- Space and practicality are hugely important
- Check the NCAP safety rating of your vehicle
- Select the right fuel for your needs
Kids tend to come with a lot of stuff, so it's important to consider whether your new car can fit buggies, car seats and an abundance of fresh nappies inside.
Clearly a large estate, such as the Skoda Superb Estate, Audi A6 Avant and VW Passat Estate, are obvious choices if you require copious boot space. However, smaller hatchbacks, such as the new Honda Jazz, feature ingenious rear seating systems that can be folded flat when transporting cargo.
"Consider the boot space when buying a family car," recommends Leon Poultney, a motoring journalist and father of one. "Car manufacturers tend to measure boot space in litres but buggy dimensions are typically in centimetres.
"If in doubt, take your buggy along to the test drive to make sure you can easily slot it in and out of the boot.
"Also, be wary of SUVs and other high-riding 'faux-by-fours'. Cars like the Nissan Juke and Fiat 500X might look rough-and-ready, but boot space is poor and difficult to access," he adds.
Which car is safest?
Euro NCAP, which stands for New Car Assessment Programme, is a Europe-wide safety standard that most new vehicles are subject to. The simple star rating reflects how well the vehicle performs overall and in specific safety tests.
The Euro NCAP website has a handy list of the best family cars that have scored particularly well in the area of child occupant protection. The Infiniti Q30, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Galaxy all achieved exceptional child occupant safety results last year.
"Many manufacturers now offer advanced safety features that come on top of the standard equipment," says Dr Michiel van Ratingen, Euro NCAP secretary general.
"This is why we now offer two different star ratings, one with the standard features and one with the additional equipment. It shows the consumer what the benefit of this extra safety technology could be."
A surplus of storage space may seem fantastic, but it's no good if it means you're lumbered with a car that's too large or unwieldy for the type of roads you regularly use.
It's also worth making sure all doors provide ample room to carry car seats in and out, while seats should be large enough to fit standard child seats.
"The popular Mini five-door hatch features a fairly slim rear bench," explains Nick Francis (@nick_thesun), motoring editor at The Sun on Sunday. "This means those sitting in front of rear-facing baby seats don't have much leg room. It is little niggles like this that could well grate a few months down the line,"
The presence of ISOFIX will also make life easier. These special fastenings connect with a bespoke base that holds many popular child seats, meaning you don't have to constantly wrestle with a seatbelt.
The Maxi-Cosi 2 Way Pearl, Nuna Rebl and Joie i-Anchor all boast ISOFIX compatibility. Check out our car seat guide for more information.
A is for affordability
Children have a tendency to slow your efforts at saving, thanks to their constant growing out of clothes, ferocious appetites and thirst for entertainment, so choosing an affordable car is imperative – but there are other costs to take into account.
"Consider the amount of CO2 a car produces, as this directly affects the amount of annual Vehicle Excise Duty you will pay, " explains Leon Poultney. "Any vehicle registered on or after 1st March 2001 that produces less than 100g/km of CO2 is free,"
Although this sort of CO2 figure is typically found in much smaller city cars, the family-friendly Ford B-Max, for example, features a frugal 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine that produces just 114g/km of CO2, therefore costs just £30 per year to keep on the road.
Fuel economy and insurance costs are also key considerations, as these are recurring costs that can impact budgets. Always check the car insurance quote of the vehicles you consider, as the overall cost of one car, including fuel and car insurance, could add up over time.
Fuel for thought
Selecting the correct fuel type not only helps you keep running costs down but also reduces the wear on mechanical components so that they last the life of the car.
Diesel is usually a good choice for those with regular long journeys, as the benefits of the black pumps are only recouped if your car registers a high mileage, but frequent short trips could potentially damage the engine.
Families with regular short journeys to schools, sports clubs and supermarkets should really consider petrol, hybrid or electric cars, as these are likely to prove better value for money in the long run.
A good family car should be safe, practical, spacious and reliable enough to last the tough years it faces. Above all else, ensure it is not only affordable to buy in the first place but economical and cheap to run on a daily basis. For this, you should check its insurance group, CO2 emissions figures and fuel economy.