You're a parent, and that means putting the safety, security and comfort of your children ahead of all else. It doesn't mean your car has to suck. Certainly, minivans are practical for large families. They typically have excellent safety ratings, and they come packed full of family-friendly features like copious cargo space, built-in entertainment systems and child-safety locks. That still doesn't change the fact they corner like those playground bouncy horses on springs. They also look like a potato on wheels, and that’s downright depressing. I’m going to tell you a secret: You don’t have to give up feeling good about what you drive just because you’re a parent. You can have your cake and eat it too. Family cars can be cool and be safe and practical.
You Will Need Cargo Space
Nearly all vehicles come equipped with LATCH/LUAS/ISOFIX car seat restraint systems. A child in a rear-facing car seat does not require much room in the passenger compartment. That means the most important space requirement when traveling with a small child is not passenger space, but cargo space. The vast majority of good-quality folding strollers will fit comfortably in the smallest trunk. Buy a stroller to fit your car, not a car to fit your stroller. If your trunk fills up quickly on longer road trips, a couple hundred bucks will get you a good-quality rooftop cargo carrier.
Folding rear seats are important cargo feature to keep an eye out for. Not all sedans have rear seats that fold. Many feature a small opening in the centre armrest intended for longer items like skis, hockey sticks and obscure bits of flatpack Swedish furniture. Although this can be helpful, rear seats that fold down completely, and better yet in halves or thirds can be incredibly helpful.
Cargo space problem solved!
You Will Need To Keep Your Kids Entertained (a.k.a. Distracted)
Let’s face it, your kids can be jerks. They’re too often loud, obnoxious and destructive. When on the road you need them thoroughly distracted so that they remain relatively quiet and don’t drive you quite literally into a brick wall.
If your kids are too short to see out the window, they’re more likely to get bored and start fighting with each other, or worse, with you. When buying a car, consider taking your children along to measure the height of the rear windows. A booster seat, often recommended anyway, can help improve the view.
Family-friendly vehicles often feature built-in entertainment systems. Although these built-in systems go a long way in distracting your children, if you have multiple kids, getting them to agree on a single program is challenging. It is especially challenging when they vary in age and gender. Built-in systems usually have headphones, but can also play over the car’s built-in speakers. Do not give your kid that option. No sane parent wants to listen to squeaky cartoon voices and slapstick sound effects while stuck in rush hour traffic. We prefer the iPad approach. Look for built-in USB chargers, often located in the rear-facing portion of the centre console. With an iPad, each kid can choose their own program, pop on headphones and watch endless hours of gloriously captivating film and television.
WiFi hotspots are an increasingly common feature in vehicles. Typically the car has its own 4G LTE data connection and broadcasts WiFi when the car is turned on. This allows your little people to connect their electronic devices to the Internet while on-the-go to do everything from messaging to gaming to streaming. Your kids will love you. One piece of advice on the WiFi is to know your car’s data plan. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck with a massive bill for Netflix streaming, as an example.
You Will Need To Clean A Lot
Your kids are terrible at cleaning up after themselves. They somehow spill every drink you hand them, even after repeated reminders to grip their cup with two hands. You bathe them constantly, yet somehow they’re always sticky. It’s like your child can miraculously turn water into jam.
Well-positioned and durable cup-holders seem obvious, but are often overlooked features in cars that aren’t designed around tiny passengers. Ensure your child(ren) can reach the cupholders easily. Ensure the cupholders can fit everything from juice boxes to sports bottles. Ensure the cupholders aren’t the flimsy pull-out type, which can be easily broken by restless feet or overzealous juicebox holstering. Finally, ensure there are two or more cupholders.
Another kid and family-friendly feature is a lot of backseat storage space. Pockets in the doors and on the back of the driver’s and front passenger’s seats are helpful for storing books, iPads and games. They also make tidying up a breeze so that you’re not totally embarrassed when picking up your friends and family.
If you can afford it, leather makes for an incredibly family-friendly feature. Spills can be wiped up quickly and completely, sticky spots can be scrubbed away lickety-split and smells which tend to cling onto fabrics and linger don’t stand a chance.
Although some cars do come with hideaway trash bin rings for plastic bags, we recommend you do a quick search on Amazon for automotive trash bins, which will turn up hundreds of results. These trash bins clip onto doors or headrests and provide a cost-effective, simple method for keeping the backseat tidy.
You Will Need A Safe Car
Although this is an incredibly scary thought, one day you’ll have to accept that your children won’t always be passengers. A few automakers have now developed and deployed technologies that allow parents to monitor and manage their teenager’s driving. As one example, Ford’s MyKey allows parents to lock their teenager into a restricted driving mode that promotes good habits, such as increasing seatbelt use, limiting vehicle top speeds and decreasing audio volume.
Ford has also introduced the inflatable seat belt, which inflates like an airbag in the event of a collision. The automaker’s research suggests improves the safety of the vehicle’s smallest passengers by distributing crash forces across a larger area of the passenger’s chest.
A feature we’re all used to is the polite looping chime that’s triggered by an unbuckled seat belt when the vehicle is in drive. This is a common feature for the driver, and increasingly common for the front seat passenger. Only recently has this feature been offered by some automakers for all passengers in the vehicle. A simple icon on the car’s instrument cluster indicates who’s buckled up and who’s not. This feature allows you to ensure your child is always properly buckled. This can be particularly useful if you have a little one who’s been known to quietly unbuckle their seat belt mid-journey.
Here you are all worried about your child's safety and well-being while inside of the vehicle, but what about their safety and well-being outside of the vehicle? Backup cameras are an incredible innovation and a safety feature that can save lives. We don’t have to explain why backup cameras are a good idea. You get it.
Take Pride In Your Ride
If you're buying a family car, remember that you're part of the family too. Your car can be safe and practical without having to compromise on style and performance. Take pride in your ride. Your kids will thank you.