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Best car features for families
Advice

Best car features for families

They all have seats and they’ll all get you from A to B. But different cars can have varying levels of success in how they treat their occupants – and how well they perform as family vehicles.

Will you get to that holiday destination and feel like tearing your hair out? Or will you arrive refreshed and ready for the first pina colada beside the pool?

The vehicle transporting you can make all the difference – to you and your family.

Here are some of the features and extras that can transform a car from mere family transport to a genuinely thoughtful and practical way to get around.

Easy to clean seats

Leather may be a luxury to the well-heeled. But for many mums and dads it’s a necessity for when Vegemite is smeared across the back seat or a mandarin somehow squishes itself into oblivion against the door. Yep, kids love getting messy and the smooth surface of leather – or increasingly popular fake leather – can be that much easier to clean up. At the very least, pay attention to the fabric on the seats of the car you’re looking at and whether it will easily brush off the best efforts of a toddler.

Built-in booster seats

Booster seats can take up plenty of in-cabin real estate, which is why Volvo’s solution works beautifully. On many of its cars the Swedish brand builds pop-up boosters into the rear seat cushions. So if the kids want their friends along for the ride there’s no bolting in a booster. Instead, it’s a quick clip and release.

Mirrors to keep an eye on the kids

Suspicious of what’s going on behind you? Some cars, including the Kia Carnival, have a small convex mirror designed to keep an eye on what’s happening further back. It’s the perfect addition that will hopefully make the kids believe you really do have eyes in the back of your head.

Rain protection

Ever been caught short when the weather turns? If you’re driving a Skoda you should have been able to grab an umbrella from the door. The Czech brand builds umbrella holes into each door, so when you open up, you can cover up.

Onboard bins

Mess and rubbish are (unfortunately) part and parcel of the family road trip. But in designing the Territory for Australia Ford engineers ensured there was in-built cleverness. A small compartment in the rear could be easily removed to empty out whatever wasn’t shovelled into those young mouths. It’s even dishwasher safe. Others, such as the Volkswagen Multivan, have a miniature bin that slides into the cupholders in the doors.

Power ports

There’s only so far eye-spy can take you. And despite every parents’ best intentions there’s a good chance a phone or tablet will come into the mix at some time on the big road trip. All of which can turn into a disaster if those ever-fickle batteries go flat. While 12V power outlets were once the norm, these days USB ports are increasingly popular. Even better if there are plenty of them scattered throughout the car.

Check the child seat anchor points

Not all seven-seat SUVs can have child seats in the very back row, something that makes it easy to take the grandparents in the middle row while keeping the kids further back. It comes down to where the child seat anchor points are. SUVs such as the Ford Everest and Mazda CX-9 make it easier to put child seats right at the back, adding to that flexibility. So make sure you check before you buy.

Door protectors

Kids can often be eager to exit the car the second you’ve parked. Often it involves vigorously swinging the door open to add crucial seconds to play time. Such excitement can also lead to paint chips or dings in the door. But if you’ve got a Skoda Kodiaq there’s some extra protection that cleverly flips out to cover the edge of the door before impact.

Onboard fridges

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars at an adventure store to keep things chilled. Some cars have cooled gloveboxes or centre consoles to keep drinks, fruit and snacks cold. It’s a genius idea that is perfect for those longer adventures.

Comfortable seats

It may sound silly, but it’s surprising how many brands compromise on rear seat comfort. Those up front could be basking in cushy lateral support and acres of headroom while those in the rear have their knees around their chin and a cushion that feels like it was crafted by a stonemason. It’s particularly relevant in dual-cab utes. Those butch machines that do such a good job of hauling heavy things and towing don’t always pamper those in the back seat.

Good vision

Design sometimes wins out over function when it comes to little people. The Toyota C-HR looks terrific, for example, but that swooping window line along the back doors means side windows are quite high. It’s no issue for adults or taller teens, but the little ones could find themselves missing that glimpse of a kangaroo. Apart from missing out on the action, a lack of good visibility can take the strength out of little stomachs. So check that back seat visibility by putting your head around the height of theirs when you’re shopping for a car.

Fresh air

Crisp, cool air-conditioning is taken for granted in modern cars, at least for those up front. It doesn’t always make itself easily to other parts of the vehicle, especially if there are no air vents in the back. Fortunately most car makers now ensure there’s a fresh stream of air heading rearward, but it’s still worth checking the placement of air vents, especially for seven-seat SUVs. It can make all the difference on those hot summer days!

Split-folding seats

Many cars have 60/40 split fold for the back seat, allowing for just one portion to be folded to take a surfboard or fishing rods while still accommodating one or two people. But the better setup is a 40/20/40 split-fold that allows just the centre section to completely fold for those longer items. It means kids can be separated, reducing the chance of unexpected combat.

Seatbelt warnings

Most new cars have seatbelt reminders for every seat in the vehicle. That’s because it’s one of the requirements for getting a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. But older cars can be hit and miss. So check whether the one you’re looking at warns you if those in the second and third rows haven’t buckled up. You’ll be safe in the knowledge that one of the best safety systems in the car is still doing its job.