Actually, this is a trick question – there’s no perfect, straight-from-the-box family car, because each family has different needs and uses for their primary family vehicle. Simply put, any family car should offer safety, comfort, ease of use, child-friendliness and be cost-efficient to run and maintain.
Always ask what the Euro NCAP (New Car Assesment Programme) rating of the car is. This independent car safety rating system uses a series of crash tests to determine just how safe your car is, after which the model is awarded a star rating with five being the highest rating. The higher the rating, the better the particular vehicle performed in the tests. This is useful if you’re trying to choose between two similar cars in a category, because the ratings can be compared between cars of the same size and type (for example, small family cars).
Now, the uniquely South African question: what kind of hijack stats are there for the brand of car you’re considering? By all means, ask the dealer who is trying to sell you the car, but a better option would be to call your insurer to find out what their list of high-risk vehicles is.
Another must-ask is whether the car you’re considering has Isofix points for securing infant and toddler car seats. “Isofix mountings are a method used to secure a child seat onto a vehicle directly to the chassis, and not by means of a seat belt,” says David Sieff, national marketing manager at Kia South Africa.
The advantage of this system of attachment is that you’ll know the car seat is correctly installed, because the potential margin for error is so much smaller.
The essential safety features? “For me, ABS (anti-lock brakes) is critical, but stability and traction control is becoming commonplace,” says David. “Isofix is key if you have a family, and protection of the occupants is important, so the more airbags the better.”
Does size really matter?
A seven-seater car might seem like a great idea, but remember that bigger also means more expensive to run. Be pragmatic about your choices. Do you have a large family or regularly lift other children, or is this more about vanity than necessity? Have a look at the mileage per litre of petrol before you purchase. “Anything under nine litres per 100km is acceptable, bearing in mind that the figure improves if it’s a diesel model,” advises David.
If you’re considering a five-seater and you have three small children, make sure that the back seat is wide enough to take all three car seats clipped into seatbelt or Isofix anchors. If it doesn’t take all three, you’re in for an expensive surprise and endless frustration each time you need to strap the kids in.
Think about the junk in your trunk. Is the boot big enough to take the pram of your choice? How high is the lip of the boot? Try standing alongside it to see how high it is compared to you. If it’s relatively high compared to your waist, will you struggle to lift a pram into it? Take the time to do some practise runs at the dealership or on your test drive. Also bear in mind that the average pram weighs between five and eight kilograms, which means that having to lift it higher could put strain on your back.
Value for money
Consider a demo model if you’re in the market for a new car – it will be cheaper than a new version. Aside from the cost of purchasing the car, make sure you know what the costs will be of maintaining it – especially if you’re considering a pre-owned car that is not covered by a service or maintenance plan. Ask about the replacement costs of key large parts like the alternator, catalytic converter, fuel injection pump, camshaft or cylinder head.
And, of course, if you’re offered the option to upgrade your service plan to a maintenance plan, it’s a no-brainer to do so – the initial additional cost will pay for itself in the long term.
Gadgets you want
Most family cars these days offer a range of gadgets, either as standard or as add-ons, but we think the following are no-brainers when you’re choosing your extras:
- Stain-resistant seat covers. We doubt we need to explain the appeal of this one. “Without a doubt, leather is the best for keeping an interior clean,” says David. “It is also a lot easier to wipe spills and smudges off leather than cloth.”
- Some form of park assist, reverse-sensing system or obstacle detection. When you’re manoeuvring a large car full of noisy children, a loud beep indicating an imminent collision is worth its weight in gold. Make sure it will register smaller items like tricycles in your driveway.
- On-board multimedia systems (built-in DVD screens). Premium models often come with this as standard, but for others this might be an optional extra. If you’re offered the choice, say “Yes, please”. On long or even medium-distance trips, they can be a lifesaver for parental sanity. If it comes with an option for headphone jacks, even better – you’ll be saved the agony of listening to Katy Perry on repeat for the millionth time.
- A built-in GPS. As your kids get older, you’re going to spend a fair amount of time driving them to and from parties, play dates and school activities. It’s easier, and safer, to follow the map on a built-in model than attempting to use your phone while driving.
What to try on that test-drive
- Arrive armed with an arsenal. Take your car seat along with you and check how easy it is to install and uninstall in the vehicle. If you have more than one child, take both car seats and put them both in the back seat. Then try to fit an adult in between the seats – can the adult sit comfortably, or at all, with two car seats in the back?
- Ask how many cupholders there are and where they are located. Do they take a standard sippy cup or bottle? Are they deep enough so that a full water bottle will not topple over and spill? Are they adjustable?
- How easy is it to disable airbags where an infant car seat might be placed?
- Take your pram along to test whether the boot is large enough to accommodate it. Lift the pram into the boot by yourself to see how easy it is to pack away.
The new Range Rover Evoque now available in South Africa
If you’re in the market for a new family car, and can splurge a little, the new Range Rover Evoque would make a great family car. Since mom is probably the one spending most of her time driving kids around, she’ll love the comfort and space this car has to offer. Not to mention the boot space! There’s more than enough space for a pram, all the school bags and even dad’s golf clubs!
The gadgets we loved most about the new Evoque is the Lane Keep Assist (let’s face it, we do sometimes take our eyes off the road for a second to pick up a sippy cup), and the new smart rear-view mirror. It transforms into an HD video screen at the touch of a button. This is awesome for moms, as your view remains unrestricted by busy kids or large items obstructing your view in the back.
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