10 Things to Shop for in a Practical Car

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When shopping for a practical car, the body styles that immediately come to mind are SUVs, hatchbacks, wagons, and minivans since they offer the most space. However, not all of them are created equal, especially among car manufacturers emphasizing style over substance. Cars such as the BMW X6, Nissan Juke, and Hyundai Veloster do fall into the SUV and hatchback classes, but their lack of practicality pales in comparison to their less quirky counterparts. Just because a car is large doesn’t mean it’s practical; a small, subcompact car can sometimes make your jaw drop because of the amount of space in its cabin. As you shop for a practical car, here are 10 things to look for to make sure you get the best blend of style, usability, flexibility, and technology in your vehicle.

Usable Cargo Area

Regardless of whether the back seats are up or down, you must have cargo room. Plenty of factors can affect how much interior space a car has, especially when it comes to hauling gear and larger objects. The car’s exterior styling can easily cut into interior volume as can the shape of your car’s cargo area.

Flexible Interior

While it’s important to have plenty of space, flexibility also matters, especially if you’re buying a hatchback like the Honda Fit or a small SUV like the Fiat 500X. The ability to carry a mix of passengers and cargo in a smaller car is important for urban dwellers who live with limited parking and tight streets. Additionally, a flexible interior means it’ll be easier to organize everything you’ve hauled and maximize the vehicle’s available space (the 2016 Volvo XC90 is pictured).

Possible Cabin Intrusions

Inside a car’s cabin, keep an eye out for possible intrusions to your available space like wheelwells pushing into the cargo area, a rear subwoofer for the audio system, rear seat backs that aren’t fully flat, a load floor that isn’t flush, and second-row seats that don’t fold down into the floor. Knowing how these will affect a car’s practicality is crucial when you’re considering hauling gear and flat-pack furniture.

Split Folding Second and Third Rows

A feature standard on nearly every car now, folding rear seats provide an extra level of practicality and flexibility when you’re hauling stuff from Ikea or Costco. Each car has a different type of folding rear seat; some split 50/50, 60/40, or 40/20/40. Vehicles like the Honda Fit and HR-V take things to another level by adding rear seat cushions that split and fold up to the seatbacks. Additionally, there are cars like the Fiat 500L that have second-row seats that not only split and fold but also tumble forward so you can push back against the front seats for maximum carrying capacity.

Ample Passenger Space

For folks traveling with friends and family, having ample passenger space is important. As you take a look in the interior, make sure that there’s a good amount of leg-, and shoulder room as well as headroom for slightly taller passengers in the rear seats. This is especially important if you like to go on long road.

Usable Third Row

Not all minivans and SUVs are created equal. Some have third rows so tight even children won’t be comfortable. If you’re shopping for a family vehicle that accommodates more than five passengers, see if that third row is habitable or a torture chamber, especially if you intend to go on long trips.

The Number of LATCH Anchors

Especially important for families with young children is the number of LATCH anchors. These enable you to properly secure your child’s car seat. Additional LATCH anchors also mean there are more places to put the child seat, adding flexibility when you have more passengers.

Convenience Features like Cargo Hooks and Dividers

For maximum practicality, don’t forget to check for additional convenience extras like a dividable cargo floor, cargo hooks, nets, and straps for your grocery bags. These features come in handy when you’re trying to haul gear, since you’ll be able to keep stuff in place and prevent it from turning into projectiles if you must hit the brakes suddenly for an emergency stop or make a quick maneuver to avoid something on the road.

Number of USB Ports

With connectivity now a crucial part of everyone’s lives, it’s important to consider how many USB ports a car has. For families, it’s even more important since children are likely to have devices to keep them entertained while on a road trip. While the majority of new cars come with a single USB port, having two or more means the kids don’t have to fight over who gets to charge first.

Fuel Economy

No, you no longer have to sacrifice fuel economy in the name of practicality, especially if you’re looking at hatchbacks, wagons, and compact SUVs that offer space that belies their exterior dimensions. When you’re looking at practical entries in the compact and subcompact segments, keep in mind that they shouldn’t sacrifice space in the name of fuel economy.