Cars for large families

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If you have a large family, perhaps with four or more children, your choice may be limited when it comes to choosing a new car. We look at the complexities of making the right choice for your family.

You're generally faced with two choices - either purchase a seven-seat SUV (otherwise known as a four-wheel-drive) or go with a minivan.

According to Isaac Bober, editor-in-chief of the automotive website Practical Motoring, the decision comes down to what you want to do with the vehicle, as well as how many people you will ultimately be carrying.

You'll need to look at how the doors open for ease of access.

"Not all SUVs offer a seven-seat option, and those that do are generally going to be bigger vehicles like the Kia Sorento and the Toyota Fortuner," he says. "The advantage of SUVs is that they offer the opportunity to get off the beaten track.

"If your beat is the blacktop, then there are other options that will offer seven seats, but not the expense of all-wheel-drive running gear," he continues.

The other option for families with a clutch of children is the minivan, which in Australia are generally confined to front-wheel-drive. All-wheel-drive vans exist, but they tend to be second hand imports of vehicles not available in Australia from places like Japan, where they are more common, Bober notes.

Bober warns that with minivans it's vital to choose one that did not start out as a commercial vehicle and was then adapted by the manufacturer into a people-carrier. "Look for vehicles that were purpose-built with passengers in mind," he says.

Passenger vehicles are generally built to higher safety standards than commercial vehicles, Bober says.

One of the important considerations when carrying children is their car-seat. While many of the vehicles available for a large family will have third-row seating, that seating is often not suitable for child car-seat fitment, he says.

"If you've got three kids in car seats you'll need to check whether all of those seats can be fitted to your car and, if you've got older kids, you'll need to check if they can access the third row without taking out the child seats each and every time," says Bober.

You'll also want to look at how wide the doors open - for ease of access - and how the second row of seats folds forward to make a space big enough for kids to climb through to the third row. It's also worth bearing in mind some people-movers (minivans) have sliding doors on the side, while others have conventional swinging doors. In general, a sliding door provides for better access to all the rows of seats without the need to constantly install and remove child car seats, Bober says.

So the tough decision is between an SUV and a minivan. It's worth bearing in mind that not all SUVs are all-wheel-drive, meaning they have the off-road image, without the associated dirt-road capabilities.

Minivans are a good solution for large families. Source: Flickr user, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (,

SUVs, however, tend to have a higher driving position - which some people prefer - and regardless of whether or not they are all-wheel-drive, they also generally have higher ground clearance, which means you're not going to be bending up and down helping kids inside, putting in groceries and fitting car seats. This can however make it harder for less able passengers to get in.

Minivans tend to drive more like regular passenger cars, Bober adds.

"In the end, your choice should fit you and your family like a glove," says Bober. "That's why it pays to do your research, do test drives, see if you can fit child seats, and then decide which is the best choice for you."