What is the Ideal Family Car?

We take a look at best family cars on the market

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Looking for the ideal family car? Here's what you need to know...

Car boot full of luggage

Finding your ideal family car…

Buying a car can be exciting but it can also be confusing, especially if you are choosing a family car. Do you opt for petrol or diesel? How much space do you need, and does the car have enough safety features?

You also have to take into account your budget, not only for the car purchase, but also to keep the vehicle on the road. The cost of tax, car insurance and fuel can soon mount up.

MoneySuperMarket’s online comparison service can help you to cut the cost of motor insurance by comparing cheap car insurance quotes from the country’s leading insurers. And our car buying guide can help you to pick the ideal family car.

Emissions and car tax

The cost of road tax for a new car is linked to the vehicle’s fuel type and co2 emissions.  A petrol or diesel car in Band A producing less than 100g per km of co2 will pay no road tax. But a tax disc for a car in Band M, churning out over 255g per km, will cost £475 a year.

A car in middle Band G would pay £170. The rates for cars that run on alternative fuel are slightly cheaper. A vehicle in Band G, for example, would pay £160.

The cost of a vehicle’s first tax disc is different in some bands. In the first year it is registered, for example, a car in Band M would pay £1030.

Diesel cars often have lower co2 emissions than petrol engines, so vehicle excise duty (VED) can be cheaper. However, diesel is more expensive than petrol, so your diesel car could cost more in the long run. 

Car insurance groups

The average car insurance premium is now about £470, which can make a sizeable dent in the family budget. So if you are buying a new car it is always worth checking out the vehicle’s car insurance group.

Insurers rate all cars built to UK specifications into one of 50 car insurance groups. The car insurance groups are decided by the Group Rating Panel, using information compiled by specialist firm Thatcham on a range of factors, including the time and cost of repairs and the engine performance.

Cars in group 1 are generally cheaper to insure than cars in group 50, so it pays to know your chosen car’s insurance rating.

You also have to take into account your budget, not only for the car purchase, but also to keep the vehicle on the road

Fuel economy

A car’s fuel efficiency is becoming increasingly important as the cost of petrol and diesel keeps on rising – with no signs of any let up. The average price of unleaded petrol has increased by 5p over the past month and is now 138.32p a litre. Diesel has gone up 4.78p from mid-January to the current average of 145.10p.

Sadly, motorists have endured even higher prices. Last April unleaded petrol peaked at 142.48p while diesel rose as high as 147.93p.

The weak pound is partly to blame for driving up fuel prices. But the cost of oil on the international market is also going up. Many experts are warning of further hikes at the pumps, with some calling on the government to cancel a planned rise in fuel duty in September.

A fuel efficient car is obviously cheaper to run than a gas-guzzler, so it’s worth asking about a car’s fuel consumption before you buy. In the What Car Green Awards, the BMW 1 Series was named the top small family car. It manages 74 mpg and, with CO2 emissions of 99g per km, it is in Band A for VED.

If you are looking for a larger vehicle, the Ford Mondeo, Hyundai 140 and the Volkswagen Passat all come in at about 65 miles per gallon. However, they fall into Band C for road tax, so the tax disc would cost £30. Or, for motorists who prefer an MPV, the Toyota Prius does 68 mpg and emits 96g per km of co2.

Hybrid and electric cars

Hybrid and electric cars are even more fuel efficient than conventional vehicles. They are also kinder to the environment and cheap to tax, though the purchase price can be high.

A hybrid car basically has two power sources – a petrol engine and an electric engine – and they are better suited to urban stop-start driving rather than regular long distances. The Toyota Prius Hybrid is one of the most popular models. Lexus and Honda are also established names in the hybrid market, but more manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Peugeot and  Volkswagen are waking up to the potential of hybrid cars.

Electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, are driven by an electric motor rather than by a combustion engine and produce zero carbon emissions. However, they cannot usually travel very long distances and there is the problem of charging the vehicle – where you can do it, and how long it takes. 

The latest development is the new generation of plug-in hybrids, such as the Toyota Plug-In Prius, which come with a larger battery capacity and a mains charger. Alternatively, there’s the Extended Range Electric Vehicle, or E-Rev, such as the award-winning Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall Ampera.

These have an on-board petrol-powered generator so they can keep going even when the battery is depleted, extending their range to about 300 miles. In the What Car Green Awards, the Chevrolet Volt and the Vauxhall Ampera both scored highly. Both vehicles manage 235 miles per gallon and have very low co2 emissions.

Some of the latest green cars are expensive - the Chevrolet Volt costs a whopping £35,000. But they might qualify for the Plug-in Car Grant, which is worth 25% of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

Reliability index

If you use your car to transport your family around, you want a vehicle that won’t let you down. The reliability index is therefore a good source of reference if you are trying to find the ideal family car. The index is compiled by Warranty Direct based on data from hundreds of thousands of claims handled by the company every year.

Some of the most reliable cars include the Ford Fiesta, the Mitsubishi Lancer and the Vauxhall Agila. Mercedes Benz has five models in the bottom 10 cars on the reliability index, including the R Class in last place.

You can look up a make and model of car to find out its rating on the website http://www.reliabilityindex.com/.

Safety standards

Safety is a key feature of a family car, and can make or break a purchase decision. All cars manufactured to UK specifications must meet minimum safety standards but the testing agency Euro NCAP conducts a number of additional tests in order to encourage manufacturers to exceed the minimum standards. It then awards a star rating, with a maximum of five stars.

In the latest results from the crash test agency, the Volvo V40, Honda Civic and the Nissan Leaf all scored the maximum five stars.

If you want to look up the rating for a particular car, visit the website http://www.euroncap.com/home.aspx.

Bigger and better

Space is at a premium in the ideal family car, especially if you have more than one child, or a young child with a pushchair. A car with at least four doors is essential, and a five door hatchback is often more convenient than a saloon because there is more room in the boot for all your kit – not to mention a household pet.

An MPV might be a better choice if you have several young children, and many MPVs can carry up to seven people thanks to fold-down seats at the back. But do bear in mind that the boot space is limited if all the seats are in use. The sliding rear doors on some MPVs can also make it easier to manoeuvre small children in and out of car seats, especially in cramped public or shop car parks.

What Car names the Ford Mondeo and the Volkswagen Passat as its best larger family cars. Or there’s the Skoda Superb with a deceptively roomy interior. The Seat Alhambra is the winner in the MPV category. Or, there’s the Peugeot 5008 and the smaller Citroen C3 Picasso.

Child friendly cars 

Families demand a lot from their cars, and manufacturers are becoming more attuned to their needs. Most modern cars, for example, come with Isofix mounting points to allow you to fix a car seat securely. Storage for children’s toys, snacks and drinks can also be a bonus in a family car.

Many parents look for integrated sun blinds or tinted rear windows, particularly if they are travelling with a baby. Then there are ceiling- or seatback-mounted DVD screens to keep older children happy on longer journeys.

You can find reviews of family cars on websites such as What Car, Which? and the AA – and it’s worth doing some research before you make your final choice. Just remember that the ideal family car should suit your lifestyle as well as your budget.

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