Choosing the right size car

Car choosing

Which family car you buy will depend on a variety of factors, but one of the most important will be the size, or type, of car you're looking for. 

If you only ever need to fit a maximum of four passengers and next to nothing in the boot, then the world's your oyster (unless you want a two-seater, in which case the constraints speak for themselves). However, if passenger and boot space are at all important, then you'll want to narrow your choices to a degree – and most likely to the types of car below.

It helps if you know the labels the motoring industry gives to certain types of cars sold today, so here's our low-down on what's on offer for families. 

Small family cars Family carsEstate carsMPVsSUVs

 

VW Golf

Small family cars

The name 'small family car' is mainly given to what most of us would think of as a medium-sized hatchback. The beauty of a small family car is that it can be one of the cheapest types of car to buy and run. Due to its compact size, it's also easy to park, yet some models still have boots big enough for a bulky double buggy. You won't get too much luggage or shopping on top of this, however, so a small family car is often a better option for those with older children and less, or smaller, paraphernalia.  

Bear in mind that three-door models, while a fraction cheaper to buy, make it difficult to load small children into their child seats. 

 

 

Ford Mondeo

Family cars

The motoring industry still uses this term for saloons and large hatchbacks. These types of cars used to be aimed at bigger families but these days they're the most common choice for company car drivers. 

However, they still have much to offer families who prefer these cars' looks or business-like image.  They tend to have plenty of cabin and boot space, good driving manners and some very efficient diesel engines (aimed at company car users doing lots of motorway miles). 

They may not hold their value too well when the time comes to sell them on, but there are often big discounts on offer to private buyers.

  

 

Merc E-Class estate

Estate cars

The most important features of an estate car is its big boot, but you also get most of the driving manners of the car's saloon or hatchback sibling, and these will be better than most MPVs or SUVs

Estate cars tend to have a better image than other load-luggers, even if they can be less versatile or practical. If space is a priority to you, bear in mind that some MPVs and SUVs offer more, particularly when it comes to space for both passengers and luggage; that's especially the case compared to some of the smaller estate models.  

 

Merc E-Class estate boot

Estate cars tend to be more economical than MPVs and SUVs, although this isn't always the case.

 

 

Seat Alhambra

MPVs

Multi-purpose vehicles, sometimes known as people-carriers, have seating that can be rearranged to create a variety of passenger and load spaces. A tall roof adds to the cabin space and there's usually a large boot plus extra stowage for clutter. 

Raised seating gives a good view out and helps with access. In the most versatile models, the rear seats individually slide, recline and fold flat. 

 

Seat Alhambra 

If you're looking for a seven-seater, or a car with three same-sized rear seats in a row - and especially if you want all three of those same-sized seats to have Isofix points - you'll find that most of these are MPVs (though there are a few seven-seater SUVs, including some with four-wheel-drive).  

Don't be fooled by MPVs' dull image: some are surprisingly smart and good to drive.

 

 

Nissan Qashaqi 

SUVs

The term SUV (sports utility vehicle) covers any 4x4-style car, from genuine off-roaders to cars which just ape their looks but are only two-wheel drive. Some come with part-time four-wheel drive which automatically cuts in only when the car senses that conditions require it. 

SUVs' raised seating gives a good view of the road ahead and means you don't have to bend down to load the boot or children, although their height can also make it tricky for younger children or the less mobile to get in and out of the car without assistance. They have lots of space, too - both for passengers and luggage. 

SUVs have moved on a long way since they were regarded as gas-guzzling road-hoggers. For instance, many modern SUVs are cleaner and more economical than much smaller cars. It's also worth knowing that SUVs are no longer – and sometimes shorter – than many estate cars. 

Don't assume that SUVs are any safer than the next car, though - first look up crash test results for the models you're considering at www.euroncap.com. Also check what equipment the car has to help prevent a crash and protect occupants if one happens, including whether the car has airbags for all rear occupants as well as those up front. 

 

Take a look at our Top 10 estate cars, Top 10 MPVsTop 10 SUVs and Top 10 seven-seaters for more help choosing your car - or you can just peruse what's out there in our Car Reviews section. You can also read about the best cars in every category of What Car?'s 2013 Car of the Year Awards