Growing Pains: How Many Seats Are Enough?

22 Apr 2021

Growing Pains: How Many Seats Are Enough?

if you are dealing with kindergarteners, you can assume that they’d be happy to be chucked into the third row of seats. They get to climb (their favourite pastime) into the seats, and they get to hide from their parent’s direct line of sight

To some, a car is a lifestyle option that ties into one’s status, to others, it is a means to an end - a tool to get the job of transportation done. Either way, a person’s choice of car is usually pegged to their phase of life and perhaps even their plans for the future. In Singapore, our car upgrades are pegged very closely to the “Singaporean Ideal” - It is an ideal that sees us get our first car, get married, have our first child, and then have more children. The idea of a growing family is a positive one and is generally viewed as a reflection of the hard work and success of the couple. With a growing family inevitably comes the decision on what car to purchase next. With the myriad of options from both authorised dealers and parallel importers available to consumers today, this decision could become a rather confusing one, especially if you are unfamiliar with cars, and do not really know what to look out for in the car. 

When thinking about upsizing your family car, it is natural to immediately think about full fledged MPVs like a Toyota Previa / Estima or a Honda Odyssey. While there isn’t anything wrong with those cars as people carriers, I am of the sentiment that a deep-dive into your specific needs can actually yield some interesting insights, and open up some other options that might be more economical, more luxurious, or better built. Match this with a better understanding of practicality features on cars, and you might find yourself with a decent shortlist of cars that bring something different to the table. Here are some configurations and features to think about if you are working on upsizing your family car. Note that these suggested configurations are based on the working mindset of utilising as small a car as possible (within recommended safety standards) to get the job done. 

Carrying up to 2 Adults + 2 Infants / Toddlers (Newborn - 2 Years)

For up to 2 adults and 2 infants, most mid sized family cars will be able to get the job done if you are using belted-on car seats. However, if like me, you are particular about safety and utilise car seats with an ISOFIX base, some additional space or additional innovation might be involved. From personal experience, on a car like a Volkswagen Golf, a rear facing infant carrier mounted on an isofix base in the rear seat will require the front seats to be moved up quite a bit, making it quite cramped for the front passengers. The 2 adults in front would likely have to be quite small in stature in order for this to work. However if you aren’t using an infant carrier, but rather a tiltable front facing child seat, the fit will be easier. However, most road safety governing bodies around the world do not recommend infants to be placed in a front facing child seat. In fact, where possible, children should sit facing the rear up to the age of 3 - 4 (depending on their size). It is also advisable for them to be placed in the rear and not in the front passenger seat. On a regular sized sedan like a BMW 3 series or an Audi A4, this becomes a lot more palatable, but not to the extent where the front passenger can afford to lounge out in the front seats either. For regular sized Singaporeans, this configuration would be “just nice” and would offer enough space to ride in comfort for a long journey. Anything bigger would of course accommodate your situation, with some excess to spare.

Possible Configuration:

Driver: Adult

Front Passenger: Adult

Rear Right: Rear Facing Child Seat

Rear Left: Rear Facing Child Seat

Carrying up to 2 Adults + 1 Preschooler (2 - 4 years) & 1 Infant / Toddler ( Newborn - 2 years) + Helper

It is not uncommon for couples in Singapore to have children 2 - 4 years apart from one another and that puts plenty of families into this category of having to carry 1 preschooler and 1 infant / toddler at the same time. To me, this is also the most fun segment, because you have plenty more considerations you will need to make, and also plenty more options to play with. For a 5 seater configuration, once your preschooler is strong and robust enough, they can theoretically be put into a front facing child seat in the rear, which frees up some space as opposed to the infant carrier which is pretty clunky. There is also the option of moving their child seat to the front passenger seat in a rear-facing configuration, such that you have your preschooler in the front left passenger seat, and your infant/toddler in the rear left passenger seat. The preschooler in front should be rear facing, with the front left passenger airbag turned off for safety reasons. In order to do this, you would ideally be looking for a car with front ISOFIX points. This isn’t a common feature that appears on many cars, but they do exist on most Audi models and for a period of time, certain Opel models. 

When you throw a helper into the mix, things get even more exciting. Depending on the size of the car you choose, it might be a bit of a stretch for your helper to sit in between 2 car seats in a configuration where both the car seats are placed in the rear. Even if they could theoretically fit into the middle seat in a car that is wide enough (I’ve seen this achieved in a BMW F30 3 Series), one must consider that with 2 child seats placed on the outer seats (where the ISOFIX points are), it is very nearly impossible for the helper to climb in and out of that middle seat. On the other hand, if 1 child seat was in the front left passenger seat, and another child seat in the rear left passenger seat, it might be possible for the helper and other adult (presumably Mummy), to take up the middle rear seat and the right rear passenger seat if they are both petite sized. This would present a more practical option when it comes to getting in and out of the car, and might be able to help you prolong the use of your 5 seater for another year or two. 

Possible Configuration:

Driver: Adult

Front Passenger: Rear Facing Preschooler

Rear Right: Adult / Helper

Rear Middle: Adult / Helper

Rear Left: Front Facing Preschooler or Rear Facing Infant / Toddler

Carrying up to 2 Adults + 2 Kindergarteners (4 - 6 years) + 2 Preschooler / Infant / Toddler (Newborn - 4 years) + Helper

Once you are looking to carry more than 6 passengers of any kind, you’ll definitely have to move away from a standard 5 seater, no matter how luxurious or large your 5 seater may be. Moving away from a 5 seater essentially means that you will be crossing into 7 seater SUV or MPV territory. However, it would interest you to note that cars in this category aren’t created equal, and there are some features that really shine through and make a tremendous difference in this area. To start things off, if you are dealing with kindergarteners, you can assume that they’d be happy to be chucked into the third row of seats. They get to climb (their favourite pastime) into the seats, and they get to hide from their parent’s direct line of sight - what’s not to love? All you need are some basic booster seats for your kindergarteners and you’ll be all set.  However, things aren’t so cut and dry here. Unless you are working with a full size Japanese MPV with captain seats in the 2nd row, you will have to lean one of the 2nd row seats forward to allow access to the 3rd row. This essentially kills the use of one ISOFIX point, because you won’t be able to permanently place a child seat at the seat which is being used as an access point. You will only be able to seat an adult at the seat in question. The problem is, most cars are only equipped with 2 ISOFIX points in the outer seats of the 2nd row, which means that your hauling capacity is effectively reduced by 1 preschooler / infant / toddler. This scenario applies to most compact MPVS like the Kia Carens, Citroen C4 Picasso, and BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer, as well as all other 7 Seater MPVs and SUVs without a walk-through opening in the 2nd row. If you need to carry 2 ISOFIX child seats in these cars, then you’ll effectively be working with a 5 seater as the 3rd row would not be reasonably accessible once the 2 ISOFIX child seats are locked into place. However, this is still a step up in comfort to hauling the same load in a sedan or a 5 seater SUV, as even in a 5 seater configuration, you can slide the 2nd row bench further back, giving your helper enough room to climb into the middle rear seat. There is also more than ample legroom to accommodate the child seats so that the front passenger and driver can comfortably stretch out their legs. 

That being said, one unsung hero in this category is the Volkswagen Touran, which in my opinion, could be one of the most practical cars when it comes to hauling people around, despite only classifying it as a compact MPV. What sets the Touran apart are the 3 individual 2nd row passenger seats, which are all equipped with ISOFIX points. This effectively means that you can load your middle rear seat with a child seat, while leaving one of the outer rear passenger seats available as an access point to the 3rd row. If that isn’t enough, the Touran, along with its bigger brother - the Sharan, are one of the only few cars in the market that also have ISOFIX points in the 3rd row seats. This feature technically allows you to carry 5 child seats if you should so fancy. Even with the 2nd row fully slid back, the 3rd row of the Touran is still reasonably roomy, without enough space for a full sized adult on a long journey. In contrast, most of the 3rd row seats in other cars in the same class are only for young children or very short journeys. Another neat practicality trick that is unique to Volkswagen are the built in booster seats in the Sharan. Instead of having to purchase additional booster seats to lay onto the original seats, the actual seats in the Sharan can be raised with a simple catch release that not only looks better than 3rd party booster seats, but also provides a more integrated system which I believe when push comes to shove, should offer your little ones better impact protection in the unfortunate event of a collision. (The Sharan also has built in head guards that are suitable for kindergarteners)

Possible Configuration:

Driver: Adult

Front Passenger: Adult

Rear Right: Front /  Rear Facing Child Seat

Rear Middle: Front / Rear Facing Child Seat

Rear Left: Adult

3rd Row: Kindergarteners

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