Best large MPVs
If you want to transport seven people as easily as possible and in as much comfort as you can, you’ll find the right in our run-down of the 10 best large MPVs.
Fashions come and go and what’s hot today might be forgotten tomorrow. A few years ago, this looked to be the case with the humble Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) – or people carrier as some call them. For over a decade, MPVs like the Renault Espace were the default way of carrying a family that needed a little extra versatility – today it seems many would rather choose a fashionable SUV as their practical family runabout.
However, with many SUVs proving expensive to run and saddled with an image that isn’t exactly low-key or environmentally responsible, the MPV is experiencing something of a renaissance. Fuel efficiency has never been more important than it is today and engines have been developed to use less fuel and emit less CO2, cutting daily running costs to levels that few SUVs can match.
Buyers have also realised that the shape of an SUV somewhat compromises its ability to carry groups of people around with ease – the third row of seats is often inconvenient to access and some can struggle with climbing up into the car. There’s a greater variety of models with space for five or more occupants than ever before and many cars on this list have seven seats. Some of them even boast three ISOFIX points, too, enabling three child seats to be secured across the second row.
Designers and car manufacturers realise there’s more to a successful MPV than practicality alone, though. The best have a whole host of attractions, from interior luxury to sleek exterior styling, and above all an enjoyable and safe driving experience.
Read on to see our 10 favourite large MPVs on the market today.
Among all MPVs, the space-age Grand C4 SpaceTourer is probably truest to the original concept of a big yet stylish body with three rows of seats that can be arranged in various configurations. It earns the top spot in our list thanks in part to its remarkable fuel economy – especially the BlueHDi 1.6-litre diesel version, plus its low emissions mean company-car drivers will find it sits in a low Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band.
The Grand C4 SpaceTourer has been facelifted, but its sleek looks were left largely untouched, while some welcome improvements to the standard touchscreen system were introduced. The mid-range Feel model is the one to go for, as this has all-round parking sensors, sat nav, a panoramic sunroof and an upgraded HD infotainment screen. The BlueHDi 100 diesel engine is impressively efficient, but if you’re frequently carrying multiple occupants, the extra power of the BlueHDi 120 or 150 will almost certainly be welcome.
The ‘Grand’ prefix signifies this as a bigger version of the Renault Scenic and the extra bulk adds extra space inside the already roomy MPV. The old Grand Scenic was a competent and appealing car, but this latest model is even better: it’s a sleek, modern MPV and all models are fitted with autonomous emergency braking, which is quickly becoming a vital safety feature.
We still recommend upgrading to the Dynamique Nav trim level, though, as this gets you sat nav, all-round parking sensors and Renault’s R-Link infotainment system, as well as picnic tables and LED reading lights for those in the second row of seats. The mid-range 128bhp diesel engine offers the best blend of fuel economy and performance, but do be aware the Grand Scenic has huge 20-inch alloy wheels as standard. These look fantastic, but can make the car somewhat uncomfortable over poor road surfaces. Be sure to take a varied test drive before you buy.
The Alhambra has long been one of our favourite family holdalls, serving up a decent driving experience despite its bulky looks. As SEAT is part of the Volkswagen Group of carmakers, its cars are well built from decent materials and this definitely shows inside the Alhambra, where quality is high and durability is assured. It’s comfortable as well, covering long motorway distances with ease, yet it’s more enjoyable on winding B-roads than its design might suggest.
With modern VW diesel engines, economy is good, too, and the Alhambra is attractively priced. It may not look as futuristic as the Grand C4 Picasso, but the Alhambra’s relatively conventional shape means it’s impressively practical, with sliding rear doors and a decently sized back row of seats – for smaller adults, at least. The 148bhp diesel and SE trim ensure equipment and power will be sufficient, but if you go for the 181bhp diesel and high-spec SE Lux or FR-Line trims, you get a limited-slip differential. This electro-mechanical extra makes the Alhambra even sharper to drive, particularly when cornering or driving in slippery conditions.
Closely related to the SEAT Alhambra we mentioned higher up in this list, the VW Sharan is at a slight disadvantage on account of being more expensive to buy. Other than its higher price, it has the same long list of virtues as the Alhambra, with excellent build quality, low running costs and a seven-seat interior. It also suffers the same flaws, though – deploying the third row of seats doesn’t exactly endow the sixth and seventh occupants with an over-abundance of space and severely reduces luggage capacity, too.
We think it’s fair to say the Sharan isn’t exactly the most memorable car to look at, either. On the plus side, it wears the classy and desirable VW badge on its nose, and for many that will make all the difference. SE trim is the pick of the range, as this includes alloy wheels, folding picnic tables, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control and a leather steering wheel. Like many MPVs, the Sharan is most relaxing to drive when fitted with a diesel engine and the 148bhp 2.0-litre is the best of the bunch.
The Kia Carens is a defining example of just how far Kia has come over the years. Previous MPVs from the brand have been fairly unexceptional machines, but the latest Carens is a smart-looking, well equipped and cleverly designed family workhorse. Although it’s described as a seven-seater, the third-row seats are rather marginal and best regarded as a way of boosting passenger capacity on isolated occasions. However, space for the five regular occupants is very generous indeed and we were particularly taken by the soft ride quality that the Carens serves up.
The 2 is our favourite trim level, adding such niceties as automatic climate control and parking sensors over the still-generous entry-level specification. We recommend either the 1.6-litre petrol engine if you’re likely to make short, infrequent journeys, or the more powerful of the two 1.7-litre diesels if your Carens will spend a lot of time on the motorway. Whichever you choose, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with one of the best warranty packages in the business, lasting for seven years or 100,000 miles.
It’s one of the only van-based MPVs on this list, but it happens to be one of the best of its kind. The Ford Tourneo is also one of the safest, receiving a full five-star rating from Euro NCAP. The Tourneo Connect’s proportions make it one of the most spacious MPVs you can buy; if you need even more space, there’s even a long-wheelbase option.
It’s not as van-like to drive as you’d expect, as it shares much of its underpinnings with the Ford Focus. There’s a good selection of petrol and diesel engines, the pick of which is the 118bhp 1.5-litre diesel, which returns 64.2mpg on average and gets a sixth gear for more refined motorway cruising. Despite being so generously sized, the Tourneo is actually cheaper than many of Ford’s own ‘proper’ MPVs, making it the perfect choice for a large family on a budget.
The Galaxy shares its underpinnings with the S-MAX and itself offers a pretty decent drive, helped by a similar choice of economical, powerful engines. It’s taller, though, and all three rows of seats are adult-sized. Alternatively, you can easily fold them all away to turn the Galaxy into a stylish and comfortable van. Alongside its popularity with families, the Galaxy has found success in the VIP transport market, with top-of-the range versions cosseting customers with a long list of standard equipment.
The Galaxy’s engine range is largely comprised of diesels, with 118, 148, 178 or 207bhp – although you can choose from a pair of petrols, too. We recommend the 178bhp diesel, as this returns around 55mpg yet has a good amount of shove, which is most appreciated when accelerating on motorways. Pick Titanium trim for kit like sat nav, tinted windows, keyless entry and some extra dashes of chrome, or top-spec Titanium X if you feel like splashing out.
The Mercedes V-Class is a relative of the Vito van, but you wouldn’t know it from inside. In fact, it’s more like the luxury transport you’d expect to see a pop star or chart-topping rock band pile out of at Wembley arena. It certainly has a VIP price tag, with a mid-range example easily costing £50,000. The Extra Long version can seat eight adults in comfort, with every seat upholstered in leather trim. Of course, all the doors open electrically, and the driver should also appreciate a 360-degree bird’s-eye camera to help negotiate any car park or urban manoeuvre.
Despite its high price, every V-Class uses the same fairly humble 2.1-litre diesel you’ll find in an A-Class, with 161 or 188bhp. This at least means fuel-economy is a reasonable 45.6mpg, although the £40,000-plus price means VED road tax costs £475 in years two to six, owing to a government surcharge for pricey models.
Ford MPVs have always been among the most fun MPVs to drive and the S-MAX is the closest you’ll find to being a driver’s car, thanks to its well-developed chassis (shared with the Ford Mondeo). It has a rather sporty character and sits a little lower than some; trading a bit of interior space for its racy demeanour. The third row of seats is tight and only really suited to the youngest of occupants, but if you do away with those, the car becomes a capable load carrier, and one in which you won’t be bored on every trip.
The S-MAX doesn’t have as efficient an engine range as the Grand C4 SpaceTourer, but what it lacks in economy it makes up for in driver enjoyment. Go for the 148bhp diesel engine if you’re after a decent balance of power and fuel consumption, or the 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine if you’re after more thrills and are happy with economy of around 35mpg. In terms of trim, the top-spec Vignale model is well finished but unnecessarily expensive, so choose Titanium or Titanium Sport.
If you need a truly large MPV, they don't come much bigger than the SsangYong Turismo. The 875-litre boot is larger than most SUVs offer, and with all its rear seats stowed away, luggage room expands to a van-like 3,146 litres – dwarfing even the Ford Galaxy.
The Turismo comes well equipped with features like leather seats, sat nav and air-conditioning and a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty should offer reassurance to newcomers to the Korean brand. Just don't expect a sporty driving experience, as the Turismo drives more like a big SUV that a sporty Ford S-MAX.