How to choose a family car

Choosing a new car is a big decision for any family. There are so many things that need to be considered, which is why we’ve put together this guide to help you find the best family car.

How to pick a family car

Depending on the size of your family and the amount of stuff you’ll expect to carry, the choice ranges from smart hatchbacks such as the VW Golf; taller SUVs, such as the Nissan Qashqai; bigger carry-all estates, such as the Skoda Superb; and that Swiss Army knife of the family car world, the MPV.

MPVs are a roomy option, but they’re just not as popular as SUVs nowadays. That’s why many manufacturers are launching bigger, seven-seat SUVs to take their place. For example, a seven-seat version of the VW Tiguan compact SUV is due early next year. This will join Skoda’s similar Kodiag and Peugeot's 3008. 

Different body styles and badges don’t necessarily mean different cars underneath. For example, the new Renault Scenic MPV is pretty much the Renault Kadjar SUV with a different skin. And the Kadjar is pretty much a Nissan Qashqai.

Beware, though. There are some important differences between cars with almost identical specifications. Taller models, such as SUVs, can use more fuel because they’re not as aerodynamic.

What family cars are most ecomonical?

Diesel accounts for almost half of all new cars sold in the UK, and it’s by far the most popular fuel for bigger family cars.

However, diesel vehicles have recently become a target for scientists, environmentalists and legislators who are concerned about the air pollution – specifically, the oxides of nitrogen – that they emit. There are calls for them to be taxed more heavily than their petrol equivalents, and some cities are likely to follow London’s lead by imposing fees on older diesels travelling through their centres.

These tax hikes and toxicity charges will make diesel vehicles more costly in other, indirect ways. By making diesel less attractive, they will put downwards pressure on resale values. For those paying for their car in instalments, this could mean higher monthly payments to make up the difference.

Fortunately, petrol cars are a viable alternative. Manufacturers are getting better at making family cars with small petrol engines that feel powerful rather than sluggish.

For many, it will come down to economy. Petrol vehicles, even the more modern ones, tend to be less fuel efficient than their diesel counterparts. But petrol vehicles also tend to be cheaper upfront. The calculation will depend on your own circumstances, and particularly the distances you drive. Generally speaking, it’s only when families travel more than 10,000 miles a year that the lower fuel costs of diesel outweigh the higher sticker price.

Going green: electric cars and hybrids

What about looking beyond petrol and diesel to the realm of alternative fuels? We have also written a guide to choosing the best electric car, which should contain most of the information you need.

So far as family cars are concerned, it’s worth noting that there aren’t yet many pure electric models available, particularly if you don’t want to stretch to a £66,935 Telsa Model S. However, there are plenty of hybrids to choose from – whether plug-in ones such as the VW Golf GTE, or traditional hybrids such as the Toyota Prius. 

And what hybrids there are, such as the Golf and the Prius, tend to be at the smaller end of the family car spectrum. However, there is a notable exception: Mitsubishi's Outlander hybrid is the world’s first plug-in SUV and the most popular plug-in car of any kind in the UK.

Admittedly, these hybrids tend to cost more upfront than petrol or diesel vehicles. But, of course, they do have other advantages – both for the environment and for your finances. Electricity is much cheaper than traditional fuels. And there are plenty of Government incentives on offer to help with those initial costs. For example, the Plug-in Car Grant could reduce the price of a hybrid by up to £2,500.

That said, these cars might be more attractive to those taking them as company cars. The Government has recently changed the Vehicle Excise Duty system to remove the plug-in hybrid advantage for private buyers. Whereas similar advantages still exist in the Company Car Tax system. 

The good news is that all new family cars are built to keep their occupants safe in crashes. That’s due, in part, to the diligence of EuroNCAP, who test new cars and publicise the results. The results for individual models are available online, here.

But what about stopping cars crashing in the first place? That’s where manufacturers are now concentrating their efforts, and where different models perform differently. The least you should expect in a new car is ‘collision warning’ technology that beeps to alert you if another car or object is approaching too quickly. More advanced systems are available too. Some cars can even brake automatically to avoid a collision.

How to pay for it

The vast majority of car buyers in the UK actually lease their vehicles – mostly through a straightforward rental or through personal contract purchase (PCP), which gives them the right to buy at the end of the term. According to the Finance and Leasing Association, 87% of all new car sales in 2016 were financed by its members.

From the point of view of personal finance, straight leasing usually makes the most sense because it requires less money up front and it’s easier to see what you’ll be paying in total. All lease and PCP agreements will have an agreed mileage limit, and will possibly charge per mile if you go over it. These, along with other end-of-lease charges, are the sorts of extra costs that you should pay close attention to.


These are big choices for you to make – between different models, different fuels and different financing options. Of course, we can’t make these choices for you, but we hope that this guide will help with the process. Here’s to many happy trips with your family in your new car!