Family member has a new born, and he prefers a rear facing child seat in the center of the back seat. Ive never shopped for a car with the intention of kids, so Im clueless when it comes to SUVs. His Budget is $5000
Given how limited the budget is, regular cars are probably going to be a better value than an SUV. Something like a early/mid 2000s Camry. He may be able to find something like a mid 2000s Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage in his price range, but most $5K SUVs will be beat up or old. At that price point, condition probably needs to be the top priority because there's going to be a lot of junk to sort though.
The LATCH tether system became mandatory in 2002 and was in pretty wide use by 2001.
For one kid a minivan is probably overkill, and by the time it has friends that need carting around a $5k anything is probably doing the automotive equivalent of pushing up daisies. That said, if any more are planned for, just get the minivan... A coworker's wife refused to get a minivan before they "needed" one, but with #3 on the way they just found out their Sorrento won't do 3 seats across the back. We told him to just get the minivan...
Anyhow. When we debated having child #3 we thought about minivan but settled on a Camry (it'd wind up as my commuter if/when that happened). Found it worked just fine for us. The back doors swing wide (which can be a problem as you might guess!) but otherwise has been just fine as a mommy-mobile. With 2 kids it's ok, although we're glad they are out of seats and could each have a friend if they so wished--any more than that and yeah a minivan would have been better.
Camry or whatever its competition is.
I keep raising the ideas of a Passat. I have one and the back seat is VERY large and the space makes it easy to get in and out. Mine has 70,000 miles almost and has been a great car. With the price of sedans down due to lower demand, you should be able to pick up a good used one for $5000. We have two car seats in the back for the grandchildren and find it spacious.
If they get snow tires, the last years of the Toyota Matrix or Elantra Touring(wagon) will probably be in that price range. 2wd SUV's are cheap too I guess, a 2wd Escape or Sante Fe? $5k is buying on condition and recent maintenance pricing though. Make/Model doesn't count for too much IMO
2wd CRV wouldn't be too bad at that price either, sort of an Accord drivetrain wagon.
Another idea to throw out there.Suzuki Grand Vitara. An example like this one with low miles for the model year can probably be negotiated closer to the $5,000 mark.
Having a higher seating position makes getting the baby in and out of the car seat much easier. Much easier on the parents backs as well.