Best people carriers and MPVs
Practical, spacious and well equipped, these are the best MPVs you can buy right now.
In the mid-1980s, when many people opted for a saloon or estate car, a brand new option made its debut. Though uptake was slow to begin with, people soon realised that the space and practicality offered by MPVs (Multi-Purpose Vehicles) and people carriers was perfect for families. As a result, slowly but surely, cars like the Renault Espace soon became commonplace.
The advantages for passengers were clear to see: a raised roofline, higher seating, huge windows and plenty of interior space meant large amounts of comfort and practicality. Getting in and out was easy and there was a light and airy atmosphere inside. The open space made it easier for parents to keep an eye on children in the back, while the extra all-round space meant plenty of room for all the luggage a family could need.
MPV sales picked up pace in the 1990s as more and more mainstream manufacturers launched their cars into the market, including the Ford Galaxy and Vauxhall Zafira. The latter was hugely influential, creating the mould for compact seven-seat people carriers with clever seating arrangements. Its Flex7 seating allowed the third row to fold neatly into the boot floor when not needed – a selling point that saved space and is now shared with a multitude of MPVs and SUVs.
The Vauxhall Zafira lacked the style of modern MPVs like the Renault Scenic with its 20-inch alloy wheels, but it pioneered many of the design features of the best people carriers available today. It shared its chassis and engines with the Vauxhall Astra, so it drove like a smaller vehicle and had similar performance and running costs to a hatchback.
MPVs continue to come in different sizes, with plenty offering up to seven seats, multiple ISOFIX points and much more space than a similarly sized hatchback. The very largest even offer eight or more seats. Many customers are moving towards SUVs, such as the Volvo XC90, instead of MPVs for people carrying needs, but MPVs are still usually more versatile. Check out our guide to the best large SUVs if you’re happy to sacrifice a little practicality for some extra style.
Practical, spacious and well equipped, these are the best MPVs you can buy right now.
Not only does the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer tick all the practicality boxes you’d hope for, but it also adds a dose of style to the large MPV class that had been missing for so long. Add to this the fact that some models even hover around the 100g/km mark for CO2 emissions (meaning an affordable Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) band for company-car drivers) and the Grand C4 SpaceTourer starts to make an exceptionally strong case for itself. It’s also very comfortable and refined over long journeys, while the versatile interior means it’ll suit just about any family’s needs.
The VW Touran is not the most exciting car in terms of appearance or driving flair, but it more than makes up for this in practicality, which really counts here. Despite its relatively compact exterior size – it’s a little longer and wider than a Golf – the Touran has seven seats, although truth be told, the rearmost seats are only suitable for occasional short journeys; it’s better as an extremely spacious five-seater.
Head and legroom are great, although the third row is cramped. With a full five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, the Touran will protect its occupants well. There’s a wide range of trims and engines, so choosing your perfect Touran should be a simple affair.
The Mercedes B-Class doesn’t offer the versatility of other cars on this list but you should think of it as a taller, more spacious Mercedes A-Class hatchback. The boot is much bigger than the A-Class and rear-seat passengers have more space to stretch out.
It’s a similar proposition to the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer, although that’s more flexible and has a seven-seat Gran Tourer version. From behind the wheel it feels exactly like the A-Class, both in terms of its driving experience and its luxurious interior. We’d recommend the B200 petrol engine if you’re mainly going to drive around town or the B200 d if you plan to go further afield.
Despite its size and seven-seat layout, the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer actually shares its chassis, engines and front-wheel-drive layout with MINI. That’s certainly no bad thing, as its engines are efficient and there’s a plug-in hybrid version (of the five-seat Active Tourer), too. While it’s good to drive, it’s not the thrill machine you might expect, but that’s missing the point of the car.
There’s space inside for seven adults, although it’s a bit of a pinch in the third row, and the boot is a good size and shape with the third-row seats folded. This is far from the cheapest MPV on the market, but the extensive standard equipment list goes some way towards compensating for that.
A van-based MPV is one of the most versatile cars on sale, and they’ve really come on leaps and bounds in the last few years. One of our favourites is the sharply styled Peugeot Rifter, which combines an off-road-style design with a colossal boot and a similarly large amount of headroom.
The interior is light and airy, quiet and reasonably well-equipped, and we like Peugeot’s i-Cockpit digital instrument cluster. Because it’s based on a commercial vehicle, the Rifter should prove to be cheap-to-run and reliable. The Citroen Berlingo and Vauxhall Combo Life are mechanically identical.
As it’s loosely based on the Ford Focus, the Ford Tourneo Connect is pretty good to drive for a MPV, and it won’t feel like you’re driving around in a commercial vehicle. The Grand Tourneo Connect is a seven-seater, and undercuts Ford’s other MPVs by a considerable margin, while offering even more practicality.
It gets sliding doors, for one thing, which’ll make getting in and out of the back in tight car parks a breeze. All cars get air-conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control, but you do have to pay extra for Ford’s great SYNC 3 infotainment system.
Another van-based MPV, the Volkswagen Caddy offers the vast amount of space that you would expect but is surprisingly car-like to drive. The Caddy has evolved into a vehicle that can now be fairly perceived as similar to a large Golf, and that definitely isn’t a bad thing. In fact, both cars sit on the same ‘MQB’ platform, meaning that the Caddy provides a surprisingly enjoyable driving experience for an MPV.
Sliding doors, removable second and third row seats, a 446-litre boot, and a choice of efficient petrol and diesel engines make the Caddy a practical choice, but the amount of optional extras on offer can push the price up very quickly.
We can’t think of another company that sells as many seven-seat MPVs as Ford; there are four to choose from if you count the two van-based options, but the Galaxy is the flagship. Unlike many MPVs, seven adults can travel in genuine comfort, with those in the two rear seats not being too cramped. The Galaxy is better to drive than it needs to be, and even the most powerful engine will return over 43mpg - not bad considering its size. It gets a five-star safety rating and its reliability makes it popular with private hire and chauffeur firms.
You can think of the Ford S-MAX as a somewhat sportier version of the Ford Galaxy that’s made for families who occasionally need seven seats and don’t like the Galaxy’s slab-sided styling. The interior is flexible and fairly upmarket, while the amount of kit offered on the entry-level Zetec model goes some way to offset the quite expensive price.
We’re a little puzzled that Ford doesn’t offer a seven-seat SUV to rival the Skoda Kodiaq and Kia Sorento, but the S-MAX may trump both those cars for practicality; even with all seats up, the boot size offers a similar capacity to the Ford Fiesta.
If all the MPVs listed above are just a bit on the small side, you’ll need to look at a large van-based MPV like the Peugeot Traveller. It’s unlikely to win any beauty contests but it provides a vast amount of space for up to eight people or an awful lot of luggage. The commercial vehicle origins should mean it’s cheap to run and reliable but there’s a lot of equipment to make it a little more luxurious.
Cruise control, smartphone mirroring and climate control are standard, while a higher-spec model brings heated leather, a panoramic sunroof and upgraded headlights. Beside the badges and tweaks to the front, the Peugeot is otherwise identical to the Citroen SpaceTourer, Toyota Proace Verso and the Vauxhall Vivaro Life. An electric version is now available, too.
Looking for a bargain? Take a look at our guide to the best used 7-seat cars