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As your family grows, many parents struggle to find a car big enough to accommodate their needs, particularly if two or more children are in car seats. 

Fitting three child seats side-by-side in the back of a car can be a nightmare, especially in a smaller vehicle where the middle seat is often too narrow. Problems also arise if you need to take other members of the family - such as grandparents - with you on family outings. As such, many families are turning to a seven-seater car to fit their needs. 

From the Ford S-MAX to the Audi Q7, there is a wide range seven-seat SUVs and MPVs on the market to choose from but which car is right for you? To help you make an informed decision, Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together a checklist of key features to look for when choosing your next family car, as well as a list of some of the best seven-seaters on the market.

The Checklist

Before picking your next seven-seater family car, it is essential that you ensure that the car has all the necessary space and features you need for your growing brood. Here are a few things to check before you lease or buy:

Safety First

When shopping for your next family car, safety should be at the top of your list. A good place to start is by checking the Euro NCAP crash test safety rating.

Based on assessment in four important areas (adult protection, child protection, pedestrian protection and Safety Assist technologies), the Euro NCAP safety rating gives each car an overall score out of five for safety, allowing you to compare vehicles in the same class. 

Where possible, aim for vehicles with a five star rating as these have good performance in crash protection and are well equipped with robust crash avoidance technology. You may also want to consider vehicles with additional safety features such as Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring and Lane Support Systems to help keep your family safe on the road.

MPV or SUV?

Next is to decide whether a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) or a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) is right for you. Many MPVs and SUVs have their own strengths and weaknesses so it is important to consider which one best suits you and your family. 

Larger families who intend to use the extra rear seats on a regular basis may want to consider a traditional MPV. A MPV (also known as a people carrier) is a large “van-like” car loaded with family-friendly features and lots of space. In an MPV, the two rear seats have usually been designed for constant use by adult-sized occupants and many have sliding or reclining seats to maximise the use of the final row. 

For those who want something a bit more stylish or who only intend to use the extra seats occasionally, you may want to consider an SUV. A SUV is similar to estate car or 4x4 and is usually equipped with four-wheel drive for on-road or off-road ability. Unlike an MPV, SUVs tend to feature a fold-away third row to boost interior and boot space but these seats are usually smaller in size and are designed for use by smaller children. 

Whichever car type you choose, don’t forget to try before you buy. Test the seat folding mechanism to ensure it is easy to use and that access is not hampered by poor door openings or interior seats getting in the way. You may also want to take the car for a test drive with passengers in tow as most of the time seats six and seven will be cramped for adult-sized passengers.

Petrol or Diesel?

Most MPVs and seven-seat SUVs are powered by a diesel engine as this offers greater torque and power to carry the extra weight, however a diesel engine may not always suitable. 

Most cars with new diesel engines are fitted either with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and/or diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) technology which must be strictly maintained according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. Failure to do so may result in damage the vehicle which is not covered by manufacturer’s warranty or a maintenance contract. If you are considering leasing a diesel vehicle, please read our What You Need To Know Before Leasing a Diesel Vehicle guide to ensure the vehicle is right for you before proceeding with your order. 

If you only intend to do short journeys or less than 12,000 miles per year, it might be worth considering a vehicle with a petrol engine such as a Citroen Grand C4 Picasso or a Renault Grand Scenic.

Easy Access

If you are going to be transporting elderly relatives who may struggle to get and out of the vehicle or if you have little ones who sit in car seats, easy access will be a key consideration when shopping for your next family car. 

Start by taking a good look at the rear doors and how they open. Some family cars have wider rear doors with larger opening angles to make loading easier, while others have electric sliding doors for easy access. Some manufacturers also offer clever optional extras such as Ford’s Door Edge Protectors which pop out when the door opens to prevent damaging your paint or other cars when the door is pushed open by over eager children.

Seats and ISOFIX Points

If your little ones are still in child car seats, you will need to make sure the rear seats are large enough to accommodate them. Considering bringing a child seat with you when you test drive a car to see if the seat fits comfortably in the back. It is also worth checking if the rear seats have ISOFIX points, the international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars. Most cars have them on the outer two rear seats but it’s worth confirming exactly where they are, particularly if you need to fit three child seats side-by-side in the back. 

Along with seat size and ISOFIX points, it’s also worth considering what other features you might need. For example, are there enough cup-holders or storage cubbies? Do you need a central console with a power point for charging your devices? Do the rear seats sliding forward to allow for extra boot space when required? These are all things to look out for when inspecting the interior.

Boot Size

If you are going to be carrying a lot stuff in the boot of your car such as the weekly family shop and a pram or buggy, you need to ensure that the boot size is big enough to accommodate your needs. 

In terms of size, the volume capacity of the boot is measured in litres. Be sure to check the boot size capacity with the rear seats up, as well as folded down as most manufacturers will list both figures in their marketing materials.

In addition to size, you also may also want to consider a car with a large boot opening and low loading sill to make it easy to load or unload your luggage, as well as a practical shape for carrying larger objects.

Fuel Economy

With the average cost of raising a child in the UK at a whopping £230,000, you’ll want to do everything you can to keep costs low when running your family car. A key factor when choosing your next family car is to find a model with good fuel economy to minimise running costs. 
 
At a very basic level, fuel economy refers to the distance you can travel in your car on a certain amount of fuel. Every new car in the UK has three official fuel consumption (fuel economy) ratings – Urban, Extra-Urban and Combined. Urban represents city driving, Extra-Urban represents country roads and motorways, and Combined represents an overall figure. These figures are measured in Miles Per Gallon (MPG). 

When shopping around for your next family car, consider a vehicle with a good fuel consumption to help keep running costs low. As a general rule, a fuel consumption of 30+ MPG for Urban driving and 45/50+ for Extra-Urban driving is considered good. Don’t forget to factor in other costs such as road tax, car insurance, breakdown recovery and MOT bills as they all contribute to your monthly running costs. Fortunately, every lease vehicle with Nationwide Vehicle Contracts includes road tax and breakdown recovery and a monthly a maintenance package can be added for an additional cost.

The Test Drive

Finally, before you make your final decision, make sure you take your car for a test drive. Many seven-seater cars are long in length so you need to ensure the car is easy to park or you’ll end up with a few dents and dings. You may want to consider a car with parking sensors, a rear parking camera or an automatic parking system which will steer the car into a space for you. 

When sitting in the vehicle, make sure the driving position is high enough for you to see all around the car and that the controls are close to hand and simple to operate. Some larger cars are harder-sprung at the rear to carry more weight so it also might be worth trying out the back seats for a few minutes just to make sure your little ones are as comfy as you are.

Best Seven Seater Cars

There is no shortage of seven-seat cars on sale in the UK with a wide range of SUVs and MPVs offering all the space and practicality you need. As Auto Express say "Gone are the days when seven seats meant you had to settle for a boring family bus. The latest MPV’s and SUV’s may have three rows of seats, but they can also be stylish, good to drive, and cheap to run." 

But which are best seven-seater cars out there? Nationwide Vehicle Contracts has put together a list of eight of our favourite seven-seater family cars based on space, practicality, fuel economy and value for money.

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

First up is the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso. Modern, stylish and hugely practical, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is a fine example of a seven-seat people carrier that not only looks great but is also incredibly safe and practical, with the latest generation model boasting a five star Euro NCAP rating. 

Inside, the Grand C4 Picasso’s huge 537-litre boot and third-row seats, which can be folded down for those times when you don't need the extra seats, offers all the flexibility you need from a family car. All three seats in the middle row have ISOFIX fittings to make fitting a child car seat easier than ever before. With a record 2.84m wheelbase, all passengers can also enjoy first-class levels of legroom, making it a great family choice when it comes to leasing. 

Under the bonnet, a wide choice of engines are available with the most economical returning around 74 MPG with emissions under 99g/km. A number of Driver Assistance systems also serve to make your journey as safe, convenient and peaceful as possible, including 360 Vision, Park Assist, a reversing camera, a video Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) and active cruise control. 

Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity and a six-speaker stereo with USB input. Higher trims add leather upholstery, DAB radio, a powered tailgate, keyless entry and a 12” colour HD digital information display.

Volvo XC90

The new Volvo XC90 offers exceptional comfort, smarter styling and even greater practicality, making it one of our best-selling seven-seater cars. 
Inside, the XC90 boasts enough space in the third-row seats for two adults and a decent boot space of 314 litres, which increases to 775 litres with the third row seats folded down. The second row of seats also comes with two ISOFIX points although three points can be fitted as an optional extra. 

To keep things simple there are just three trim levels and three engine options to choose from with the 225PS D5 diesel being most popular thanks to its combined fuel economy of 48.7MPG. All cars have all-wheel drive and an automatic transmission as standard. 

As expected from a Volvo, the XC90 also has a five star Euro NCAP rating and received the 2015 Best in Class award for both Large Off-Road and Overall Performance categories. 

Standard equipment on the XC90 Momentum model includes LED headlights, alloy wheels, a power operated tailgate, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth, Rear Park assist and Sensus connect satellite navigation.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

No family car list would be complete without mentioning the new Land Rover Discovery Sport, a luxury seven-seat 4x4 based on the award-winning Range Rover Evoque. 
 
At 4.6 metres long, the Discovery Sport offers plenty of space inside with a 5+2 seating configuration. The rearmost seats fold flat, allowing the middle row to slide backward to increase legroom when needed and there is two ISOFIX points in the middle row. 

Under the bonnet, the new Discovery Sport features a new, British-built 2.0-litre four-cylinder Ingenium diesel engine for lower emissions, better fuel economy and notably less noise than its initial 2.2-litre SD4 engine. 

Standard equipment is also impressive, with climate control for the first two row of seats, cruise control, a heated windscreen and partial leather seats standing out as highlights in particular.

Ford S-MAX

Refreshed in 2015, the Ford S-MAX looks and drives better than ever before, making it a popular lease choice for growing families who want both practicality and style. 

When it comes to space, the S-MAX ticks all the boxes with its 285-litre boot with all seats in place - accessible via a wide, electronically operated tailgate and low boot floor - and 700 litres with the third row down. The second row of seats can slide individually to make more room in the back and boasts three ISOFIX child seat fittings. There’s also enough room in the third row seating space for a pair of adults although they may not want to be there too long though due to the sloping roofline. 

Under the bonnet, there are six engine choices to choose from – two petrol (1.5-litre with 150PS and a 2.0-litre with 240PS) and four diesels (2.0-litre TDCi with power outputs of 120PS, 150PS, 180PS and 210PS), blending economy with performance. There’s also plenty of high-tech safety equipment and family-friendly options such as optional front camera, Active Park Assist and Lane Keeping System. 

Standard equipment on the Ford S-MAX includes alloy wheels, Ford’s SYNC 2 system, front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio and an electric handbrake.

Nissan X-Trail

nissan x-trail
Taking styling cues from the incredibly popular Qashqai, the seven-seat Nissan X-Trail is a 4x4 styled for adventure. 

Inside, the X-Trail majors on space, with enough room to fit three adults in the back row, although the two third-row seats are best reserved for small children. With a seats-up boot capacity of 550 litres and a seats-down figure of 1,982 litres, the X-Trail’s huge boot is large enough to fit in most prams, as well as the family shopping with the two-part adjustable load floor offering extra practicality. 

Under the bonnet, the X-Trail offers a range of petrol and diesel engines, with optional four wheel drive. The 1.6-litre diesel engine is relatively cheap to run for a car of its size, returning a fuel consumption of 57.9 MPG and CO2 emissions of 129g/km. 

Standard equipment on the Nissan X-Trail includes LED running lights, cruise control, alloy wheels, a five-inch infotainment touchscreen, all-round electric windows and Bluetooth connectivity.

SEAT Alhambra

The award-winning SEAT Alhambra remains a firm favourite in the seven-seater stakes thanks to its stylish good looks, impressive practicality and five-star Euro NCAP rating. 

Inside, the Alhambra boasts plenty of room with sliding rear doors at the back for easy access when parking in tight spaces. The three middle-row seats slide and recline individually, allowing for a multitude of seating configurations and feature three ISOFIX points. There's also a 267 litre boot for carrying when fully loaded with passengers and an array of storage spaces throughout the car. 

Under the bonnet, the Alhambra comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines, all of which offer high-end performance with unrivalled economy, as well as Start/Stop technology and brake energy recovering systems. Extensive technological innovations, such as Park Assist and Tiredness Detection System, also give the SEAT Alhambra extra levels of comfort, safety and versatility. 

Standard features on the SEAT Alhambra include sliding rear side doors, alloy wheels, 6.5" colour touchscreen, Bluetooth and LED taillights.

Audi Q7

Giving the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Volvo XC90 a run for their money in the luxury sector is the second-generation Audi Q7. 

Despite being slightly narrower and shorter than its predecessor, the new Q7 still boasts enough room for seven people, along with all their luggage. The 297 litre boot with low rear bumper not only looks great but aids practicality as there’s no lip. The Q7 also boasts an impressive six ISOFIX points – one on each passenger seat – so you can spread out the children to help avoid arguments on long car journeys. 

Under the bonnet, the 3.0 litre TDI diesel engine is not as expensive to run as you might think, returning a fuel economy of 47.9 MPG and CO2 emissions of 153 g/km. Buyers can also specify options such as an autonomous park assist function and active lane keep assist to take some of the stress out of driving and help keep you out of harm’s way. 

Standard features on the Audi Q7 include alloy wheels, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, leather upholstery, LED rear lights and cruise control.

Renault Grand Scenic

Finally, if you're after a practical, spacious and cheap-to-run family car, then the stylish seven-seat Renault Grand Scenic is a top contender.   
Inside, the Grand Scenic is capable of accommodating three child seats across the middle row thanks to the three ISOFIX points, although the two extra rear seats are probably best left for smaller passengers. There are also plenty of extra storage cubbies dotted across the interior, as well as a 596 litre boot in five-seat configuration. 

Under the bonnet, the Renault Grand Scenic is available with two petrol and two diesel engines with the mid-range dCi 130 engine standing out in particular thanks to its official fuel consumption of 61.4 MPG and its good balance between performance, economy and price. 

Standard features on the Renault Grand Scenic include alloy wheels, Active Emergency Braking System, cruise control and 7’’ touchscreen with Bluetooth connectivity. Thinking of leasing a seven-seater? 

Call Nationwide Vehicle Contracts to speak to one of our experienced sales advisers or visit our website to get an instant online quotation.

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