You need a family car, but you don’t want to feel like you’re driving the automotive equivalent of muesli. Practicality and versatility are all very worthy, but surely there’s more to life, such as a dash of luxury and prestige.
Thankfully, there’s a glut of posh family cars that bring luxurious interiors and smart styling into the mix – without sacrificing the sensible stuff.
The result is that they offer all the space you need to transport the family, while also feeling upmarket enough to sprinkle a little glamour into your daily grind. Like the sound of that? Here are some of our favourites.
The five best family cars to buy
5. BMW i4
If you’re thinking about going electric for your next family hauler, the i4 should probably be at the top of your list. With its long, low, very aerodynamic profile it achieves a longer range than many other EVs – most of which take the form of tall, boxy SUVs.
But the i4’s biggest rival is the Tesla Model 3. As a family car, though, the i4 bests is with a hatchback tail that makes it much easier to load folded prams or larger items of luggage into the boot.
Inside, meanwhile, the i4 is more conventional than the Model 3, but it also feels better built. And with proper, physical buttons for most of its functions – as opposed to the touchscreen you get on the Tesla – it’s less distracting to use on the move. Throw in the fact that the i4 feels great to drive, and it’s no wonder it’s our favourite premium electric family car.
Pros: Brilliant to drive, long range, practical boot, comfortable
Cons: Not quite as spacious as its rivals
Our favourite version: eDrive40 Sport
4. Mercedes-Benz C-Class Estate
Diesel may well be dead, but the brilliant Mercedes C-Class shows that, perhaps, it doesn’t deserve to be. During our road-test of the C220d Estate, we recorded a remarkable 73mpg on one long motorway journey, which proves just how efficient its mild hybrid engine can be.
But parsimony isn’t the only benefit the C-Class has in its corner. In addition, it can boast one of the swankiest interiors in its class, with handsome materials, excellent build quality and one of the least distracting, easiest to use touchscreen systems around.
It’s roomy, too; granted, the boot isn’t vast, but then neither is any premium estate’s of this size. What you do get with the C-Class is plenty of room in the back seats, which makes it a very practical choice for families.
And while the C-Class isn’t the most exciting thing in the world to drive, it handles neatly and crisply enough – and the payoff is a truly comfortable ride quality that makes long-distance schleps pass swiftly and smoothly.
Pros: Astonishing fuel economy in diesel form, smooth, comfortable driving experience, beautiful interior
Cons: Not enormous fun to drive
Our favourite version: C220d Sport
3. BMW 5-Series Touring
BMW’s middleweight executive contender is no spring chicken, but it’s still a brilliant beast and in estate form it manages to be all things to all people.
It is, as you’d expect from a BMW, great to drive, with a beautiful tactility to the controls you rarely experience in modern cars, along with a sweetly balanced chassis that blends agility and comfort just perfectly.
Larger-wheeled variants ride rather firmly, but you can avoid this by avoiding them; in fact, one of the great things about the 5-Series is that it’s best served in its cheapest form – as an entry-level diesel or petrol.
Whichever version you choose, you get a beautifully finished interior with high-quality leather and sleek styling, topped off with one of the best infotainment systems around. And of course, there’s a huge, well-shaped boot and plenty of space in the back for even grown-up offspring.
Pros: A brilliant all-rounder that works best in its most affordable guise
Cons: Avoid big wheels and stiff suspension – they wreck the ride quality
Our favourite version: 520d SE
2. Audi Q7
We’ve long been fans of the Audi Q7. Yes, it’s a big, in-your-face SUV, but see past that and this is a truly talented car.
For a start, every model has seven seats as standard. What’s more, all of them are spacious – the rearmost row isn’t the sort of desultory add-on you’d find in some of its rivals.
Then there’s the ride quality, which is pillow-soft, because even the cheapest Q7s get a first-rate air suspension system that does a brilliant job of ironing out irregularities. And thanks to clever anti-roll technology, the Q7 never feels wallowy or unwieldy; while it admittedly stops short of being truly exciting to drive, the Q7 nevertheless responds in a crisp and composed way if you need to change direction swiftly.
As you’d expect of a big, expensive Audi, you get a beautifully finished interior, too, replete with the sort of fit and finish that makes some rival manufacturers weep. And the lusty V6 diesel engine manages to be smooth, quiet and potent all at the same time.
Pros: Cosseting ride, brilliant engine, beautifully finished
Cons: Not the most scintillating SUV to drive quickly
Our favourite version: 50 TDI Sport Quattro Tiptronic
1. Volvo XC40
Volvo knocked it out of the park with the XC40 and now, thanks to a few detail revisions since it was launched, it’s still the best car the company makes.
For starters, it looks great, with its bluff nose and pert, upright tail. Inside, it might not be quite as fancy as Volvo’s larger models, but the XC40 is way more interesting to look at and to interact with than a family car has any right to be, while there’s also plenty of space for passengers. The boot is a useful shape, too, even if it isn’t the largest you’ll find in a car of this type.
What’s more, the XC40 is great to drive; not needlessly sporty, like so many premium SUVs, but still precise and controlled, and there’s a sense that all of the controls have been finessed so that they all respond just as you’d want them to.
You can choose between petrol, plug-in hybrid and fully electric models, though the latter is less impressive than the former two – not to mention eye-wateringly expensive. In fact, the whole XC40 range is pretty pricey – possibly the car’s only real downside. Happily, the good news is the cheapest versions are the best.
Pros: Great to drive, brilliant interior, comfortable, roomy for passengers
Cons: Expensive to buy, boot could be bigger
Our favourite version: T3 Momentum