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Will Your Family Fit?

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the same holds true for cars. Just because a large SUV has nine seats, doesn’t mean your family will fit. Even with all those seats, you may not be able to squeeze in all three of your car seats, and your teenagers may not be comfortable in that third row. To help you find the right car for your family, we’ve compiled a list of the cars, SUVs and minivans that will fit your family, no matter the size.

In Pictures: Will Your Family Fit?

Kids, Car Seats and LATCH Connectors

Whether your kids use a rear-facing infant seat, forward-facing car seat or booster seat, you need to know if all of them will fit in your car at once. Lower Anchors and Tether for Children, or LATCH connectors, are required by law and are there to securely install these seats.

Some vehicles have more LATCH connectors than others. When test driving your new car, SUV or minivan, it’s important to take the car seats you already own to the dealership with you. That way, you can see which car works the best with your car seats. If you need to fit two or more car seats at a time in your vehicle, here are some of your best choices.

Cars

If you need a small car, the Hyundai Elantra has two sets of rear LATCH anchors and has one of the roomiest back seats in the class. Reviewers say that leg room is plentiful, though headroom may be limited for some passengers. If you’re transporting young kids, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Most car shoppers want something larger than the Elantra for family use. The Ford Fusion is a spacious midsize car that your kids can grow into. Plus, the standard rear center armrest folds down and includes two cup holders, which will help you keep your kids further separated, giving you an automatic demilitarized zone for backseat squabbles.

Minivans

The Honda Odyssey stands out among minivans, boasting five sets of LATCH anchors for maximum car seat capacity. Its competitors, like the Toyota Sienna and the Nissan Quest, only include three sets: two in the outboard second-row seats and one in the center of the third row. While you can still install most car seats using a seatbelt, LATCH anchors make it easier to install them properly, and the Honda Odyssey has the most by far.

SUVs

Whether you need high ground clearance and all-wheel drive to get through snowy winters, or you’re not ready to surrender to soccer-mom styling of minivans and station wagons, a family-hauling SUV is the next step up. But just because some SUVs come with seats for six to eight passengers, it doesn’t mean each can hold that many car seats. For instance, the midsize Mazda CX-9 has seating for seven, but it only comes with two sets of LATCH anchors. If you’ve got three or more car seats to install, count the number of LATCH connectors when you head to the dealership.

Shoppers who don’t need seven seats but still like the idea of an SUV should look at smaller options like the Chevrolet Equinox. Most compact SUVs only have two sets of LATCH anchors, but most have roomier back seats than sedans. Plus, its lack of a third row means you might not be tapped for carpool duty quite as often.

Third Rows

Families of six or more have to shop carefully. There are only eight minivans on the market, and most three-row SUVs don’t have adult-size back seats. If you only need those extra seatbelts for occasional carpooling or passengers shorter than 5-feet, you have more wiggle room. Most reviewers say that minivans are your best bet if you frequently drive adults or teens, which may limit your choices further if you regularly carpool with coworkers or other grown-ups.

Optional and Standard Third Rows

Some SUVs offer the choice of adding two more seats, bringing seating capacity up to seven. Generally, these seats are only suitable for children, and if that’s all you need them for, you’re set. For instance, the BMW X5 offers a third row for an extra $1,700. It’s one of the sportiest SUVs on the market, and if you want a BMW but need seating for more than five, it’s your only choice. If your budget is more Toyota than BMW, take a look at the Toyota RAV4. Reviewers say its optional third row is relatively kid-friendly. In order to get the extra two seatbelts, you’ll have to add $1,090 to the base price, for a total of $23,565. However, it’s still cheaper than opting for the Toyota Highlander Limited, which starts at about $28,100 and comes standard with seven seats.

Fold-flat vs. Removable Third Row

For those buyers who won’t need seven seats all the time, third rows can usually be folded flat or removed to increase cargo space. The new Ford Explorer has an optional power-folding third row that reviewers appreciate, and the Mazda5’s third row folds down manually. But in some cases, you’ll have to remove the third row if you want to expand your cargo space. We had a particularly hard time with the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid’s removable third row, which required two people to lift into the back for re-installation. If you’re going to use the back row a lot and won’t reconfigure your SUV’s seating arrangements frequently, you might not mind the hassle. But if you need your third row to be flexible, you might want to try it out yourself before you buy. The Chevrolet Traverse’s third row is particularly easy to fold flat into the floor.

Sure, that crossover might have enough seats for your family of seven to squeeze into from time to time, but what if you need to carry everyone’s luggage? You’ll need a lot more cargo space than what’s offered behind the rear seats. In this case, consider opting for roof rails, which allow you to attach a container to the top of your car to hold gear that won’t fit in the trunk.

For instance, say you have a Dodge Durango, which has 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space with all three rows of seats in use. That’s probably not enough room for all the stuff you and your family of four will need to pack for a week-long vacation. Adding manufacturer roof rails to your base Dodge Durango Express costs $250, and a soft rooftop cargo bag from WeatherTech will cost about $70. So, for about $320, you can increase your cargo space by 13 cubic feet, to a total of about 30. That almost doubles your cargo space, for less than the cost of renting a minivan for your week-long trip.