13:22 09 May 2013
As every parent knows, children change everything. A full night's sleep becomes a luxury, and every trip away from home becomes a military-style operation as supplies of bottles, baby food, toys, nappies and at least three weeks' worth of clothes are packed into the back of your car...
Ah, the car... You can forget about keeping that two-seater sports car. Even a hatchback could be a little lacking in certain departments as power and performance make way for boot space and baby-seat compatibility.
(I say all this from personal experience. When my first son was born I had to sell my Nissan Navara for a more suitable vehicle - and so began my run of bad luck with all things automotive)
So, if you've a baby on the way, or if you have a young family, here are the cars you should be driving...
The best small family cars
If you're in the market for a small family hatchback, then you need look no further than the Audi A3 Sportback, winner of the Best small family car category in the WhatCar? Car of the Year 2013 Awards.
A combination of the A3's premium spec, intuitive infotainment system (the navigation, connectivity and in-car entertainment rig), excellent road-handling and miserly fuel consumption put it ahead of the competition.
The 1.4 TFSI 122 SE 5dr is the best model to go for as the fuel-efficient engine averages 53.3mpg but still has enough punch to make for an exciting ride. It comes with MP3 connectivity, Bluetooth and hands-free as standard while satellite navigation comes as a no-cost option.
As for safety, the A3 has five Euro NCAP stars and comes with driver, passenger, side body, head and knee airbags and all models also have child locks for the rear doors and front seatbelt pre-tensioners.
And what of the all-important boot space? The A3 has a boot capacity of 380litres with the rear-most seats in the up position - plenty of room for a fold away pram and a change bag.
Although the high specification of the A3 means that, at £19,825, it comes with a higher screen price than most of its rivals, it's worth bearing in mind that it'll have a better sell-on value than most other small family cars.
Alternatives to the Audi include the Kia Ceed 1.6 CRDi 128 1 ISG which comes in at £16,295 and will give an average of 76.3mpg or the Seat Leon 1.2 TSI S, which offers 57.6mpg and comes in at a very reasonable £15,670.
If you're looking to buy used, then the Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI is a great option as it combines a fuel efficient and reliable engine with a comfortable and spacious interior. If you go for one made between 2004 and 2008 it should set you back no more than around £12,000, and you could even pick one up for as little as £2,500 - but always give any used car a thorough check before buying.
The best family cars
If you've a couple of kids then you'll need something with a bit more room than those mentioned above and, although not a head-turner, the Ford Mondeoticks all the boxes when it comes to buying a family car.
The best model to go for is the 1.6 TDCi 115 Eco Zetec as the engine is powerful enough to cope with any road and yet economical enough to return 65.7mpg.
And when coupled with the Mondeo's great handling, which makes it feel like a much smaller car, the Zetec is as at-ease on country lanes as it is on motorways.
Inside there's easily enough room for five adults, or two adults and two car seats, and the 528litre boot means that you can easily get a couple of prams in with room to spare. As far as in-car entertainment goes, the car comes with a CD player with MP3 connectivity and a Bluetooth connection.
As you'd expect, the Mondeo gained a five-star Euro NCAP rating and has dual front, side, curtain and knee airbags and seat belt pre-tensioners as well as child locks for the rear doors.
A brand new Mondeo will come with a list price of £20,195, although there's some room for manoeuvre and you could pick up a new one for as little as £18,500. On the downside, it will depreciate fairly rapidly as residual values on Mondeos are relatively weak.
The Volkswagen Passat 2.0TDI 140 Bluemotion Tech Highline offers a good alternative to the Mondeo, and although it comes in at around £3,000 more expensive and returns a slightly lower 61.4mpg, it should hold its value better than the Ford.
Or you could go for Skoda Superb 1.4 TSI S which, as a petrol model, gives you fewer miles per gallon (averaging 41.5mpg) but feels more like a luxury saloon and can be picked up from around £17,500.
The Toyota Avensis saloon is a great option for anyone looking for a reliable, secondhand family car, and if you go for the models built between 2003 and 2008 you'll find that it not only offers a good ride with an upmarket feel, but you'll be able to pick up a great example for around £9,000.
The best cars for bigger families (MPVs)
If a family car is still too small to accommodate your clan and all that travels with them, it might be time to consider investing in an MPV - and, the best in class appears to be the Seat Alhambra 2.0TDI 140 E/motive S.
The Alhambra will comfortably seat seven adults and still have a sizeable 267 litres of boot space, but drop the back two seats and you then have a whopping 809litres of space in the back.
And, considering its size, the car is surprisingly easy to drive with great all-round visibility and well-weighted handling, while front and rear parking sensors and sliding side doors mean that the Alhambra is also surprisingly easy to park.
The 2.0litre diesel engine is more than capable on any road and returns an average of 50.4mpg.
The Alhambra comes with seven airbags (the curtain airbags stretching the entire length of the cabin), and it offers the peace of mind of having a five-star Euro NCAP rating. As for in-car entertainment it comes with a CD player with MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth.
However, with a list price of around the £25,000, the Alhambra is not cheap, so if you're looking for a cheaper alternative, you can pick up a Peugeot 5008 1.6 HDi 112 Active for £21,395 or go for the slightly smaller Citroen C3 Picasso 1.4VTi 95 VTR+ which you can buy new for a little over £14,000.
As far as fuel economy goes, these alternatives offer 51.4mpg and 44.8mpg, respectively.
Although not a massively popular model, the Honda FRV MPV (built between 2004 and 2009) offers a clever six-seat layout with plenty of luggage space, is a pleasure to drive and is an exceptionally reliable vehicle, coming top of the Which? 'Most reliable used MPVs' survey. Prices range from £3,000 to £11,000.
Keeping the kids entertained
No matter what car you go for, keeping the kids entertained on a long journey is a difficult task, so once the games of i-spy have run their course and the books have all been read from cover to cover, it's time to break out the tech...
Personally, I find the Nintendo 3DS tends to do the trick, with more than enough games to cover the longest of car journeys (and I know of which I speak, having driven from the Wirral to Drumbeg in the far north of Scotland).
Alternatively, if video games aren't your kids' thing, it might be worth investing in a portable DVD player such as the Philips PD7022 which comes with dual 7-inch colour LCD displays.
If you upgrade your in-car entertainment system in any way, be sure to inform your car insurance company, as any modifications to the vehicle's original specifications can affect your policy.
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