Is your car bursting at the seams after the summer break?
Is your car bursting at the seams after the summer break?

The best cars for you and your family

As beach towels and boogie boards make way for lunch boxes and textbooks at the end of a hot summer holiday, families can find themselves questioning whether Mum or Dad's taxi can cop another year of school drop-offs.

Families can outgrow their cars the way teens outgrow shoes.

If you're looking to trade up - or you concede the hot hatch you were clinging on to isn't up to family duties - here are our back-to-school options.

COMPACT SEVEN-SEATERS

Cramming seven into a mid-sized SUV can involve some creative packaging, not all of which works well for those relegated to the third row.

And you'll have to pack carefully if all seven seats are in play.

But they're suited to one or two-kid families who do the taxi work for friends on weekends.

The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace builds on the impressive five-seat version.
The Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace builds on the impressive five-seat version.

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN ALLSPACE, FROM $41,990

In Allspace form, VW's mid-sized SUV not only gains extra seats but the front and rear wheels are stretched further apart and the body is 215mm longer.

That third row has airbag coverage but no tether points or air vents, though the sliding middle row can modestly extend legroom.

Great to drive, too, with crisp dynamics and turbo engines (2.0 is the pick).

SKODA KODIAQ, FROM $47,990

The Kodiaq shares the Tiguan's quality drive (Skoda is owned by VW) but has a wider body.

There's genuine thoughtfulness, from umbrellas in the doors and retractable blinds to the tablet holders and door protectors that pop out to cover painted edges.

Child locks operated from the driver's seat are a bonus.

The Kodiaq shares its underpinnings with the Tiguan but separates itself with a thoughtful cabin.
The Kodiaq shares its underpinnings with the Tiguan but separates itself with a thoughtful cabin.

NISSAN X-TRAIL SEVEN-SEAT, FROM $36,190

It's all value in the X-Trail, which loads plenty in for the circa-$36K ask - opt for the ST-L (with blind spot warning, leather, satnav, heated front seats and more).

There are sharper deals for now, from $42,390 for the seven-seat.

There's no four-wheel drive and the curtain airbags don't cover the third row.

As with rivals, there's no aircon for the back row.

The Nissan X-Trail represents great value.
The Nissan X-Trail represents great value.

HONDA CR-V, FROM $38,300

The 1.5-litre engine delivers decent grunt courtesy of a turbo. And the latest CR-V is part of a return to form for Honda, with a spacious seven-seat configuration.

Airbags cover all three rows and there's a healthy list of gear, with the exception of active safety - seven-seat CR-Vs aren't available with autonomous emergency braking.

Peugeot is one of the best presented SUVs currently on sale.
Peugeot is one of the best presented SUVs currently on sale.

PEUGEOT 5008, FROM $48,800

Quality finishes and slick driving experience justify the price premium but the cleverness with the 5008 is the seats.

Each middle row pew folds and slides independently and the rear seats can be removed altogether, creating a deeper boot for holidays.

BIGGER FAMILIES

More space is a better bet for big families (with three, four of five children) but you'll pay more for the privilege.

Size and weight mean they typically use more fuel, too.

KIA CARNIVAL, FROM $45,990

The Kia Carnival is the closest you can get to the load capacity of a school bus.
The Kia Carnival is the closest you can get to the load capacity of a school bus.

A new one is due by year's end but the current Carnival is still terrific value.

Its drawcard is the ability to carry eight people - plus their luggage.

Throw in a grunty V6, thoughtful interior and seven-year warranty and the Carnival makes loads of family sense.

It's not all good news; handling is sloppy and the tyre grip is marginal.

The Toyota Granvia has replaced the much loved Tarago.
The Toyota Granvia has replaced the much loved Tarago.

TOYOTA GRANVIA, FROM $70,572

There are four rows of seats in the eight-seater Granvia, Toyota's replacement for the Tarago.

Those up front are lavished with luxury, including captain's chairs with electric footrests.

Go aft and there are loads of USB ports (six) and cupholders but you'll have to tuck the knees in, such is the crunch on legroom.

Luggage space is minimal and the tailgate huge and heavy.

The Mazda CX-9 oozes style and class.
The Mazda CX-9 oozes style and class.

MAZDA CX-9, FROM $48,985

Design and functionality make large SUVs popular - and the CX-9 is one of the best.

Its turbo four-cylinder is more efficient than V6s common in the class and its interior is elegant.

It's also a rarity in having tether points in the third row, as most large SUVs limit child seat use to the middle row.

There are no third-row air vents.

HONDA ODYSSEY, FROM $41,900

Sharp pricing with eight seats makes for a tempting proposition in the classy kid carrier with sliding rear doors.

The 2.4-litre engine works hard with a full house but the Odyssey is otherwise well behaved.

It's a $10K jump to the VTi-L to get the active safety that should be standard, in turn dropping the seating to seven.

Sliding doors help for to quickly load the Honda Odyssey.
Sliding doors help for to quickly load the Honda Odyssey.

ON A BUDGET

There are loads of second-hand seven-seat options - especially if you're prepared to venture beyond the mainstream brands.

Forget things like smartphone connectivity and USB ports and look at safety, reliability and seating flexibility.

NISSAN DUALIS +2 2010-14 $12,000

The Dualis +2 can be very snug in the final row.
The Dualis +2 can be very snug in the final row.

An extra 20cm-odd in the body allowed for some (very) compact seats in the rear of the Dualis +2, which arrived in mid-2010.

It was basic motoring but included stability control and curtain airbags for the front two rows.

You should get a decent seven-seater for a bit over $10K.

MITSUBISHI GRANDIS 2009-10 $8000

The Grandis was discontinued in 2010 but if you can pick up a low-km later model you'll get a relatively thoughtful seven-seater for well under $10K.

Equipment was basic - airbags don't cover the third row and there's no stability control - and the 2.4-litre engine had to work hard, especially mated to a four-speed auto.

But the Grandis did the basics well.

TOYOTA PRIUS V 2012-15 $19,000

A Prius hybrid set-up in a bigger body was a clever way to spread the fuel-saving love but the Prius V was never a big seller.

It's proving more popular on the used market - to the point where you're paying $20K-plus to get a decent one.

Curtain airbags covered the front two rows only but safety was otherwise solid.

And while performance was modest, fuel use was half that of an average mid-sized SUV.

CHECKLIST

• Do the side airbags cover all three rows?
• Does the third row of seats have child seat top tether points?
• Are there air vents to each row?
• Are there enough power outlets or USB ports to keep the tribe connected?

SAFETY AND GADGETS

Many seven-seaters don't have top tether points for a child seat in the very back row. That means car seats cannot be fitted, which in most cases rules kids out until they are eight years old.

Most modern gadgets can be charged via USB but not all cars have enough ports to keep the family content.

You can expand the number in your car by buying a 12V USB plug, available from servos or electronics stores for as little as $15.

Independent crash test authority NCAP currently doesn't test occupant protection in the third row of people-movers or SUVs, although it does now assess things such as third-row airbag deployment.

WHAT TO AVOID

Steer clear of private imports, of which there were plenty.

Loopholes were used to import various models - many from Toyota and Nissan - and flog them off as (big) cheap people-movers.

But finding spare parts can be tricky and they can be expensive to insure.


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