What cars are suitable for a family with 3 kids under 5?

3 rear facing seats in a Peugeot Rifter – all ISOFIX

What are the best family cars if you have three young children asks Suzanne Keane

Family cars have drastically changed over recent years. Many parents have moved from 7-seater MPVs to SUV style cars with 7 seats and manufacturers have followed suit with many discontinuing their MPVs and concentrating on cars that look less like a family van but may not be as practical.

Options for families with 3 or more young children are drastically shrinking so we’ve taken a look at what’s currently available to buy new – based on parent’s recommendations and details provided by the vehicle manufacturers. However, before you buy it’s important to check the manual to ensure the car ticks all the boxes for you!

The criteria are simple – we need a car that can comfortably fit three children under the age of 5, all in rear facing seats, and two adults.  By comfortably we mean that the seats fit in the car, can be safely installed and are easy for everyday use – i.e. no need to constantly refit, easy to strap children in and no adults climbing over child seats to squash themselves into the middle seat.

 

Seatbelt or ISOFIX?

ISOFIX might be harder to get wrong, but a correctly fitted belted seat is just as safe as an ISOFIX seat. In fact, the majority of ISOFIX seats will be outgrown by 18kg due to the weight limits on the ISOFIX points whereas some belted rear facing seats can stretch as far as 36kg. Also, unless your car has 3 individual full-sized seats in the middle row you won’t be able to use/fit ISOFIX seats in a 3 across situation anyway and this is where belted seats can be really advantageous.

However, if ISOFIX is a priority for you these cars will allow you to fit 3 ISOFIX seats, with their support legs in the middle row. Keep in mind however that spin/360 seats may not have space to turn.

  • Citroen Berlingo
  • Citroen Grand C4 Spacetourer (discontinued from July 2022)
  • Ford Galaxy
  • Ford S-Max
  • Opel Combo-e-Life
  • Peugeot 5008
  • Peugeot Rifter

 

So what’s a support leg?

Depending on the manufacturer it’s also referred to as a support foot or support bracket. Most people are familiar with these from their infant seat and base or a spin/360 seat but in general the most recommended child seats for younger children will have a support leg.

In particular, rear facing seats, with limits higher than 18kg, will either have a support leg or need to brace the seat in front. Without the support leg, every time you move the front seat the child seat would need to be refitted. If you move one of these child seats into the middle seat (if a support leg isn’t allowed) it would need to brace both front seats! Imagine trying to stop either the driver or passenger from ever adjusting their seats? That’s why support legs and cars that allow them in the middle seat are so crucial to families with young children. Unfortunately, many estate cars that were popular with parents in the past have changed their manuals to disallow support legs in the middle seat and therefore we are no longer able to recommend those for 3 across combinations. I did contact these manufacturers for clarification as to why they no longer allowed support legs but they were unable to give a reason why.

However, if you’re still dreaming of buying a new Saloon or Wagon, the Ford Mondeo does allow support legs to be fitted in the middle but hurry up as the model is being discontinued this year!

 

My eldest is in a booster seat so can’t I just put that in the middle as it has no support leg?

Except, in most cases to fit 3 across you’ll be using seats held in place by seatbelts. I can’t speak for your child but I couldn’t trust mine to not unbuckle one of the other seats by mistake if he was sitting in the middle – remember, we’re looking for cars that are easy for parents to use, not just “possible”.

 

But my car has 7 seats?

In most cases, to access the 3rd row of seats in a 7-seater you have to tilt either one of the outer seats in the middle row. This isn’t possible if they both have child seats fitted. However, if you can fit your child seats to one outer seat, and the middle seat (where a support leg is allowed and the seat is wide enough) you are leaving access free to tilt an outer seat and access the 3rd  row. Many 7-seaters aren’t actually suitable for child seats at all and it’s also important to take into account that the majority of 7-seaters won’t allow rear facing child seats in the 3rd  row so they are only for older children, with or without high back boosters.

There are some exceptions which do allow rear facing seats in the 3rd  row:

  • Audi Q7
  • Citroen Berlingo & Grand C4 Spacetourer
  • Dacia Jogger
  • Ford Galaxy
  • Mercedes EQB, GLB, GLE & GLS
  • Peugeot Rifter (no support legs or infant carriers in 3rd row)
  • Toyota Highlander
  • Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace

 

If I’m buying new I want to buy an Electric (BEV)  or  Plug in Hybrid (PHEV)? What are my options?

 

Electric 

  • Citroen Berlingo
  • Opel Combo-e-Life

 

 

Hybrids

  • Ford Galaxy
  • Kia Sorento
  • Toyota Highlander

 

So we’re saying goodbye to MPVs?

It seems that way. They may not have been the prettiest of cars but for larger families, they were often the only option. The choice of models available is drastically reducing but there is an uplift in van derived cars suitable for families such as the Peugeot Rifter, Citroen Berlingo and the Opel-e-Life which will be available with 7 seats later on this year. For larger families Opel also offer the 9-seater Vivaro-e-Combi and Zafira-e-Life.

 

I don’t need space for 2 adults? What are my options for me and 4 children?

Most cars will allow you to turn off the airbag in the front and fit a rear facing child seat on the passenger seat – with Mercedes you can’t turn off the airbag yourself so you’d need to use one of their own child seats with a special sensor – and for extra ease certain cars come with ISOFIX points installed on the passenger seat like the Audi A6 and Skoda Scala. The Land Rover Discovery has ISOFIX points in the passenger seat and the 3rd row but they do not allow rear facing seats, apart from in the outer seats in the middle row, but if you have 3 older children in high back boosters , and one under 5, this may work for you.

 

So what’s the verdict?

Buying a car for 3 young children can be difficult but isn’t impossible. There’s no need to rule out a standard 5-seater car, as long as it will allow you to fit 3 across, all with support legs such as the Citroen C5 Aircross. If you feel you would actually get use out of the extra seats there are still some practical 7 seater options available – but keep in mind the 3rd row of seats will take away from your boot space and may not be comfortable for teenagers and older children.

No matter what car you buy you will need to consider the child seats you already have and maybe change them for narrower/updated versions. We’ll always recommend rear-facing and Swedish Plus Tested seats over others for children under 5 years old. If you feel your older child is ready for a high back booster take a look at our guide here.

A reputable retailer will be able to try out various seats in your new car to make sure that you can get a good and safe fit and may be able to recommend 3 across options that have worked for them in the past. Always check your car manual to make sure that the seats you want to use are allowed.

 

Suzanne Keane

25th April 2022

Author: Suzanne Keane

A confirmed petrol head with a penchant for Retro VW’s, Suzanne has been taking apart (and sometimes putting back together) her own cars for years! You can follow Suzanne on Twitter at @_suzannekeane

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