Written by AMT Team
2 September, 2019
Choosing the right car can be a stressful and overwhelming process packed with tough decisions – particularly if you’re a carer, or an older or disabled driver who needs an accessible model to suit you or your family’s needs. Unfortunately, not every car on the market is suited to offer wheelchair access or accommodate reduced mobility, so it’s important to do some research to find out exactly what features, space or specialist equipment you need in your next car.
Firstly, it’s useful to familiarise yourself with the terminology commonly used to describe an accessible car. A wheelchair accessible vehicle, or ‘WAV’, is an adapted car specifically designed to allow a passenger to remain in their wheelchair while travelling. These cars often include a ramp on the rear or side of the vehicle to allow for easy access. A multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, is a large car that offers seating for six or more and can therefore comfortably accommodate most mobility equipment.
Read this guide for a breakdown of the top ten accessible cars, along with a handy summary of the key features to look out for when finding a car to suit your needs.
The versatile Doblo range offers a high roof model with a lowered-floor kit, which can easily accommodate a passenger in a wheelchair. The car comes kitted out with modern safety features and sliding doors – a key feature for WAVs – with an extended boot space that can accommodate additional seats, a walking aid, a scooter or a collapsed wheelchair. There’s also scope to add a rear entry ramp and electronic hoists for ease of access.
The Caddy Maxi (also available as a standard model) is a five-seater car with room to transport a wheelchair or scooter passenger. It comes with two sliding doors and a large rear door to allow travellers to enter at whichever side is most convenient. As one of the more stylish WAVs on the market, the Caddy combines the classic styling of other Volkswagens with a non-slip lowered floor designed to offer optimum access and safety.
Traditionally an MPV, the seven-seater Sedona can be easily converted into a WAV due to its large body, with generous head and legroom. The best models for wheelchair access were produced between 2006 and 2012, so plenty have already been converted by specialist companies to offer both rear and side entry. Three standard seats are removed to make room for a ramp, but there’s also scope for wheelchair passengers to sit alongside the driver.
The award-winning Seat Alhambra was voted Best MPV by WhatCar in 2015, due to its optional electric sliding doors, two different wheelchair positions, generous headroom and lightweight TorSpring ramp. The Alhambra comes with three seats in the second row as standard, with the middle seat able to be removed to allow a wheelchair passenger to sit closer to other passengers than most other MPVs make possible.
As one of the UK’s most popular compact WAVs due to its expansive headroom and lowered floor, the Renault Kangoo provides practical wheelchair and scooter access solutions for passengers and drivers alike. Models are available with anywhere between two and five seats, with the rear twin seats able to be folded forward to allow access via a foldable ramp, lift or specialist winch locking system.
Available on Caravelle, Transporter Shuttle and T5 models, the Shuttle Centro conversion allows wheelchair access via a lightweight low-angle ramp. The Centro can accommodate four seats and one wheelchair on a short wheelbase or six seats and two wheelchairs on the longer base, with the wheelchair user having the benefit of sitting alongside other passengers on the second row rather than behind.
A compact and stylish WAV, the Kia Soul has space for up to four passengers, using three seats and a wheelchair. Access is offered via an electric-powered back door and closing wheelchair ramp, along with a remote opening and docking system which utilises electric restraints for added safety. The door opening height is an impressive 55 inches to accommodate even the tallest of wheelchairs, with the option to add a headliner conversion for extra headroom.
The UK’s best-selling WAV, the Peugeot Partner Tepee has five seats as standard but can be configured to suit your needs. It allows a passenger in the rear to sit alongside a wheelchair user and is available with an EasyGlide ramp that can be stowed flat to the vehicle floor when not in use. Wheelchairs are secured to the floor via four-point restraints and diagonal seat belts that ensure optimum safety and peace of mind.
The wheelchair-accessible Zafira consists of a lowered floor and optional conversion that allows for four passengers plus a wheelchair user to travel comfortably. It’s recommended that drivers consider past iterations of this model, as new upgrades make the Zafira more complicated to convert when compared to previous versions. There’s a fold-out ramp for ease of access for wheelchairs and large mobility scooters, as well as internal headroom of 53 inches, a lowered floor and four-point wheelchair restraints.
The V-Class is another WAV that is designed with families in mind, with the lowered floor and central wheelchair position allowing the occupant to travel inclusively alongside other passengers. Safety is paramount, with power-assisted wheelchair restraints automatically tightening and loosening to adapt to a range of driving conditions. The flat, level floor offers a stable seating position while the fully-automated access ramp can be controlled via remote for ease.
Wheelchair accessible vehicles can either be adapted to accommodate a disabled passenger or driver, utilising a variety of features and equipment to best different mobility levels. The main consideration you need to take into account when deciding on a WAV is the ease of manoeuvring a wheelchair or scooter in and out of the car, and the restraint system that fixes a chair in place. If your assistant or carer will be responsible for helping you travel, ensure that they can easily handle and secure your wheelchair.
You’ll also need to consider the steepness of the ramp; most wheelchair vehicles will have lowered floors to provide more headroom, but also provide a gently sloping ramp. Alternatives to this are a car with lowering suspension or a lift. It’s also important to ensure that there’s sufficient space inside the car to comfortably accommodate any day-to-day items you plan to carry with you, such as shopping, as well as any accessories or aids you need for mobility.
When a car is converted to enable wheelchair or scooter use, some major changes can be made which will affect the way the car is used in the future. You may want to take this into consideration when choosing the right WAV for you, as lowered floors can lead to issues with clearance under the car for driving on bumpy roads. It’s important to make sure that you’re 100% happy with all aspects of a converted car before agreeing to take it, so that you can comfortably enjoy all of the benefits it can bring.