Family life is as rewarding as it is expensive. Ben Griffin rounds-up the best family cars capable of ferrying your loved ones around without breaking the bank.
Those new to family life can never really prepare for just how much money will leave your bank account on a regular basis and even veterans of parenthood will have to be thrifty. So no wonder affordable family cars are so popular, but which should you consider?
We went in search of cars capable of family life for £13,000 and under, a modest sum that will ensure you can eat more than beans on toast until your kids are ready to flee the nest. Which in this day and age is about 30. We’ll just let that sink in for a second.
The Dacia Duster is one of the cheapest off-roaders in the UK. Not only does it have sports utility vehicle levels of space, it can take a battering and is priced like a supermini. Admittedly the four-wheel drive option goes over our budget by £995, but the cheaper front-wheel drive model is still hardy. Go for the 1.5dCi diesel over the petrol as it’s much less thirsty, at 53.3mpg. The entry level model is seriously lacking in creature comforts but you can use the budget to step up from entry-level Access to Ambiance dCi 110 4×2. A five-year warranty is a nice addition, too.
A second Dacia makes the list because, like the Duster, it’s dirt cheap. The petrol engine is cheaper than the diesel and is perfect for city workouts and more fun to drive. Those who do a lot of motorway journeys should take the diesel (starting from £8,595 for the Ambiance dCi 90) which is capable of 65.7mpg. Ambiance is the best bet as it has enough creature comforts for five passengers but is still cheaper than the competition, which is what you want in a no-frills motor that you won’t mind the kids vomiting in the back of. Boot space is 320 litres, which is competitive. Not bad for a new car that costs as much as a second-hand one.
The Ford Fiesta is a tough car to beat in terms of value for money, but the Hyundai i20 is certainly a contender, thanks to a pleasant drive, oodles of space for four adults (five at a push) and a 326-litre boot rising to 1,042 litres with the rear seats down. Six airbags are standard so it’s safe, while the looks are good enough to keep your kids happy when you turn up outside school. Even in its basic S spec, it comes with daytime running lights, electric front windows, electric heated door mirrors and a radio with USB and AUX connectivity. The petrol engines are relatively frugal but the S Blue gives you access to the 1.1CRDi 75PS, which offers up to 88.3mpg but is sluggish to say the least.
Ford’s Fiesta is the benchmark in small hatchbacks and is always worth a test drive. The entry-level Studio is only available as a three-door so going one up to Style is worth it, especially when it gives you access to the 1.2-litre 82PS petrol (the 1.5 TDCi is over budget). £300 of the remaining £505 can be used for the optional City Pack, which adds rear parking distance sensors for easier parking — even when your children are throwing sweets at you. Best of all, it has things like a programmable top speed in case you have teenagers who will soon pass their test. It must be said, the 290-litre boot (rising to 974 litres with the rear seats down) is behind the competition, but the comfort, space and rewarding drive balances that out somewhat. Worth shopping around to find a bargain.
Volkswagen is known for its build quality and while Skoda might be the current king of reliability and customer satisfaction the Polo is still a solid choice. Annoyingly, the mid-range SE and its generous selection of engines throws us over the budget, but the five-door S A/C with air-conditioning can still manage a reasonable 51.4mpg and CO2 emissions of just 106g/km. Long boring motorway drives can be improved with the Cruise & Park pack for £400, which adds cruise control and front and rear parking sensors, or there’s a dog grille to keep your canine (or problematic children) in the boot for £245. The 280-litre boot could be better, but headroom and legroom is decent for those in the front and back. Unusually for its class, it comes with a spare wheel.
Opting for the 208 Frenchie in our list means taking the entry-level Access A/C as the Active goes over budget, but no matter because the capable hatchback has five doors, six airbags and cruise control as standard. You’ll have to stick with the 1.0 VTi 68 with a five-speed manual, which means sluggish performance but 64.2mpg and an impressive 102g/km of CO2. We like the 208’s interior and it’s a pleasing drive if a tad harsh on bumpy roads, while the boot size of 285 litres is reasonable. Fold the seats down (not quite flat, sadly) and it rises to 1,152, bettering the Fiesta and Polo. Six airbags and electronic stability control help make the 208 safe. Any money left over can be spent on a roof box (£247.12) for extra luggage space.
Once mocked for being awful, the Skoda brand is now one of the best and the Fabia is a solid family car. It can be had in estate form within our budget if you need extra space, but the hatchback is more than ample, especially when the pennies saved allow you to get the slightly more powerful 1.0 MPI petrol with 75PS capable of 58.9mpg and 108g/km of CO2. With a spare £1,500 left over, you can either insure it or choose a few extras such as hill hold control (£60), cruise control (£180), tow bar (£410) and a headrest for the rear-middle seat (£50). Or for £180 you can have a 4-year / 80,000 mile warranty for peace of mind. Boot space is an impressive 330 litres or 530 litres for the estate, which is suitable for a pram and luggage.