By Mark Nichol
Think ‘school run’ and you might jump to a mental image of massive, badly-parked SUVs lining the road from the school gate. The truth is, a great school run car doesn’t have to be a large 4x4. It should be spacious, yes - big and flexible enough to get the kids to school in comfort - but it should do that without taking up too much space on the road, and be economical and comfortable. Here’s Vanarama Car Expert Mark Nichol with five cars that will do all of those things.
Millions of words are dedicated to praising the original Qashqai, about how Nissan changed the automotive landscape in 2006 by turning the mid-level family hatchback into something with the advantages of a bigger SUV without actually being one. It made for a brilliant family car. Cue many, many copies, and although many of them improve the formula in various ways - some are bigger, some better to drive, some more luxurious - the latest Qashqai (in its third generation now) is still one of the very best.
The Qashqai has a huge 504-litre boot, plenty of rear space, and even the base model (called Visia) comes with tech-like LED headlights, cruise control and traffic sign recognition. The drive itself is softly sprung and relaxing, and mild hybrid tech across the range means every Qashqai returns 40mpg+ fuel economy. With a Total Euro NCAP safety rating score of 347/400, you can also enjoy peace of mind on your drive.
Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace
Volkswagen may beg to differ, but the Tiguan is one of the cars built in ‘homage’ to the Qashqai. In the Tiguan Allspace, you’re getting SUV-style space and height in a car not that much bigger than a Volkswagen Golf. Note the word “Allspace” though, which picks this out as the 7-seat version of the Tiguan with a couple of foldable seats in the boot. When they’re down you get an enormous 700-litre boot, which is always useful, but mainly the Allspace is great for ferrying around 5-a-side teams without being the size of a minibus.
The Tiguan features a very high-quality interior, superb refinement, lots of equipment even with a base car (called ‘Life’) and a range of engines that are smooth and efficient. The 150hp 1.5-litre TSI petrol is the nicest, but if you are regularly filling the car with people and things, then the 150hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel will cope better because it has more torque - it’ll give you a good 45mpg too.
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer
If you don’t fancy an SUV but still need plenty of space and want a high driving position, consider the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, which essentially does the job of an SUV crossover without pretending to look like one. Multi-purpose vehicles like the 2 Series have fallen out of fashion lately, but spend any time in this one and you’ll wonder why. It feels surprisingly small from behind the wheel (about the same size as a BMW 1 Series) but packs in loads of interior space and has one of the most pleasant interiors in any car. It’s very similar to the interior of BMW’s flagship £80,000 electric car, the iX.
It’s available with some of the world’s great mid-market engines too. The 2.0-litre diesel in the 218d is quiet and good for 50mpg, while the 1.5-litre 3-cylinder petrol engine in the 220i sounds great and is proper punchy. They, along with a generally pleasant driving experience, make the 2 Series Active Tourer one of the best pound-for-pound family cars on the market.
We’ve picked the 3008 because it’s arguably the best mid-sized family crossover on the market, a fantastic blend of unusual style, useful spaciousness and surprisingly dynamic handling characteristics; in fact, we’d suggest it’s more fun to drive than Peugeot’s family hatchback, the 308. And if you need more space, the Peugeot 5008 has very similar characteristics but with 2 extra rear seats, as well as a middle row with 3 individual chairs instead of the usual bench.
The focal point of the 3008 is its unusual interior, which feels high-tech thanks to its twin screens, toggle switches and small, low-set steering wheel. But the basics of comfort and user-friendliness are spot on, as is cabin quality. The boot space is a very large 512 litres by volume, and the engine range is particularly efficient. The 1.5-litre diesel engine is probably all you need and returns 60mpg, but if you’re running this as a company car then consider the Hybrid4 plug-in hybrid electric model. Its 235mpg efficiency rating is wildly optimistic (you’ll never come close to it) but it also means a very low CO2 rating and excellent company car tax rates.
It’s easy to make a case for the latest Renault Zoe as a really good school run small car - especially if your school run involves just 1 or 2 kids and you want it to be as cost-effective as possible. Officially, the Zoe is a supermini, although it’s very tall and spacious, with more than enough room for four, and across the last decade it’s been continuously improved to the extent that today’s Zoe feels a generation ahead of the model that first launched.
Mainly it’s the battery, which has more than doubled in size from 22kWh in the 2012 version to 52kWh now, which means today’s car has a claimed 245-mile range. It’s one of the most efficient electric cars on the market too, so if you’re driving it mostly at town speed you should be able to achieve that range between charges, which makes it very easy to live with.
We’re not only looking to make your choice of car for the school run easier, but we’d like to make the drive a little more serene as well. Check out our top tips to help reduce school run driving stress or take a look at our other guides for more motoring insight.