Life Auto The checklist: Picking the right family car

The checklist: Picking the right family car

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First things first: what size? If one thing is certain, your dream to own that Porsche Boxster has just gone on hold. But starting a new family doesn’t mean the your motoring days will be relegated to Taragos or hulking 4WDs. First ask yourself these questions…

How many kids (and pets)? If you’re looking at only having one child, there is no reason why you shouldn’t get a smaller car. The only two rules are 1. It must have enough boot space to fit a stroller and the shopping and 2. It must have four doors. Putting small children in and out of cars put a huge strain on your back and having a coupe is a sure path to lower back problems. If you’re going to have two children fairly quickly it’s best to look at a 4WD or larger family cars, especially station wagons. With the popularity of 4WDs the humble station wagon has been largely forgotten but they’ve got loads of space and are excellent if you have a dog. More than two? Then you’re moving into 7-seater territory.
Where do you live? If you live in the inner city or have limited parking, car manoeuvrability is important. Most of big 4WDs have large turning circles as a safety feature to stop them from rolling over in fast turns, but it can make them a nightmare in tight spots.
How clever is the car? The reality is you’re new car will be hauling all sorts of things from oversized toys to sport equipment so it’s important that the car has a clever and flexible way of arranging space. Do the seats come out or fold down? How easy is it to do? Is it possible to use the roof for carrying large items?
How much will it cost to run? Aside from the original price, the ongoing costs of cars vary widely. Insurance, mileage and maintenance all come to into play. And yes, European is generally better for safety and design, but they cost more if something goes wrong.

Check out the New Daily's checklist for buying a family car.
Check out the New Daily’s checklist for buying a family car.

Family-friendly features
Take this checklist with you when you go to the car show room:

  • Key-activated door opening that also opens the boot. When you’re juggling the shopping in one hand a child in the other, this is indispensable.
  • Automatic windows that can be controlled by the driver with an all-important window lock feature. Especially good when your young ones get a little older.
  • Air conditioning at the back. Young ones typically don’t like the wind in the faces and in summer the A/C will keep everyone calm.
  • Fabric protection. Your upholstery will be subjected to a world of fluids. This will keep them half-presentable.
  • Cup holder in the back. In years to come you’ll thank yourself for getting them.
  • Hatchbacks. They’re far friendlier than side-opening boots. Side-openers are heavy and have a tendency to slam shut when they’re on hills with you in the middle, usually putting the shopping away.



Michael Paine from Vehicle Design and Research Australia is one of the country’s best authorities in car safety. He recommends:

Consult crash test results. Called the ANCAP results, they measure passenger safety in the event of a serious head-on and side crashes for all new cars in Australia. Click for the full list. However in the case of small children these aren’t the be all and end all says Paine. “In my opinion is there’s not much difference between big cars and small cars for child safety because their restraints are so well designed. It would take a huge crash – over 100km/h – to crush a child restraint,” he says.

Get side air bags. The biggest area of weakness for car crashes is side impact and “Curtain (side) bags half the risk of fatality,” says Paine. “We’ve done some very severe pole tests and they’d definitely be fatal without them. I’m a very strong believer of them.”

4WD’s may be more dangerous. That’s because 4WDs are far more over represented in the nightmare scenario of your child being crushed under wheels while you reverse the car. “It’s a combination of a variety of things like visibility and tyre size,” says Paine. And while Commodore has the worst visibility 4WDs are still the biggest killers in this all too common and overlooked problem.

Ban lap seat belts. Too many cars makers still have a lap seat belt in the central rear passenger seats as a way a cutting costs. “They’re far more dangerous, create horrific abdominal injuries, and you’re guaranteed to find similar cars with proper three point seat belts everywhere,” says Paine.

You don’t need to buy a new car. All second-hand cars have safety ratings based on more than a million car accidents in Qld, Vic and NSW. The safety rating measures two things. 1. How likely a person in the car is going to be injured in an accident and 2. How likely you are to injure a driver in another car if you hit them. Click for the full list.

At the show room
Once you’ve narrowed down the options, make the most of your test drive. This means going to the trouble of bringing baby, child restraint and stroller along. But it’s worth it. “Many child restraint/car combinations are quite difficult to install and to put in and remove your baby out of,” says Paine. You be doing that thousands of times in coming years so, what doesn’t feel right now will become the bane of your life in six months. How easy is it to get the stroller in and out? Go through the motions of put the seats up down and out to see changing your storage space is complicated. And if you’re getting a 4WD with a side-opening door, see if it will stay open on a hill.

Once you’ve done all of that, congratulations. You’ve found the right car for you.


Green Friendly
Ford Focus diesel
While petrol hybrid cars like the Toyota Prius have captured the public’s imagination, the new generation diesel engine cars “actually have less emissions,” says the editor of ECCO Car magazine Chris Mullet.

Ford Focus diesel.
Ford Focus diesel.














Best designed
Volvo V50
Volvo does family-friendly cars better than anyone else. For example, you can raise the cushions on the back seat to form a pair of booster seats for young kids and the back seats fold easily flat to make a three metre flat space.

Volvo V50.
Volvo V50.














Best value
Subaru Liberty
In terms of safety, features and economy it’s hard to go past the Subaru range. All of them have the top five-star ranking for occupant safety, child seat anchor points, three-point rear centre seatbelt and side curtain airbags for added front and rear passenger protection.

Subaru Liberty.
Subaru Liberty.














Lots of kids
Hyundai Santa Fe SLX
Seven seats, airbags for everyone and very good value for money.

Hyundai Santa Fe.
Hyundai Santa Fe.














For the safety conscious (and a splurge)
Mercedes-Benz E Class Estate
Aside from looking good, this is a good place to be in a crash. It has the latest and best safety features: Seven airbags, whiplash controllers on the headrests along with advanced ABS to stop you ending up in an accident in the first place.

Mercedes E Class.
Mercedes E Class.

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