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BabyDrive: Everything You Wanted To Know About Kids In Cars In One Handy Place

If you’re about to become a parent for the first time – or if you’re revisiting parenthood after a long break (it happens) – then you might be wondering what sort of car is right for your new family.  It’s not a stupid question.  Once upon a time, it might have been all right to sling the carry cot across the back seat and make the older siblings share a seatbelt and/or ride in the boot, but you’d get in major trouble if you tried that today.  They’re serious about car seats for children these days and the law says that children under the age of seven can’t wear an adult seatbelt – and even then, this depends on their size and height and some children may need a booster seat until they’re 12 or so.  (As an aside, I’m kind of glad that they didn’t specify a particular height or weight for using a booster seat – some petite adult women, such as my 18-year-old daughter, may not meet these and who wants to sit their license while sitting in a booster seat?).

Anyway, if you’re a parent-to-be, you mind may be buzzing with questions about what sort of car you need to get.  And if it isn’t, it should be!  A lot of first-time parents fall into the trap of putting a lot of thought and care into the birth plan and how they want the birth of their new baby to go.  While this is all very well, what they don’t tell you (and what I wish I had known all those years ago) is that labour and birth only last (at most) one day.  All the other bits about parenthood and life with a small child go on for months – years!  So if you haven’t started thinking about what sort of car you need as a new parent, it’s time to give it some thought.

There are a lot of things to consider and it’s easy to make a mistake.  Let’s just say that there’s a possibility that you may have to put that little sporty roadster on hold for a bit and buy something more family-friendly.  Been there, done that.  We said goodbye to our old Morris (which would be an absolute classic and worth a mint today if we’d hung onto it) because the pushchair wouldn’t fit in the boot and got a Toyota sedan – which was then traded in when Child #2 came along because there was no way that anybody could sit in the front seat when there were two car seats in the back – and no room between said seats either!  I’ve been watching my brother and his wife start to go through the same series of problems.

Imagine that you could find someone who could give you all the advice you need – kind of like a motor-savvy big sister who can answer all those very practical questions even better than we can here at Private Fleet (although we try our best!).  For example, if you’re expecting Child #3 and the eldest is still of an age to need a booster seat, or if you’ve got twins or triplets on the way, are there any cars out there that can fit three car seats across the back?  Which cars provide enough leg room in the rear seats so that bored toddlers don’t try whiling away the time stuck in traffic kicking the driver in the kidneys?  How do you know if the stroller will fit in the boot?

Well, this sort of big sisterly advice is exactly what you’ll get from a great new site that’s linked with Private Fleet called BabyDrive (yes, this is a shameless plug for the site but no, I did not write it, although I wish I had, and I wish Tace the reviewer lived a bit closer than Queensland because she’d probably be my new BFF).  This is a great site that has all the answers you need to do with choosing a new vehicle that will suit your new family – yes, it even tells you which vehicles can fit five car seats comfortably and which MPVs have the easiest access to the third row of seats.  It’s the sort of thing I wish that I had on hand when I was a new parent – and I’d certainly recommend it to any parent-to-be looking for a new family vehicle.  Like we do, BabyDrive reviews vehicles, but unlike us, they do it all from a parenting perspective.  You won’t find the hot little roadsters reviewed here and the car reviews don’t cover torque or fuel economy stats much.  However, each car is rated for driver comfort (you’ve got to love a review that tells you whether the headrest position works well with the typical ponytail hairstyle adopted by mums on the go!), carseat capacity, storage, safety and noise.  The reviews include some descriptions of driving as a new mother that will give you a rueful chuckle or two – even if you, like me, have your baby days well behind you.  It’s the sort of review that we couldn’t do here on Private Fleet unless I kidnapped my baby nephew.  We’ll tell you the other bits and pieces – as well as helping you score a great deal on pricing (another thing that’s appreciated by not just new parents!).  The reviews feature a video segment as well as a written review – great for those who are more visually oriented.

The noise review is particularly useful, especially given the tendency these days for cars to produce all kinds of beeps as warnings.  If you don’t know about the old parenting trick of going for a wee drive to help soothe a fretful child off to sleep, you know it now!  However, all the good soothing work of a nicely purring motor and the gentle motion of a car on the go can be undone by some wretched lane departure warning shrieking or a parking sensor bleeping, waking your baby up just as you get home.

And yes, you will find some hatchbacks reviewed on BabyDrive!  Of course, the big SUVs, MPVs and 4x4s feature heavily (and, as an extra piece of advice from a more experienced parent, these will stand you in good stead once your kids hit the school and teen years, and you have to take your turn doing the carpool run, or if you are ferrying a posse of teens to the movies or a sports match).  However, if it’s not a “BabyDrive” (i.e. something suitable for small children), then it won’t feature!

Check it out yourself at BabyDrive.com.au.

SUV, Hatch or Wagon?

SUVs like the Volvo XC40 look really cool!

 

The ever popular Toyota Corolla Hatchback

Station Wagons like the new Ford Focus are brilliant.

 

Why do most women like the SUV, wagon or hatchback shape?  These are the preferred vehicles that women are driving.  SUVs definitely offer that extra status not to mention size.  It seems too that Teal coloured cars are the ones that most excite the ladies.

SUVs are hitting our road on mass, thanks to the buyers, female and male, preferring their practicality, safety and room.  You can buy FWD only SUVs, which if you never go in search of the wide open spaces outside of Suburbia then these types of vehicle will do all your townie jobs nicely, and often with plenty of room to spare.  AWD equivalent SUVs are more expensive anyway!

SUVs are bigger than anything else on the road besides trucks and buses, so anyone will likely be attracted to the safety aspect of owning an SUV.  Many guys will like the fact that their special other half drives a big safe SUV, which often ends up carrying the kids too.  Having a higher ride height does give you a commanding view of the road ahead, and generally speaking, the extra ground clearance works wonders should you be into off-roading.

SUVs are easier to get in-and-out of, and for loading child seats, child accessories, and library book and shopping bags.  Generally speaking you step inside an SUV, rather than sink down into them- like in a hatchback.  When it comes loading cargo into the boot the space is usually large, higher and easier to access.  That said, there are some nicely designed station wagons and hatchbacks that are very practical.

Downsides to owning an SUV are that they cost more to feed; cost more to maintain, and they generally need more wizardry and expensive technology to defy the laws of physics should you want to drive them quickly around corners.  Still, manufacturers are beginning to build a wide variety of SUVs to suit your tastes.  You can even buy convertible SUVs or 2-door coupe SUVs – which pushes the contemporary envelope somewhat.

So if you are a lady on the lookout for a nice new SUV – perhaps Teal coloured or close to it, that is competitively priced then there are some models you may consider.  OK, you men could consider this as well – though you’ll probably prefer a silver, black or white colour (though flaming orange and buttercup yellow is said to get a guy’s heartrate up).  So, how about a Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, BMW X3, Ford Ecosport, Ford Escape, Ford Everest, Foton Sauvana, Haval H2, Hyundai Sant Fe or Kona, Jeep, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-3 or CX-5, MG GS, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross or Outlander, Nissan Qashqai, Peugeot 3008, Renault Koleos, Skoda Kodiaq, Subaru Forester or XV, Suzuki Vitara, VW Tiguan, or any of the Volvo XC models?  Modern, safe and great multipurpose vehicles, this list is a good mix to get you thinking.

But if you don’t go the SUV way, there’s plenty of savings to be had by sticking to a hatchback or station wagon instead.  If you spend most of your time travelling within the confines of Suburbia then the SUV size might not make so much sense if a Station wagon or Hatchback will do.  And even at their most practical, an SUV is a bit more difficult to park in the tiny city car parks – unless you have an SUV with all the self-parking aids.

If you think that a good small hatch or station wagon will suit your needs just as well, you will enjoy the benefits of this type of vehicle being cheaper to buy, cheaper to maintain, more fun to drive and, thanks to the swelling tide of SUVs on the road, you’ll be bucking the trend and looking pretty cool.

Here’s some wagons or hatchbacks you might like to consider: Volvo V60, VW Golf wagon or hatch, your good old Toyota Corolla wagon or hatch, Subaru Forester or Impreza or Liberty, Skoda Octavia Wagon, Renault Megane, Proton Preve, loads of Peugeots, Nissan LEAF (Electric Vehicle), Mitsubishi ASX, a Mini, MG3, Mercedes Benz B-Class or C-Class, a Mazda 3 or 6, Kia Cerato or Soul, Hyundai i40 or i30, Honda Civic, Holden Astra, Ford Focus or Mondeo, Citroen C4 or C5, BMW 3 or 5 Series wagon, Audi A3 or A4, and Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Women and Auto Design

Honda/Acura NSX

The chances are your car was designed by a man, but with more women becoming involved in the automotive industry we might well wonder whether our car was designed by a man or a woman?  This is an interesting question that many of us have likely never given much thought to.  We all love a nice looking, nice driving car, so I wonder how many women are involved in the automotive design industry that we don’t know about.  Really, there are very few clues that would reveal a car designer’s gender.

There’s no doubt that the automotive industry is still dominated by men, but women are beginning to make important inroads.  The vast majority of female car designers are employed doing textile jobs where they select seat fabrics, choose exterior colours, and oversee the interior design and styling.

Exterior design, which is considered to be the choice job in automotive design, is led by men.  It’s not that automakers are wilfully trying to keep women out of the top design jobs.  Indeed, Motor Trend’s spokesperson MacKenzie thinks that “If there was a woman designer who was talented, a hard worker and competitive, which is what this job demands, the car companies would knock each other out of the way and rush to hire her.”  Maybe the early years of a person’s life, and there exposure to certain things, has more to do with what type of work will interest them later in life.  The stereotypical one kind of toy for boys when they’re young and another kind of toy for girls might have more influence on the shaping of their career choices than first thought.  MacKenzie says that the majority of students who come to the design school were smitten at some point in their lives by the look and performance of vehicles – and not just cars but things with wings or things that zip down rails.

This is fascinating stuff and begs the question that perhaps dolls and tea parties aren’t the only thing small girls might be interested in.  Definitely, I found our daughter, as a child, often played with cars and blocks as well as playing rugby with her older brother.  She also had dolls to play with, too.  Her passion for rugby still continues to this day as well as her love for Jeeps.  She is just about to finish high school and attend university to study physiotherapy.

Michelle Christensen and the NSX

2018 has provided us with some wonderful new car designs, and one of the raciest and best looking super car designs has to be that of the beautiful Honda NSX.  This gorgeous design was, in fact, designed by Michelle Christensen, the Acura NSX exterior design lead.  How did she get there?  Michelle Christensen is the first woman to lead design on a supercar.  She directed the eight-person team responsible for Acura’s (Honda’s) resurrection of the NSX, which ended production in 2005.  In her words: “They wanted an emotional, 3-D kind of feeling,” Christensen says. “My priority was to keep that.”  Prior to designing the NSX, Michelle worked on Acura’s RLX sedan and its now-discontinued ZDX crossover.  She grew up working on muscle cars with her father in their San Jose, Calif. garage and got her design chops at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.  There’s that childhood input again.  The fact that Acura chose Michelle Christensen as the lead for the awesome NSX’s exterior speaks volumes about the inroads women are finally making at the upper ranks of automotive design.  Awesome!

Did you know that the once GM’s leading artist-engineer H.J. Earl (Harley) saw into the the future and drew input from his group of talented women designers, and they came alongside his “all-male” car designers.  His women automotive designers of the 1950s proved to be ground-breaking, controversial and extremely successful.

In 2004 Volvo Cars unveiled a concept car that, till then, had never been attempted in the more than 100 years of automotive manufacturing: the first car designed and developed almost exclusively by women.  Unveiled at the New York Auto Show, the car, though created from a woman’s perspective, included features appealing to both sexes — including easier maintenance, intelligent storage solutions, a better line of vision, computer-aided parking and a bold, yet elegant, exterior.

The car included features not typically found in man-made cars: no hood; no gas cap; easy-clean paint; head restraints with room for ponytails; numerous exchangeable seat covers of various colours and materials (linen, leather, felt, etc.); compartments for handbags; gull-wing doors that make it easier to load and unload larger items and children; computerized assistance for parallel parking; and improved sight lines.  Owners carrying large items were able to set the doors to open automatically when they reach the doors.  At the point-of-purchase, retailers can conduct a body scan of the driver measuring height and length of arms and legs.  The data is stored in the vehicle’s key, and the car recommends a seat position for the driver that provides her or him an optimal line of vision and reach.  The car also electronically notifies the owners chosen service centre when maintenance is due, and the service technician contacts the owner to book the appointment.  Do any of these ideas/features that these women thought of sound familiar in any of our brand new cars today?  The answer is definitely yes – the automatic door and boot rings a bell!

Bridget Hamblin and Honda

Bridget Hamblin, a Honda Civic engineer, led the car dynamics team responsible for the performance of the 2016 Honda Civic, the brand’s most important car and winner of the prestigious North American Car of the Year award.  Hamblin earned degrees in mechanical engineering at Penn State and the University of Dayton before joining Honda as an engineer working on vehicle suspension and steering in the research and development department.  She says that: “Rather than having sought out the automotive industry, it found me.  My education in mechanical engineering proved to be a perfect fit in vehicle development.”  An Automotive research and development engineer with nine years of experience and a strong background in vehicle dynamics, objective vehicle testing, vehicle handling metric development and passenger car development has gotten her along way ahead in automotive design.

Before joining the Civic project, Hamblin helped develop the Honda Odyssey.  “Because it was my responsibility to lead the development of Civic’s vehicle dynamics, I find a lot of pride in the car’s steering, ride, handling and stability, which is truly impressive.  We really pushed the envelope by benchmarking the Civic, an entry-level vehicle, against European luxury competitors like the Audi A3. And it shows. Being awarded the North American Car of the Year was the icing on top.”

Anna Gallagher, a senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars, held several positions at Jaguar Land Rover, including global brand manager for the new Jaguar F-PACE SUV, before being promoted to senior launch manager for Jaguar Sports and Lifestyle cars.  She was also responsible for the launches of the Jaguar XJ and XJR sedans.  Gallagher says. “I found that I can also give a different perspective so we end up with a more balanced discussion or even solutions we wouldn’t have found with an all-male team.”  The stylish Jaguar F-PACE is the only Jaguar that has always had a female marketing manager heading up the program.  “We needed to protect the coupe-like design, but I also knew that a reason for rejecting cars, particularly from women, in this segment is rear visibility.  Our target customer would have children in the rear so we had to ensure as many children as possible can see out of the windows.”

Women purchase about half of all cars on the market and influence the vast majority of car sales, yet for a century men have made most of the decisions in the design, development and production of a car.  Let’s see a greater shift in these traits!