Best SUVs & MPVs for three child car seats
Fitting three child seats into a car can be a challenge, so we’ve put 16 SUVs and MPVs to the test to find out which ones are most suitable.....
A recent survey revealed that having three children was the most stressful number for parents to deal with.
Having one or two children may be a life-changing experience, but adding a third to your family throws up a whole new set of challenges. Not only do most family tickets for days out and multi-packs of food come in multiples of four, but you’re also likely to find that your car is no longer big enough to transport the whole clan.
Renault was one of the first car makers to acknowledge that not all families were the standard two parents and two children, when it launched the Espace MPV in 1984. However, the popularity of these boxy ‘multi-purpose vehicles’ – or people carriers – is waning, having been supplanted by SUVs in the affections of many families.
Although most MPVs and many SUVs come with seven seats, not all are able to accommodate more than two child car seats in the second and third rows.
While you might be able to use the front passenger seat in some cars, that’s not practical if a parent has to sit in the back, squashed between two child seats. It’s also dangerous for a child in a rearward-facing seat to use the front seat unless the airbag is deactivated, and that’s not always easy to do. The rear seats are generally considered the safest place for children to sit in cars.
To help parents pick the most suitable cars for larger families, we got together the best contenders in three classes – large SUVs, luxury SUVs and MPVs – and tried fitting three child seats into their second and third rows (but not the front, for the reasons outlined above). We’ve also included a category for electric vehicles, even though there’s currently only one with more than five seats: the Tesla Model X.
We chose an infant carrier, a seat suitable for a toddler and one for an older child. The two larger seats can be secured only by Isofix mounts, while the Group 0+ infant seat can be used with an Isofix base or a seatbelt.
Our results are based on our own physical tests and also on Euro NCAP safety tests, which state whether it is permissible to use a child seat in each seat position. This information can also be found in car owner manuals.
The child seats used in our test
Maxi Cosi CabrioFix
Child weight: 0-13kg (approx birth to 12 months)
Seat width: 44.5cm
Maxi Cosi AxissFix Plus
Child height: 67-105cm (approx birth to four years)
Seat width: 44.5cm
Halfords 123 Isofix
Child weight: 9-36kg (approx nine months to 12 years)
Seat width: 44cm
Citroën C5 Aircross
Citroën’s large SUV uses the same platform as the Peugeot 5008, but it can’t be had with seven seats, limiting its practicality.
It has Isofix mounts for the two outer rear seats, plus two top tether points for these, and no underfloor storage compartments, so seats with support legs can be used.
The three rear seats all slide back and forwards independently. Although we could have squeezed all three child seats in the second row with the infant carrier secured using a seatbelt, the use of a child seat in that position isn’t allowed, so we could fit only two in the C5’s rear seats.
Citroën C5 Aircross
Red tick = Isofix seat
Blue tick = Seatbelt secured seat
Black tick = Other seatbelt secured seat may fit
Black cross = Child seat not allowed
Unlike its predecessor, the latest CR-V can be ordered with seven seats, and the two rearmost pews are easy to pull up out of the boot floor using straps. However, there are no Isofix mounts for these seats, and it’s not permitted to use child seats in the third row or the centre middle-row seat.
There are two Isofix mounts in the second row, and we fitted two of our seats into these with ease.
Although older children or adults could use the third row, they’d have to be pretty athletic to get there, because they’d need to climb over the flattened middle-row seat.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Seven seats are standard on Hyundai’s biggest SUV, and the two rearmost ones are bigger than most and easy to pull out of the floor. Access is good, because the second-row seats fold electrically and slide far enough forward for passengers to climb in behind them without difficulty.
Hyundai Santa Fe
However, child seats cannot be used in the Santa Fe’s third row or in the middle of the second row, so we could only transport two of our children unless we opted to utilise the front passenger seat.
Both outer second-row seats have Isofix mounts and top tether points.
As with the Santa Fe, the Sorento has two good-sized seats in the third row. There are no Isofix points back there, though, and only seatbelt-secured seats for toddlers and older children can be used there. Access is good because the middle row splits and folds 60/40 and slides forwards.
Our two larger seats fitted well into the outer second row using the Isofix mounts and top tether points. Although a child seat can’t be used in the central pew in the middle row, rear leg room is good enough for a seat to be used in the third row with another in front of it.
The CX-5 is similar in size to the Honda CR-V and Skoda Kodiaq, but it’s offered with five seats only and a child seat can’t be used in the centre of the rear bench.
It has Isofix mounts and top tether points for the outer rear seats and no underfloor storage bins, so the Maxi Cosi AxissFix could also be used with its support leg. The seats don’t slide back and forwards like the Kodiaq’s and Peugeot 5008’s, though.
Euro NCAP says it’s permissible to use the seatbelt-secured version of the Maxi Cosi CabrioFix infant seat in the front passenger position, but not our two larger seats.
The 5008 may look like an SUV, but its interior is more akin to an MPV. It has three separate seats in the second row that recline, fold and slide; each has Isofix mounts and top tether points, making it easy for us to install all three of our child seats there.
If you use the infant carrier without its Isofix base, though, it is too wide to fit between the other two seats.
The third-row seats have top tether points but not Isofix mounts, so they can be used only with seatbelt-secured child seats. Leg room is limited if you try to install a seat in the third row and another in front of it.
The Kodiaq is Skoda’s first large SUV and its first to be offered with seven seats. Although it has three Isofix mounts in the middle row, it wasn’t wide enough for all three of our seats.
However, if you can find narrower seats for the outer positions, it might be possible to fit three across the row, with the infant carrier in the middle.
The rearmost seats are small and don’t have Isofix points,while Euro NCAP says they can’t be used for seatbelt-secured seats. The second-row seats fold, slide and recline, but they don’t go far enough forwards to give great access to the back.
The Q7 is the roomiest luxury SUV in our test. It has seven seats and Isofix mounts for all five of those in the rear. The second row was wide enough to take all three of our seats, so we could choose between putting all three children there or giving them more space by sitting one or two in the third row.
The second-row seats fold and slide and even flip over into the footwells to give great access to the third row; we got our two larger seats back there without a struggle. Electric seat adjustment helped, too.
Although the X5 isn’t quite as spacious as the Q7, this seven-seat version also has great access to its third row via a button that electrically moves 60% of the second row up and over towards the footwell.
There are only two Isofix mounts in the second row and none in the third, so you’re limited to using seatbelt-secured seats at the back. We couldn’t fit all three child seats onto the second row, and although the infant carrier can be used in the third row, it was too deep to lie flat enough to fit.
Land Rover Discovery
One of the most accommodating vehicles for larger families, the Discovery is a seven-seater with Isofix mounts and top tether points on four of the five rear seats. There’s plenty of leg room in both rows and the second row splits 60/40 and slides forwards, giving good access to the rearmost seats.
Land Rover Discovery
Although we could fit all three child seats into the second row, we had to secure the infant carrier with a seatbelt rather than its Isofix base and it was a tight squeeze to reach the seatbelt button.
The XC90 isn’t the most practical for large families, with no Isofix points in the third row.
Although the outer second-row seats flip and slide forwards, providing good access for children, the centre one doesn’t move, making it difficult to get a child seat into row three. And while you can use the infant carrier in the third row, we found there wasn’t enough leg room to fit another seat in front of it.
We did manage to fit all three seats onto second row using the seatbelt to secure the infant carrier, though.
A stalwart of MPVs, the Galaxy has seven separate seats with sizeable gaps between those in the second and third rows, making it easy to fit and remove child car seats.
With three Isofix points in the second row, we managed to fit all three of our seats in with ease. The sliding seats give good access to the rear. Although there are no Isofix mounts in the back, seatbelt-secured seats can be used, and there’s room to fit one seat behind another. There are also top tether points for all five rear seats.
The Alhambra is even more practical than the Galaxy, with seven full-size seats with Isofix mounts and top tether points on the rear five. We were easily able to fit all three child seats onto the second row and had enough leg room to put one seat in front of another in the second and third rows.
The sliding side doors provide great access to the second row, and the outer seats can be tipped forwards into the footwell, so there’s plenty of space to get children and seats into the third row.
Vauxhall Combo Life XL
This MPV has five separate rear seats and plenty of room for people. Each middle-row seat has Isofix mounts and could take all of our child seats. However, Euro NCAP says child seats can’t be used in the third row.
Vauxhall Combo Life XL
Although the second-row seats slide, they don’t fold up as well as other MPVs’, so it’s easier to access the third row via the boot. The sliding doors need a bit of force, but they give great access to the second row.
All of the above also applies to the super-similar Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot Rifter.
The Touran has a Tardis-like ability to accommodate passengers and their clutter. All five of its individual rear seats have Isofix mounts and top tether points and we were able to fit our three child seats into every one of them.
The second row was wide enough for all three seats and there was also enough leg room to fit seats behind each other if required.
The Touran’s second-row seats slide forwards and flip upwards, leaving enough space to get to the third row.
Tesla Model X
The future is electric, but there is currently only one battery-powered car that can take more than two child car seats.
The Model X can be configured with five, six or seven seats. The most practical option for larger families is six seats, because children can walk between the second row to get to the rearmost seats.
Tesla Model X
All four rear seats have Isofix mounts and the second-row chairs recline and slide forwards, so there’s enough room to fit one seat behind another.
We were able to fit the Halfords seat and the Maxi Cosi AxissFix in the third row and could secure the latter with either the top tether point or the support foot. Squeezing bulky seats back there was a struggle, though.
What Car? says…
Size doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to a car’s ability to accommodate more than two child seats. We were able to fit three child seats into only two of our large SUVs: the Kia Sorento and Peugeot 5008. We can forgive the Citroën C5 Aircross and Mazda CX-5, because they have only five seats, but others, including the new Honda CR-V and Skoda Kodiaq, proved disappointing.
The luxury SUVs fared better, with the Audi Q7 and Land Rover Discovery easily able to fit in three or more child seats. But the BMW X5 and Volvo XC90 weren’t long enough for us to fit one seat behind another in the second and third rows. The electric Tesla Model X acquitted itself very well, though.
The Vauxhall Combo Life was the biggest letdown. Although its second row is usefully wide and roomy, child seats can’t be used in the third row, making it no use for young children.
Make sure you do your research
It’s important to remember that our test is only one scenario, though; narrower or smaller seats might fit better into these cars, and it’s vital for parents to check that child seats are allowed to be used in the second and third rows of any potential purchase and to physically try out the seats before buying a car.
Data from child seat expert, Child Seat Safety, which carries out checks in child car seats in collaboration with local councils and police forces, revealed that the number of child car seats fitted incorrectly rose from 49% to 60% over the past couple of years. They compared checking data from June 2014 to May 2016 with that from June 2016 to May 2018. So make sure that before you buy you do your research to find the car that will best suit you and your family.