Yesterday (March 15th) was Mothering Sunday in the UK, aka Mother’s Day, and as such I thought I’d do a short post on some good choices for all of those mothers out there who are shopping for a car and may stumble across my site – pretty unlikely I know but just humour me. Given the type of vehicles I tend to lust after and review you may think that this is going to be a list composed solely of pricey off-roaders, but whilst there are a couple I have tried to stay away from retreading over old ground (ha!) and instead offer a wider range of options, as well as a budget alternative for those whose money tends to go on nappies and baby food instead of diesel!
Supermini: Honda Jazz (£11k-£20k new)
When I was growing up we only had one type of vehicle which was used to ferry all our childhood clutter around, and believe it or not it all fitted in the various superminis we had…more to the point they were all 3 door too! God knows how my parents managed but it is true that a lot of parents do not really need all the paraphernalia which modern child rearing dictates they take everywhere with them and as such smaller cars can do just as good a job as some of the larger ones on this list when it comes to doing the essentials. Probably the most spacious supermini around is the Honda Jazz, ironically another vehicle I have a lot of experience with given that my mum currently owns one. The Jazz is a very spacious machine with plenty of space in the boot for both shopping and baby gear, plus the ‘magic’ rear seats can fold up meaning there is plenty of space for more unusual shaped loads too whether that be a child’s scooter or an interestingly shaped school project. All rear seats have ISOFIX points for child seats and plastics are hard wearing yet high quality, as is the mechanical side of the car which should mean no panicked standing by the road waiting for the AA! Overall most smaller families will be just fine with the Jazz and although it can be a little underpowered, the low running costs and reasonable prices make it a good choice for anyone watching the pennies too.
Used alternative: Mercedes A Class (£4k+ for a decent model 2005-2012)
It may seem unusual for any Mercedes to be suggested as a budget alternative, let alone to a Honda, but the previous generation A Class is a good option for those looking for a practical supermini with a premium badge for a reasonable price. Externally very similar to the Jazz the ‘A’ was never a huge success for Mercedes and as such the current generation has been thoroughly overhauled in almost every way, but the stodgy looks of the previous model mean it remains a lot more practical than premium rivals and has a large boot to match it’s spacious seats. Admittedly there are no trick seats like in the Jazz but the Merc has a much nicer cabin and can be had with fancy goodies like leather, xenons and adaptive cruise, unlike the Honda. The engines are more powerful in the Mercedes too and there are a couple of diesels on offer alongside bigger capacity petrols…maybe a little thirstier but definitely more gutsy too. Prices are very reasonable for a car from the three-pointed star, but just be aware that servicing and parts prices are still very much premium at main dealers!
Small MPV: Ford B-MAX (£13k-£20k NEW)
OK so I’ll level with you right now and admit that the B-MAX is not my favourite car by any stretch of the imagination; pretty it is not and considering that it is based on the humble Fiesta the list prices for the car are pretty steep given base cars are very stingy with equipment – most people will want the Titanium which is £17k+ for a diesel. However one can not overlook those trick rear doors which do present a unique selling point amongst any car, let alone in this market segment. The fact there is no B pillar means that it is very easy for parents to reach in and secure child seats, plus the fact that they slide means that they can be opened in any situation regardless of how awful the person next to you has parked! Also praise worthy are the low running costs and hardy cabin, and yes those of you who plump for Titanium spec will get lots of goodies like a parking camera and climate control. Buying a B-MAX shows that you put your kids and ease of use at the forefront, and although there are a lot more stylish ways of transporting your kids that’s still not a bad message.
Used alternative: Vauxhall Meriva (£2k-£6k for a 2002-10 model)
It took a while for Ford to cotton on to the idea of a compact MPV, arch rival has been knocking out their Meriva since 2002 and has found reasonable success with their Corsa based model. The current car has grown in size and also has trick doors (albeit rear hinged with a central pillar) and is a lot more stylish than either it’s predecessor or the B-MAX, but the original car is still worth a look for those on a restricted budget as it offers a highly practical cabin and low running costs. On the outside the Meriva looks like somebody took a football pump to a previous generation Corsa, which is no surprise to be honest, and the dashboard is very similar to that on the 2001-07 Corsa…not the worst thing in the world but lacking design flair and some of the more modern kit that current cars get (no USB port here guys sorry!). Still the rear seats fold flat and also slide, giving more legroom to rear passengers or increasing boot space if it isn’t needed. Vauxhall always offer a huge range of engine and trim options in their cars so try to stick to the 1.6 or 1.8 petrol which should prove reliable and refined plus should offer fuel returns of around 38mpg (not so much worse than real life figures for any diesel supermini I hasten to add!), and Design trim gets a few niceties like cruise control too.
Estate: Mercedes E Class (£36k-£85k NEW)
Right so maybe a little bit of a hard hitter for an estate car, but undoubtedly the E Class is the best on the market and with a little bit of pressure the dealer should be able to provide you with a reasonably priced offer/good finance deal. The E Class is a big girl in either saloon or estate form but the enlarged greenhouse of the estate variant makes it a little easier to park in combination with parking sensors and likely rear view camera. The raised roofline also means that the E has one of the largest and most practical boots of any car on the market today – well trimmed and offered with optional (if pricey) rear jump seats, it is the perfect place for any family dog or for taking back a years worth of student junk once the kids have packed up uni for the holidays. Up front the cabin is sublime; I have experience of sister car the CLS Shooting Brake’s cabin and the E Class very nearly matches it for ambience and of course has a more comfy rear seat too even if it not quite as stylish. Being a modern Mercedes it also comes with a massive range of safety and tech options, OK so you may not want to waste tonnes of money on things you aren’t going to use but COMAND is pretty easy to use and even without air suspension it’s a comfortable ride. Most buyers are going to be just fine with the 220 engine which is pretty fast and economical, but those with deeper pockets may want to check out the 350 which is just as fast in real life situations as the crazy E63 AMG (£85), but costs half the price!
Used Alternative: Ford Focus (£3k-£9k for a 2005-2011 model)
In many ways the Focus estate is the antithesis of the E Class, and of course they are in no way competitors or similar in any way except the fact they are both estate cars. Yet the Focus is a fantastic choice for those looking for an honest estate car for a very reasonable price; handily sized yet with an all-important large load bay, the second generation Focus has long been forgotten by motoring journalists who once were dazzled by it’s sharp handling and practical cabin. A lot of these cars were company owned so I would advise going for as low a mileage and new car as you can afford – the 2008 facelift greatly improved the plain-jane looks and also added a few creature comforts like an aux jack and SONY stereo in most models. Some top-spec cars will have navigation which is a nice feature but not worth paying extra for unless you desperately want it, but Zetec models will please most budget minded shoppers as will the vast majority of engines. Diesels rule the roost here and the 1.6 TDCi is a gem, but lower mileage drivers should not be put off by the 1.8 petrol and of course all will be cheap to service and maintain too.
Large(ish) MPV: Ford S-MAX (£23k-£32k NEW)
Yet another Ford on this list, yet probably by far the best prospect for any family who have a decent chunk of dough to spend on a practical and well made vehicle which remains fun to drive. The S-MAX has been around since 2006 and so admittedly is a bit of a dinosaur in car terms, but it has remained a strong seller throughout this time and continues to win tests even against newer rivals thanks to it’s smart looks and tidy handling. 7 seats are standard and although the 2 rear-most are not exactly spacious, they are still comparable to those found in much pricier SUV’s, plus they are easy to fold away and access isn’t bad either. Cabin comforts aren’t as modern as in some rivals but it is still an attractive and easy to use layout with lots of cubbies, it’s worth nothing though that there is a new S-MAX due this year and while this mean better deals on the current model the new one will likely build on it’s strengths and add lots of nice kit as standard/options. Currently the S-MAX is available with 3 diesel options and 2 petrol (1 with 240bhp!); most buyers are going to be buying one of the diesels and it’s worth stumping the extra cash for the middle 2.0 TDCi with 140bhp which can be had with either a manual or an automatic too. I’d advise against spending too much on options unless you’re desperate for them, but whilst this is a Ford residuals are better than you may expect.
Used alternative: Vauxhall Zafira (£5k-£15k for a 2005-14 model)
Although it beat the S-MAX to the market by a year, the second generation Zafira always lagged behind it’s rival in most reviews when things came down to handling, interior ambience and desirability, but it’s a fantastic value second hand buy which suits any practically minded buyers. What we have is a relatively compact yet practical vehicle with decent room for 7; it handles reasonably well and with the right engines is no slouch and can still return very good fuel economy. Vauxhall’s diesels aren’t the best on the market but the 1.9 CDTI is probably the best option for most buyers who will cover longer distances, anyone else should be fine to opt for one of the 1.6/1.8 petrols which will be substantially cheaper to buy…year old models are unlikely to be much more than £11k for lower spec models which is incredible value for money when you consider that that sum won’t buy you a brand new Corsa any more. OK so the dashboard is a little bland but it’s still good quality and most models come with a DAB radio too. Cheap to own and relatively cheerful to drive, you could do a lot worse than the Zafira.
SUV: Volvo XC60 (£32k-£45k NEW)
Some rivals are going to find it pretty controversial (or even unusual) that any list of mine is only including 1 SUV, and the fact that it is a Volvo is sure to irk some who would take a look at the vast array of 7 seat utility vehicles on the market and argue that something like the Land Rover Discovery or Hyundai Santa Fe is much more worthy than a 7 year old Volvo design. However what I thought about here is a vehicle that would suit most mothers and I personally think that the XC60 is not only the ideal SUV for most mothers but the ideal car overall. Here we have a vehicle from a brand whose focus is safety (both active and passive), with a spacious and well-made cabin wrapped inside a relatively maneuverable, attractive and well driving shell. I could leave it there but some readers want to know a little more about this supposed wonder car; I have written a whole post on my new found adoration for the XC60 but I’ll summarise a little more as this is a different post. On the outside the 2014 facelift of the Volvo has made it a very attractive car, regardless of spec but particularly in sporty R-Design guise – it is by no means a small car but at 4.5m it is reasonably easy to park even without some of the fancy parking gadgets which can be added. Boot space is not class leading but still remains generous and easily accessible, and whilst there is no 7 seat option the 2 outer rear seats can be had with inbuilt booster seats; a godsend for most parents. Cabin tech is again not class leading but has most things that the average customer would want, plus there is now a cool phone app with which you can do basic things with the car like lock/unlock, set the climate control and also check car statistics. Maybe it isn’t the cheapest car to buy but the engines are pretty economical and should return a realistic 40-45mpg, plus they give decent performance which when combined with reasonably tidy handling and smooth ride make for a relaxing driving experience. I’m not sure if I’d buy an XC60 personally as I do prefer larger cars, but I am actually sorely tempted considering all it’s plus points.
Used alternative: Volvo XC90 (£5k-£35k 2002-15 model)
What better budget alternative to the XC60 than it’s trailblazing older brother the XC90. Launched back in 2002 the large Volvo broke the mould with it’s practical 7 seat layout, and while many rivals followed the XC90 remained popular through to the bitter end this year despite the design being a very obvious 13 years old by close of place. The basics of the car are similar to the XC60; vastly practical cabin, well made cabin, classy image/looks and car-like to drive, and whilst there are some low points most families will be very happy in choosing an XC90. Those looking at earlier cars need to make sure they don’t get the cheapest model possible, these cars can do high miles easily but it’s much preferable to find one which has been owned from new by a middle class owner than one whose problems are passed between many. Diesels are the only way to keep running costs reasonable and driven gently they should return a realistic high-20’s mpg in mixed driving, but early D5 engines only had 163bhp and were dog slow…it’s definitely worth holding out for a 2006 model with 185bhp (and since 2010 they have come with 198bhp) which also has a much better 6-speed transmission. Running costs aren’t cheap though, as parts will cost a lot and some 2006 models will succumb to the £500 road tax rule! Still the XC90 looks evergreen and there were plenty of deals on later on in it’s life to ensure a steady supply of good value, £15k will buy a decent 2011 model albeit without much of the tarty features of higher spec models…although they do have that fancy trick booster seat!