Child car seat fitting problems explored: Child seats in medium cars

Medium family hatchbacks

We've selected several popular medium hatchbacks to see how well-suited they really are to family motoring.

Buying an appropriate child car seat is necessary to carry your child. But doing so is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. Safety is about more than just picking a recommended child car seat, it's about how well that seat fits into your particular vehicle. That's why we always recommend trying a child car seat in your car before you buy. 

Read the results of our crash testing, which is tougher than the R44.04 regulation requires, combined with our unique ease of use tests for over 130 .

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Of the three models we tested, we found that the space in the front was suitable for belt-secured child seats, although each car has specific restrictions about usage. And, in the rear seats, space was tighter than you might expect. 

One point we can't emphasise strongly enough is that you should never fit a rear-facing child seat in front of an active airbag. It is illegal to do so, and if the airbag went off it could cause death or serious injury to a child. 

In fact, we don’t recommend putting any child in front of an active airbag, whether or not they are in a child seat, because airbags are optimised to protect adults. If you do have to use a forward-facing child car seat in front of an active airbag, we recommend that you move the car seat to its rearmost position. 

Fortunately, all the models we've looked at here allow the driver to disable the airbag, though they don't all make it as easy as it could be and one requires you to ask the dealer to fit a switch.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The Giulietta is Alfa Romeo's effort at bringing its sporty styling to the family hatch. We find out just how family-friendly it is.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta summary

  • Number of seats = 5
  • Number of children that can be carried = 4
  • Number of pairs of Isofix mounts = 2

Front seat

There’s reasonable space in the front for a child car seat, but with no Isofix mounts, it’s only suitable for a universal child seat secured using the adult seat belt. The airbag is disabled using a function in the dashboard menu, rather than via a dedicated switch. 

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

Second row seats

There isn’t a huge amount of space in front of the second row, so access for installing seats is limited. Isofix mounting brackets are fitted on the two outer seats as standard, but the shape of the seats means the mounting points are difficult to reach. There is enough space for three children in the second row, but only if you use a backless booster in the middle seat, which doesn't provide as much side impact protection as a seat with a back.

The third tether attachment points are in the boot meaning you can’t attach them from inside the cabin. Instead you have to access them from the boot. They don’t interfere with rear visibility though, which is positive. 

 
Ford Focus

Ford Focus

The Focus has been Ford's mainstay medium family car for many years. It must be doing something right to sell in such numbers, but only our assessment can tell you how it compares with others for carrying children.

Ford Focus summary

  • Number of seats = 5
  • Number of children that can be carried = 4*
  • Number of pairs of Isofix mounts = 2

*Only if airbag deactivation switch is fitted

Front seat

It is possible to transport children on the passenger seat with universal child seats, secured with the seatbelt. However, this relies on you having a deactivation switch for the passenger airbag fitted by the dealer beforehand, at extra cost. 

Ford Focus
 

Second row seats

The seatbelts on the outer seats in the second row are rather short. Top tether points are on the backrests, easily accessible once the rear shelf has been removed.

There is enough space for three child seats in the second row, but only if you use a backless booster seat in the centre spot, which don't provide the same side impact protection as would be offered by a full-back booster.

 

Renault Megane

Renault Mégane

The Mégane might seem like a good family hatchback, but we found it had some surprising limitations.

Renault Mégane summary

  • Number of seats: 5
  • Number of children: 3
  • Number of pairs of Isofix mounts: 2

Front seat

There’s reasonable space in the front for a child car seat, but with no Isofix mounts, it’s only suitable for a universal child seat secured using the adult seatbelt. There's a handy switch to disable the airbag, positioned on the side of the dashboard.

 

Renault Megane seat positions

Second row seats

There isn’t a huge amount of space in front of the second row, so access for installing seats is limited. Isofix mounting brackets are fitted on the two outer seats as standard, but the shape of the back seats means the mounting points are difficult to reach. The third tether attachment points are in the boot meaning you can’t attach them from inside the cabin. And the installed straps take up storage space, which isn’t as convenient as a roof mounted tether point. They don’t interfere with rear visibility though, which is positive.

For belt installation, the adult seatbelts are reasonably long, but it's worth checking carefully that they'll be long enough, especially for a bulky rear-facing seat. Buckle access is quite poor. 

Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall Astra

In our road test of the Astra we found there was plenty of space in the front and rear for taller passengers, but it struggled on width with three adults in the back.

Vauxhall Astra summary

  • Number of seats: 5    
  • Number of children: 4
  • Number of pairs of Isofix mounts: 2

Front seat

You can disable the passenger airbag with the vehicle key, allowing you to fit universal front- or rear-facing seats using the adult seatbelt. However, Vauxhall doesn’t approve the use of Group 2 and 3 seats (15 to 36kg, or about four to 12 years old) in this seat at all.

Vauxhall Astra seat positions

Second row seats

Isofix mounts come as standard on the outer two seats and the top-tether anchor points are located on the backrests of the rear seats. They are easily accessible with the parcel shelf removed, although you’ll need to open the tailgate to remove it.

The rear seatbelts should be long enough to enable you to install most seats, including rear-facing ones. In our test, there was sufficient width for us to fit three full-size booster seats with backrests on the second row.

 
VW Golf

Volkswagen Golf

The original Golf was one of the first traditional medium family hatchbacks. The Mark VI Golf competes directly with the Vauxhall Astra and Renault Mégane. But how suited is it to family life?

VW Golf summary

  • Number of seats: 5      
  • Number of children: 3*
  • Number of pairs of Isofix seat mounts: 2

*Fits 4 children if using backless boosters (not recommended)

Front seat

VW doesn't place restrictions on the age of children travelling in the front seat and you can disable the airbag using the vehicle key. There’s ample space in the front for a child car seat, but there are no Isofix mounts, so it’s only suitable for a universal child seat secured using the adult seatbelt. 

VW Golf VI seat positions

Second row seats

Even though it’s possible to use all three second row seats, the cabin isn’t wide enough to fit three full-sized boosters with integral backs side by side. There’s a lot of space in front of the rear bench, allowing fairly easy access when placing the seats in the car and the children in the seats.

Isofix mounting points are fitted on the two outer rear seats as standard and are easily accessible. But the third tether attachment points are behind the back seats on the boot floor and have to be fitted from inside the boot, which isn’t as convenient as roof- or seat-mounted tether points. While the straps don’t interfere with rear visibility, they do affect the load space of the boot.

The adult rear seatbelts are reasonably long, so you shouldn’t have trouble even if you are installing a bulky rear-facing seat.  

Definitions

• Universal child seats have universal approval and can normally be used in most cars without major problems.

• No of seats: is the maximum number of seats recommended for use by adults.

• No of children: is the number of seats recommended for use by children.

• No of pairs of Isofix seat mounts: indicates number of Isofix seats that can be fitted.

Diagram colour coding

Red = Seat not suitable for carrying a child

Amber = Seat acceptable for carrying a child

Green = Seat well suited to carrying a child

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