If you’ve got a family, you may feel like you’re starting down a road filled with minivans and SUVs. But, a hatchback can make a lot of sense for a small family, particularly if you live in an urban area or want to save gas. While hatchbacks tend to be small, they’re big on utility. Pack right, and you can fit a family’s gear into a hatchback cargo area with no problem. Finding the right hatchback for your family is simply a matter of looking at your priorities and finding one that fits your needs.
Hatchbacks and Car Seats
The vast majority of hatchbacks have space for two car seats. However, because they tend to be smaller than SUVs or larger sedans, you likely won’t be able to fit a third passenger in the back with the two car seats. Also, if you’ve got small kids that you need to buckle in and out of car seats, you’ll probably want to skip two-door hatchbacks like the Mini Cooper or two-door Volkswagen Golf (though the four-door model will work fine).
Kids in car seats can take up a lot of room, so you’ll want to evaluate legroom as well. While it may sound strange to think about legroom for little kids, it’s actually key: little ones usually can’t keep still, and that means they kick. If the backseat is small, that means they’ll be kicking the back of your seat. That’ll get old fast, so families may want to skip subcompact hatchbacks like the Mazda2. There’s just not enough backseat space to fit car seats comfortably.
Larger hatchbacks, on the other hand, have no trouble dealing with car seats. The Toyota Prius is comparable in size to many midsize cars, so its backseat has plenty of room for two kids in car seats. The Honda Insight is another larger hatchback with good backseat room. Even among smaller hatchbacks, there still can be plenty of room. The backseat of the Honda Fit is big enough to handle a rear-facing infant car seat and the Scion xB also gets credit for having a kid-friendly backseat.
Hatchbacks and Family-Friendly Features
One of the drawbacks of most hatchbacks -- especially when compared to SUVs or minivans -- is their lack of family-friendly entertainment features. Rear-seat DVD entertainment systems aren’t common on hatchbacks, and even simple features, like conversation mirrors, tend to be left out of hatchbacks.
Some parents won’t mind not having features like a rear-seat DVD player. Susan Butler, a mother of three in the suburbs of Washington D.C., acknowledges being ambivalent about rear-seat entertainment systems. “I am torn between wanting peace and not wanting kids who have never looked out the window,” she says. For some parents, having time to talk to their kids or having kids who are used to entertaining themselves will be a bigger benefit than a DVD system. If that’s not you and you still want a hatchback, you can always get a portable DVD player for your kids.
While hatchbacks may not have the high-tech bells and whistles that some families are looking for, there are other benefits. Unlike SUVs that have tall stances, hatchbacks tend to be close to the ground. That makes it easier for kids to get in and out by themselves. Even if your child needs help getting in or out of a hatchback, you won’t have to lift them as high.
Safe Hatchbacks for Families
When you have little ones onboard, safety is a prime concern. Luckily, there are plenty of hatchbacks that have a good record in crash tests. Plus, the same safety features that you can get in larger cars and SUVs are available on most hatchbacks.
A great place to start your safety research is the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS). This independent agency rates how well vehicles protect their occupants in front- and side-impact crash tests. They also perform roof strength tests (to see how well a car is likely to hold up should it rollover) and rear-collision tests. IIHS gives the best-performing cars a “Top Safety Pick” designation. Starting your hatchback shopping from the list of IIHS “Top Safety Picks” is a great strategy. Great family hatchbacks like the Subaru Impreza wagon, Volkswagen Golf four-door, Scion xB, Audi A3 and Kia Soul are all “Top Safety Picks.”
When shopping, there are key safety features you should look for: anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control are must-haves for any car carrying kids. These systems work to help you avoid accidents by preventing skids and helping you regain control should a skid occur.
Family Hatchbacks with Great Fuel Economy
When you’ve got a family, your budget is important; leaving a cleaner earth for your kids is a good thing too. One of the most compelling reasons to get a hatchback as a family car is that hatchbacks tend to get relatively good fuel economy, especially when compared to larger cars. You can go for a hybrid hatchback like the Toyota Prius or Honda Insight, or simply go for a gasoline-only hatchback that gets great fuel economy. The Ford Fiesta gets an EPA-estimated 37 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in the city. The Kia Forte hatchback can get 34 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city. If you go for a diesel engine in your hatchback, you’ll save money at the pump, though those models do tend to be more expensive upfront. There are diesel motors available for the Audi A3 and the Volkswagen Golf. The diesel Golf gets 42 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city, according to the EPA.
Hatchbacks and Families
While most hatchbacks don’t offer high-tech features to keep the kids entertained -- and they also won’t work for larger families -- hatchbacks can do very well as family cars. By design, they have good cargo space, and if you shop carefully, you can find one with a backseat that can handle your kids’ car seats while still keeping you comfortable up front. There are lots of safe hatchbacks on the road, and by going for a smaller, but still practical family car, you can save on gas and put a few extra bucks each month into the kids’ college funds.