When it comes to a family vehicle, there’s no such thing as one size fits all. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t specific features that’ll make your life easier (and safer) across the board. So whether you’re on the hunt for the perfect minivan, an SUV or a sedan, keep a lookout for these smart extras to help make your new ride as family-friendly as they come. And when you’re ready to buy, remember you can search every possible make, model and option with Autotrader.
Sure, you want a car that matches your personal taste (or at least one that won’t need a car wash each week), but color can have a bigger impact than you might think. It’s generally accepted that black and other dark-colored cars retain more interior heat than lighter colors, especially during the sweltering summer months—and it’s not just a myth. Autotrader compared two nearly identical vehicles, one white and one black. After a few hours in the sun, the black car's cabin measured nearly 20 degrees hotter than the white car. And once the air conditioner was cranked up, the white car also cooled down quicker. This is especially important to keep in mind since babies and small children are more sensitive to heat than adults.
If the window line is too high for children to see outside, they’re more likely to get bored and restless—leading to the dreaded question: “Are we there yet?” (Pro tip: Take the kids and car seats along when shopping to see how the window height measures up.) But even though you want the kids to take in the view, don’t forget about blocking out the sun’s harmful rays. Many minivans and SUVs, such as the Mazda CX-9 and Toyota Sequoia, now come with retractable sunshades, which reduce UV rays and glare and can help baby fall—and stay—asleep while you drive.
Car Seat Support
Car seat safety has come a long way with the addition of universal LATCH systems, automatic locking seat belts and self-inflatable straps that are compatible with all modern car seats. For older kids, there are integrated booster seats—featured in the Volvo V90 and XC90—that allow you to quickly transition from kid to adult transport without actually removing the seat from the car.
You no longer rely on DVDs for home entertainment, so why should you have to on the road? Car manufacturers have finally caught up: Buick, GMC and Chevrolet models now have built-in 4G LTE hot spots—no cell data necessary—so kids can each stream their favorite shows. Many of these vehicles also feature standard 110-volt outlets and USB ports for easy charging. And if you’ve ever noticed how hard it is to hear or carry on a conversation from the front seats to the back, you’ll appreciate Toyota’s Driver Easy Speak feature, available in both the Sienna and Highlander. A microphone in the front picks up your voice and transmits it through the back seat speakers, so you can easily sing a soothing lullaby the next time baby begins to cry.
When your car is practically your second home, it can be a challenge to keep it clean. Add kids to the mix and things get even messier (hello, rogue Cheerios and grubby fingerprints everywhere). A minivan with an integrated vacuum, available in the Honda Odyssey and the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica, makes quick cleanups a breeze. Meanwhile, the Kia Cadenza features "hydrophobic" windows, an exterior coating that helps them stay clean—no squeegee required.
We know safety is the first thing on your mind, and you’ve already scoured the top picks from the IIHS. Some additional features that can help prevent accidents include: advanced collision-avoidance systems that use radar to detect when the vehicle in front of you has stopped or slowed down; automatic braking (all of the 2018 Nissan models have it); 360-degree cameras; and active lane-change assist. In case you do get into a crash, the Mercedes-Benz PRE-SAFE system could help protect you; it detects any abrupt changes in driving to automatically adjust the front head restraints and seat belts, and even closes the windows and sunroof in case of a rollover.
Easy and Accessible Storage
Real talk: There’s no way to prevent the toys your kids are playing with from falling and sliding out of reach beneath the front seat. But thoughtful backseat storage space, like pockets in the doors and on the ceiling in the Chrysler Pacifica, and ample center storage boxes in the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Chevrolet Malibu, can help corral all their gear. And if you’re always schlepping hangry toddlers around, you’ll appreciate the refrigerator console in the Lincoln MTK, a cooler built right into the second row that’s big enough for a few bottles, drinks and snacks.
When you’re juggling everything from strollers to sippy cups, hands-free features are a non-negotiable. While the minivan’s power-sliding doors have long been a favorite for easy loading, auto-opening trunks are arguably an even bigger lifesaver. The Ford Escape’s trunk is foot-activated, and the Kia Sorento’s Smart Power Liftgate automatically opens when the smart key is detected for three seconds behind the car. Now, if only you had a car that could drive itself to the store and load all those groceries.
Watch below to learn more about family-friendly car features:
The Bump and Autotrader present 'Life in Transit,' a sponsored series featuring tips and advice to help you find your next family car. Ready to shop all the cars? Visit Autotrader to explore the possibilities.