We are approaching that time of year when some car buyers start freaking out about the upcoming cold weather and decide they need a larger, “safer” family car. Usually, this involves some kind of SUV with all-wheel drive. But I’m here to tell you that too many buyers are looking at this “family car” thing all wrong.

These days most family cars are defined as either a three-row crossover like a Honda Pilot or Ford Explorer, or a minivan like a Chrysler Pacifica or Toyota Sienna. Now the key in selecting the right family car is not to get the fanciest or the fastest vehicle, but the one that will reduce the stress of traveling with children. I’ll let my Deadspin colleague Drew Magary describe the hell that can be schelpping kids in the car for a long ride.

The holidays are a good time for road trips and travel with the whole crew. If you are lugging kids around obviously you want something safe and comfortable. We have already covered in great detail that 4WD/AWD alone doesn’t make your car safer—that comes down to tires. All these fancy electronic gizmos like blind spot detection and auto braking are great and worthwhile if you can afford them, but one of the best features for a family car is one that few people consider: it’s called second-row captain’s chairs with a pass-through.

Just look at all this wonderful space.

Advertisement

I’ve mentioned my affinity for captain’s chairs before, because what is great about these seats is that each child gets their own zone. There’s nothing worse than toddlers pestering and battling each other in close quarters when you’re on the interstate. The separate seating arrangements create a buffer between your kiddos.

But captain’s chairs alone don’t make the ride better. Instead of some bulky console, you want open floor space.

This pass-through, as it’s called, will make several key maneuvers easier. If a child or adult needs to sit in the third row, you don’t have to push forward the second-row seats, this is super convenient if you have a car seat on the middle. The pass-through allows an adult to move about the vehicle on the inside without having to get out of the car, open the doors, and move seats. If you are making a quick stop to grab a snack, change a diaper, or shuffle around some cargo this is a huge convenience.

Advertisement

And finally, if you are not using the car as a people hauler and the second-row seats can be removed, the open floor layout allows you to put all kinds of bulky stuff in your family hauler so it can serve double-duty as a utility vehicle.

Not every vehicle has captain’s chairs with a pass-through. Minivans, which we have already established are the superior tool for the job, are more likely to have them on the upper trims, but some mid-size and large SUVs have them as well. It’s not difficult to find a nice Buick Enclave or Ford Expedition with the pass-through captain’s chairs.

Advertisement

So the next time you are in the market for a car aimed at long trips or hustling the kids around town, forget the 4WD and make sure your interior configuration makes your travels as easy as possible.