Best people carriers and MPVs

Last updated: May 27, 2016

Multi Purpose Vehicles, or MPVs, are so called because they blend the ease of use of a car with some of the practicality normally associated with a much larger vehicle. In the UK, MPVs are also known as people carriers, while in America, the term ‘minivan’ is more common.

While it would be fair to say that early MPVs (which first started to appear in the 1980s) lived up to the ‘van’ part of their American name, in recent years MPVs have become better and better to drive and look at, without losing any of their essential practicality.

The modern MPV has a challenging remit to fulfil, with buyers wanting generous and flexible interior space, car-like driving characteristics and low running costs. MPV customers have also come to expect sleek looks in addition to this wide breadth of abilities. Despite this, many of the cars on our list have practical, van-like features such sliding rear doors to improve access, as well as a load capacity that (with all seats folded) is measured in thousands, rather than hundreds, of litres.

We’ve included traditional seven-seat MPVs like the Ford Galaxy in our list of the top 10 people carriers, as well as smaller, sleeker models like the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. All of the cars we feature are available with economical diesel engines and each has a unique selling point – be it excellent handling, a cavernous boot, distinctive looks, or a combination of all these.

Many of the cars here allow you to fit three ISOFIX child seats in the second row of seats, and if this is an essential feature for you, our dedicated top 10 list of the best cars with three ISOFIX points should be your next port of call. If you simply must have seven seats, meanwhile, be sure to check out our top 10 list of the best seven-seater cars you can buy, while if you’re after a practical car but want more rugged looks, make your way over to our rundown of the best SUVs and 4x4 cars on sale today.

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso MPV

Taking the top spot on our list is the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, thanks to its winning combination of efficient engines, a stylish yet practical seven-seat interior and a comfortable driving experience. The Grand C4 Picasso’s standout feature, however, is the way it looks. While MPVs have been steadily getting more stylish over recent years, Citroen pushed the boat out when designing the Grand C4 Picasso, so it looks like nothing else on the road. While keen drivers may want to investigate the Ford S-MAX, the Grand C4 Picasso is comfortable over long distances and remarkably cheap to run, with the most efficient BlueHDi diesel engine being road-tax-exempt and capable of 74.3mpg. You can even fit three ISOFIX child seats in the second row. The only blot in the Citroen’s copybook concerns heating and ventilation: if you want to change the settings, you need to select a menu on the central touchscreen. Very futuristic indeed, but not very user-friendly. Still, this is a minor quibble, and the Grand C4 Picasso is a fantastic and hugely appealing car that proves good looks and excellent usability need not be mutually exclusive. Read more.

Key points

4.8 / 5
Price 
£21,935 - £29,360

Ford S-MAX MPV

The Ford S-MAX is a worthy winner of the silver medal in our rundown thanks to being practical, good looking and great to drive. It’s not quite as spacious inside as the Grand C4 Picasso and the interior is less stylish, but on a winding B-road, the S-MAX comes into its own. There’s very little body lean when cornering and the steering provides plenty of feedback, clearly signposting how much grip the front wheels have and encouraging spirited driving. Despite this, the S-MAX is every inch the practical people carrier, and on a long cruise it’s comfortable and relaxing to drive. It’s also capable of taking three ISOFIX child seats in the second row. While the S-MAX’s diesel engines aren’t as efficient as the Grand C4 Picasso’s, the 148bhp 2.0-litre offers a good blend of performance and economy. There’s even a 236bhp 2.0-litre petrol that gives the S-MAX an impressive turn of speed, while if you’re looking at one of the more expensive examples in the range, be sure to check out the new and super-luxurious Vignale model. This has all the equipment you could ask for, as well as a bespoke purchase and after-sales experience. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£25,145 - £36,295

SEAT Alhambra MPV

The SEAT Alhambra is a traditional-looking MPV and although it seems boxy compared to some of the cars on this list, the trade-off is that it’s incredibly spacious. The Alhambra also features sliding rear doors that make strapping children into the back seats as easy as possible. Underneath, it’s identical to the Volkswagen Sharan, but SEAT asks about £1,800 less for what is essentially the same car, making the Alhambra a relative bargain. The interior features high-quality materials and easy-to-use controls, while the middle row can take three ISOFIX child seats and tilt forward, making access to the back two seats a simple affair; these can accommodate two adults in relative comfort. The Alhambra isn’t quite as enjoyable to drive as the Ford S-MAX, but it more than holds its own on a twisty B-road, with little body lean and plenty of grip. We recommend the 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine, which offers a good mix of economy and performance. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£24,885 - £36,130

Ford B-MAX mini MPV

The Ford B-MAX is significantly smaller and cheaper than the SEAT Alhambra, but it also features sliding rear doors. Many parents will be grateful for this design feature, as it makes tight parking spaces less daunting when loading small children in the back. Reflecting its low price, the B-MAX is strictly a five-seater and its 318-litre boot is on a par with a regular hatchback’s. Drop the rear seats, however, and the load area grows to an impressive 1,386 litres. Speaking of hatchbacks, because it’s based on the Ford Fiesta, the B-MAX is nippy and agile on the road, despite its MPV shape. Read more.

Key points

4.6 / 5
Price 
£13,295 - £19,545

Ford Galaxy MPV

At the other end of the MPV scale lies the full-size Ford Galaxy. Like the SEAT Alhambra, it takes a traditional approach to the MPV conundrum, although you get conventional rear doors rather than sliding ones. The Galaxy’s rear two seats are genuinely spacious, though, and adults won’t feel like they’ve been relegated if you ask them to sit in the back. All five of the rear seats can be folded individually (and can be power-operated, optionally) while the second row has three ISOFIX points, and can also be slid forward to provide more room for the rearmost passengers. Despite having a conventional MPV shape and layout, the Galaxy is impressively enjoyable to drive, both on long motorway journeys and winding B-roads. Like the S-MAX it’s available with a powerful 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, but most people go for a diesel. The (upper) mid-range 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel is likely to have all the performance you’ll need, and returns around 56mpg. Read more.

Key points

4.5 / 5
Price 
£27,045 - £37,545

Ford Grand C-MAX MPV

Ford’s designers are clearly doing something right when they turn their hands to designing MPVs: the Ford Grand C-MAX is the fourth car from the brand to feature on our list. It’s best thought of as a cross between the larger S-MAX and smaller B-MAX, boasting the same seven seats as the former and sliding rear doors like the latter. It’s also priced between those two cars, drives as well as either, yet doesn’t ask you to make too many compromises. The two rear seats are best thought of as occasional items and with them raised, boot space is a tiny 115 litres. But many will find the Grand C-MAX’s nippy handling, reasonable price and excellent practicality a winning combination. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£20,745 - £28,265

Kia Carens MPV

While Ford’s MPVs tend to offer an involving driving experience, the Kia Carens takes the opposite approach and majors on comfort. Parents whose children regularly nod off on long journeys will welcome the car’s soft suspension, which is excellent at preventing potholes and broken tarmac from causing unwanted clunks and thumps inside. The Carens does develop a little too much body lean if you try to hustle it through corners too quickly, but in truth, the 1.6-litre petrol and two 1.7-litre diesel engines don’t really encourage this. The Carens is a seven-seater and, although the interior feels light and spacious, the third-row seats are too small to be comfortable for adults or larger children on longer journeys. The Carens is, however, well-equipped, and comes with Kia’s class-leading seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, adding further comfort to what is a very relaxing MPV. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£18,195 - £27,150

Volkswagen Touran MPV

The Volkswagen Touran is another conventional MPV, and a thoroughly competent one, too. It’s smaller than the Ford Galaxy and SEAT Alhambra, so although you get seven seats, the third row is only really suitable for children and the boot is small when they’re up. Still, the second row can accommodate three ISOFIX child seats and the Touran has a robust and easy-to-use interior made of high-quality materials. The 108bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine returns around 65mpg and provides the Touran with enough performance for everyday driving. In fact, it offers such a wide range of abilities that the only thing preventing it from featuring higher on this list is its price: if you pick a diesel engine and add a few choice options, the Touran can easily become a £30,000 car. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£22,270 - £31,535

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer MPV

Heads turned when the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer was launched, and not necessarily for good reasons. As BMW has traditionally made sporty premium cars dubbed ‘ultimate driving machines’, some questioned if a front-wheel-drive people carrier was in keeping with the brand’s philosophy. In truth, the 2 Series Active Tourer is a comfortable car with an involving driving experience that – while not up to BMW’s usual high standards – is excellent for an MPV. The Active Tourer is based on the MINI hatchback, so despite its taller stature, it feels agile around town and on B-roads, yet cruises comfortably on the motorway. The 2.0-litre diesel engine of the 220d will provide sufficient performance and economy for most drivers, while the interior is well-designed and features high-quality materials, as well as standard sat nav. The Active Tourer is strictly a five-seater – although if you spend an extra £1,700 you could get a BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer, which comes with seven seats. Read more.

Key points

3.6 / 5
Price 
£23,310 - £34,405

Fiat 500L MPW MPV

The Fiat 500L MPW (multi purpose wagon, or ‘magic purpose wagon’ if you take Fiat’s word for it) is, depending on your perspective, either distinctively different or unusually unattractive. Whichever camp you fall into, the 500L MPW is an interesting alternative to more conventionally styled people carriers. It comes with seven seats as standard (unlike the five-seat 500L) and offers near-limitless personalisation options, like the Fiat 500 city car that inspired its looks. The back two seats are only suitable for children and the 1.3-litre diesel engine takes a ponderous 14.4 seconds to go from 0-62mph, but the car has a big boot; the 1.6-litre diesel returns 67.3mpg has far more palatable performance. The 500L MPW is a comfortable car to drive, with soft suspension, a quiet interior and supportive seats making long journeys a relaxing prospect. It may be the most idiosyncratic car on this list, but if you need a people carrier and like to think differently, the 500L MPW may just be the car for you. Read more.

Key points

3.6 / 5
Price 
£19,205 - £21,705