This NOT Must-Have Feature Will NOT Make Your Next Family Car So Much NOT Better

Today on Jalopnik, Tom McParland, whose articles I usually find interesting and helpful, got one sort of wrong. He said that separate captains’ are a must for your next family vehicle. I quote:

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.
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.

He’s not wrong but he’s wrong. True, that pass-through allows for easier access to the rear seats. And he has a point about that access space being more important that some huge useless console. But really, that’s it.
Some think that the two seats will work as a separation between two kids that are annoying each other. If you think that a 15-inch space gap will keep your kids from fighting I have a bridge to sell you. 
What is often needed, however, is that extra seat. You see, people don’t buy huge three-row SUVs and minivans because they need to move Jack and Jill around. No, they buy those large vehicles because Jack and Jill have friends, teammates, cousins, and other people that they want to have around. I carpool other people’s kids all the time from birthday parties, sporting events, theater groups, and all the other crap that kids do these days. If you buy a vehicle without that middle second-row seat, you’re shortchanging yourself, even if just by one. And I find it common that three kids (as long as they aren’t spiteful siblings) actually want to sit next to each other and not behind each other. 
The middle seat can come in handy in a road trip scenario, too. Let’s say the third row is folded because your wife totally over-packed for this trip (I’m speaking from experience). And let’s say that the younger kid gets cranky. At that point the non-driving parent can hop back there to comfort the kid and have a safe place to sit and buckle-up. 
Most three-row SUVs offer a choice of individual middle row seats or a bench seat. This sometimes varies with a trim. The two separate seats, and sometimes a large useless console, are often limited to higher trim levels. Pick your vehicle wisely.
But there is good news for those that want to have their cake and eat it, too. The Honda Odyssey and the front-wheel-drive Toyota Sienna have second row seats that have both – individual, so-called captain’s seats (top picture) and a bench (bottom picture), all in one. On both vehicles the middle section is simply removable and stowable out of the way. On the Odyssey the seats even slide side-to-side.

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7 responses to “This NOT Must-Have Feature Will NOT Make Your Next Family Car So Much NOT Better”

  1. neight428 Avatar

    The spiteful sibling dynamic is enough to justify a three row something on its own. The extra 11″ of rear hip room my F150 has over Mrs. Neight’s car is enough to crank things down from WWIII to something on the order of the invasion of Grenada.

    1. 0A5599 Avatar

      This calls for the Cone of Silence.

  2. Turbobrick Avatar

    The 2-2-3 seating configuration with no consoles was the best thing about my old MPV. On a rainy day I could throw all the kids in through one door, hop in myself and close the door behind me, buckle everyone up and then walk up to the drivers seat and drive away.

  3. Manxman Avatar

    I grew up in an era in which my father never considered his three young sons in his decision in buying a car. My favorite was the 57 Rambler station wagon with a huge back seat and a sunny large cargo area that also served as a play area. Seat belts? Unheard of. When my grandson was born my wife and I had to find the safest child seat as approved by Consumers Report which looked like a re-entry module for an astronaut – a mini-Recaro affair with 4-point harness. I wanted one for my self, it looked so cool and safe. I’m glad for all the safety features in new cars but designing demilitarized zones for siblings may go too far. My dad’s response to sibling aggression would be to pull over and have the offending brother get out of the car and run along side until he collapsed…no, no, I made that up, that didn’t happen, that would have been mental. Besides, it wouldn’t work today…too many cameras and do goodies with cellphones.

  4. nanoop Avatar

    It’s probably rather a question of taste, but am I the only one who thinks that such light colors are not the best choice for a pampers bomber?

  5. salguod Avatar

    When we bought our Saturn Outlook, we had a choice between a 7 passenger captain chairs model and an 8 passenger with a bench. We chose the bench and we filled that 8th seat multiple times over the 3 years that we owned it.

  6. Vairship Avatar

    Of course what’s really needed in the back is a Lazy Susan-style seating arrangement: strap in a kid, rotate, strap in next kid, rotate, …