Road tripping with your family during the holidays is basically a rite of passage for any parent — car loaded to the brim with kids, car seats, clothes and supplies for a week, and maybe even the family pet perched somewhere among the chaos. But being on the road with kids doesn’t have to be totally torturous. There are tons of features in many of the latest model cars that are designed especially with moms and dads in mind. You may not have known you needed these family-friendly features, but once you learn about them, you just might feel inclined to hit your local dealership before your next road trip.
2nd-Row Captain’s Seats Without a Center Console
In our opinion, the single most helpful in-car feature for families with young kids is second-row captain’s chairs without a center console in between them — meaning there is a clear pathway to the third row. Here’s why. Imagine you have a 3-row SUV, and you’re taking a trip that includes two parents, two kids in car seats or boosters and maybe a grandparent, or a third child who is no longer in a safety seat. The two little ones in car seats will go behind the driver and the front passenger in the second row, and the additional passenger will sit in the third row, which will be partially collapsed to allow more space for luggage. Imagine you fill up the cargo area with suitcases, strollers and everything else you need for a week away with kids. If the second row is a bench seat, or even captain’s chairs with a console in between, how is that third-row passenger supposed to get to his/her seat?
Removing a convertible car seat that’s been properly installed using the LATCH system or seat belt is a HUGE pain in the you-know-what. It’s really not an option at all. When the cargo area is empty, the third-row passenger can crawl through that way (less than ideal if it’s grandma) but when the trunk is full, that’s no longer an option either. This is why we’re huge fans of SUVs and minivans that offer captain’s chairs with a clear central path to the third row. You can keep your child safety seats in at all times, fill up the cargo area and still have access to the third row seats. If this sounds like something you might need, check out the 2019 Chrysler Pacifica or the 2019 Buick Enclave.
Sliding Second-Row Seats
The next best thing to having a clear path to the third row in 3-row SUVs and minivans is a second-row seat that can slide forward with a child safety seat still attached. Chevrolet has branded this feature "Smart Slide" and can be found on the 3-row Traverse, while Nissan calls it "Latch and Glide" and can be had on the 3-row Pathfinder. Volkswagen doesn’t have a proprietary name for this technology, but it’s offered on the 3-row Atlas. When you’re on a road trip with lots of pit stops, being able to quickly get into and out of the third row is a must, and this technology allows that to happen, similar to the second-row pathway mentioned above. Our only complaint is that the sliding feature is only offered on the passenger-side second-row seat on some vehicles, so you really have to think through your seating and cargo-loading plan in advance, making sure the third-row passenger sits on the passenger side and the split-folding third-row bench is folded down on the driver’s side.
If you’ve ever driven in the car with a baby or toddler after dark, you know how challenging it is to see what they’re doing in the second or third rows. If you’re behind the wheel and little Abby starts wailing, it’s hard to tell if she’s seriously in distress or if she just dropped her binky on the floor. Thankfully, a new in-car tech feature from Honda called CabinWatch is totally changing the night vision game. In the 2019 Honda Odyssey, a camera installed on the inner roof of the minivan allows the driver to see the entire backseat, even in the dark, through the touchscreen infotainment system. You can even pinch and zoom, honing in on exactly where Abby’s binky fell and whether or not you can reach it at the next stop light.
Rear-Seat USB Ports
While the first three features we’ve mentioned are game changers for parents with little ones, we don’t want to exclude moms and dads with slightly older kids. According to Autotrader’s executive editor, Brian Moody, there’s basically just one requirement when road tripping with tweens or teenagers: the ability to keep their technology fully charged. That means you’ll need an SUV or a minivan with as many USB ports as possible — preferably with a few in the second and third rows, like the 2019 Chevrolet Traverse and 2019 Subaru Ascent. Believe it or not, you can get an Ascent with up to eight (!!!) USB ports, which means less time arguing over whose phone needs juice and more time for road trip bingo. That is, if you can tear them away from their Fortnite app long enough to look out the window.
Integrated Pet Carrier
Here at Autotrader, we spend a lot of time each year thinking about the family pet and the rides best suited for our four-legged friends. A few months ago, we published our annual list of 10 Great Cars for Dog Lovers, including the 2018 Volvo V90 and 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid. The Volvo V90 is a full-size wagon with a large cargo area and lots of out-of-sight storage, plus our favorite feature — a custom-looking dog enclosure specific to the V90 that you can get from your local Volvo dealer. And we love that the Pacifica offers buyers with a portable soft-sided dog kennel, not to mention the minivan’s low cargo floor, which is super helpful with small dogs. Either one of these vehicles would keep Snuggles perfectly comfortable on the 300-mile trek to Aunt Sally’s.
While this isn’t a feature specific to families, it’s something we think a lot of people don’t realize they can get in a car other than a big, brawny SUV. If you’re taking a trip with your family to the snowy Midwest or Northeast this winter, all-wheel drive (AWD) could be the thing that keeps you cool and confident when the roads become slick and sometimes a little scary. If your family needs three rows, but you don’t want to drive a full-size SUV, the 2019 Toyota Sienna can be outfitted with AWD. And if a family-friendly sedan checks all the boxes for you, you might want to test drive the new 2019 Nissan Altima, which can also come with AWD.
Holiday road trips are on the horizon … so if you don’t want this year’s vacay to look like a sequel to "National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation," you’ll definitely want to check out some of the cars and family-friendly features on our list.