Families come in all different sizes. Whether it’s just you and your partner, or if you have a Brady Bunch-sized brood, finding a family car can be confusing. You want something that will hold the whole family and their gear, as well as something that adapts as your family changes size. 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, 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 an affordable compact car that works well for urban newlyweds, 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 Mazda3. These cars give young couples a low monthly payment, a little bit of fun and room to expand.
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 first priority, but don’t write off getting something 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. While there’s plenty of room for a grandkid or two, these cars are small enough that driving them won’t be a chore when it’s just you.
Midsize Cars, Crossovers and Wagons
If you have one or two kids and aren’t planning on adding to your family beyond maybe getting a pet, you can save money and gas by skipping the big SUV or minivan and going for a midsize car. Midsize cars have enough space for two car seats, and offer features that will keep older kids happy. The Hyundai Sonata has heat and AC vents in the back to keep kids comfortable.
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 cars will typically fit two car seats or three passengers in the back seat, but they offer much more cargo space. 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 and are thinking about more, or if you routinely car pool, you should consider a midsize crossover with a third row. While the third row of midsize crossovers aren’t usually comfortable for adults, they’re fine for kids and can bring your seating capacity up to eight people. The Ford Flex has a comfortable third row and can even be outfitted with features like a refrigerator.
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, go for a large car. That will give them space to stretch out without too much of a fuel economy penalty for you. The Ford Taurus has a back seat that most reviewers say is roomy and comfortable, and if you go for the high-performance SHO version, it’ll be engaging for you to drive as well.
But, for more than two or three kids, you’re going to need to look at a large crossover, SUV or minivan. They usually offer three rows of standard seating and many can seat up to eight. These types of vehicles also tend to be the Taj Mahals of family comfort. It’s easy to find models with available DVD players (some can even play live TV), and several can turn the car into a rolling Wi-Fi hotspot. The downside is that these large vehicles do 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 going for a hybrid, like the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, or a diesel like the Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec.