.