Rebecca and her accountant hubby have three young children aged between 3 and 6 and while they are a two-car family during the working week, weekend outings or trips down to the family bach at Whangamata mean everyone has to squeeze into their Nissan X-Trail.
With three child seats across the back seat, things are a bit tight and tension can build on those long drives for both the kids and their parents.
"I don't want a large SUV or anything with sliding doors. It's more about spreading the load and giving the kids a little more space rather than adding more occupants. We intend to hire a trailer for the Christmas camping trip and wondered whether one of those roof storage boxes may also help create more interior space," says Rebecca
The accountant has apparently done the sums and ruled out any diesel options for cars with three rows of seats.
Well Rebecca, there are always compromises with any vehicle with a third row of seats. Regardless of vehicle size, the minute the back row of seats are pulled from the floor and folded into position, most of the rear cargo room is lost.
While the kids may be happy with their own space, Mum and Dad are often left wondering how to accommodate the pushchair and other bulky items. Accessing the third row of seats can also be a challenge, while actual seat quality can mean it's definitely a kids only zone. Clever seat configuration however from new car manufacturers these days normally allows for a 60/40 split for the second row and a 50/50 split in the rear, so one child in the back and two in the second row can still provide room for shopping and less bulky items.
I like your thinking about the trailer and storage box. Also, apart from the extra power a bigger vehicle provides, you may not really make too many gains in layout and space.
A number of seven-seat options are on the market and the ones listed are a guide only as to some of the different sizes and possible options.
Nissan Qashqai + 2
It's basically the same as the standard five-seater Qashqai with a revised back end to accept a third row of seats. Things to like are: it's not an overly large vehicle, has extremely comfortable front seats, while the second row slide forward which makes access to the back row easier. Engine size is half a litre down on the X-Trail but claimed fuel consumption is 8l/100km. Price new is within budget at around $38,000 but I suspect you would buy it cheaper than that.
Holden Captiva 7
The Captiva sold in big numbers last year and certainly opens up more overall room and space. The SX ($41,890) has a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder engine so power is more in line with the X-Trail. Fuel consumption is a claimed 9l/100km helped along by a six-speed automatic transmission. While the second row of seats create better overall storage space when folded flat in comparison to the Nissan, access to the third row is no easier especially if child seats are installed. Towing the camping gear would be effortless and 2WD means less complications and a reduction in overall weight.
Four adults, one baby capsule, a car seats, a booster seat, a full size pushchair plus accessories needed for a day at the beach means the Odyssey wins for interior space. Rear seats are adult friendly and because the car sits lower to the ground than its competitors, a storage box would be within easy reach. Price new is around $47,000 so you would need to look at the used market.
Leave the kids with caregivers and go walk the local car yards and look at and try out all the various options. Allow for, or negotiate, the price of a tow bar as they aren't a cheap accessory to have fitted afterwards.