Best MPVs and people carriers of 2012
We've started our list with our favourite in this category – the Seat Alhambra - but we've also got small MPVs, seven-seater cars, a nine-seater and a few wildcards. There's something to suit a range of tastes, budgets and requirements.
The Seat Alhambra has genuine space for seven adults, and you’ll find it surprisingly easy to get kids into and out of in tight parking spaces thanks to its sliding rear doors. The five rear seats can all be folded flat when you need to transport really big loads, but the boot is still huge in five-seat mode. There's even enough space for a decent amount of luggage when all the seats are upright. Our only real criticism is that the third-row seats are a bit of a fuss to fold flat.
There's decent power available from all engines on offer, while every Alhambra is refined and has a smooth ride. Prices are lower than those of the almost-identical Volkswagen Sharan.
The best engine we reckon is the 2.0 TDI 140 Ecomotive. Match this with S trim and you've have a car that's reasonably priced with all the kit you'll need.
Citroen C3 Picasso
The Citroen C3 Picasso might be pricey, but we reckon it's worth every penny. It combines practicality with style, and a cosseting ride with secure handling. Running costs are affordable, too.
It is only slightly longer than a conventional supermini, but it's a lot roomier inside, because the high roofline allows more upright seating. The rear bench seat is split 60/40, with the two pieces sliding back and forth so you can make the most of all that space. Boot capacity ranges from a generous 385 litres to an estate car-rivalling 500, and the rear bench can be folded flat in a jiffy.
The model to go for is the 1.4 VTR+.
The first of three Ford people-carriers to make it on to our list, the new Ford B-Max is brilliant to drive and very practical. The unique side door layout makes access to the rear seats easy and safety kit is comprehensive.
The B-Max has no central door pillars so there's a 1.5-metre wide aperture when both doors are open. Access in tight spaces is made even easier by sliding rear doors.
There's enough head- and legroom for four adults to sit in comfort. At 318 litres, the boot is a good size, and there's an adjustable load floor to boost versatility. The rear seats also fold completely flat to free up 1386 litres of space.
Of the models we've driven so far, we'd go for the 1.0 Ecoboost 125 Titanium.
The Ford S-Max is more fun to drive than most other MPVs, yet it's also refined. The cabin is roomy and versatile, while all versions are well equipped.
The S-Max's ample headroom, legroom and cabin width mean that five people can sit in comfort. That width also comes in handy if you're fitting child seats in the back. Access to the rearmost seats is good and kids will be happy there, but the low-slung seating position means adults won't relish long journeys.
The five rear seats fold flat, and in five-seat mode, the S-Max has a huge, well shaped boot. Even with all seven seats in use, there's still space for a couple of bags.
Of all the models on offer, the 2.0 TDCi 140 Zetec is the best. The engine provides strong, smooth power and reasonable running costs, while Zetec trim gives you all the kit you need at a reasonable price.
Ford Tourneo Custom
This is the car for you if you have a really, really big family. While most large MPVs are seven-seaters, the Tourneo Custom can take up to nine people.
Okay, the Tourneo comes with eight individual seats as standard – two up front, three in the middle and three in the back – but for an extra £100 or so, you can add an extra front seat.
All nine chairs will comfortably accommodate tall adults because the cabin is enormous.
The boot is enormous, too, even with all the chairs in place; its 922-litre capacity is enough to cope with multiple pushchairs, bags, suitcases – you name it.
We recommend going for the 125bhp 2.2-litre matched to the top Limited trim. That provides decent power and air-con for all nine occupants.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The Santa Fe is another wild card that makes it onto our list, thanks to its people-carrying capabilities.
The five-seat Santa Fe has a huge loadbay, but it's worth paying extra for the seven-seat version, which has a third row of seats that fold up from the boot floor. These are cramped for six-footers, but small adults and kids can fit without too much discomfort. There's loads of head- and legroom in the first two rows.
Land Rover Discovery
The Discovery isn't an MPV either, but it is fantastic for carrying up to seven people. The second and third rows fold down to leave a flat floor without the need to remove the headrests. The tailgate is split so that it can serve as a picnic seat or viewing platform.
It is brilliant on- and off-road and is beautifully refined. The 3.0 SDV6 255 XS is our favourite version. It has brisk pick-up from rest and surging acceleration, while XS trim brings cruise control, parking sensors, automatic headlights and wipers, leather heated seats, hard disk satellite-navigation and iPod/USB connectivity.
The Nissan Note is a practical small MPV that's also classy inside, cheap to run and good to drive.
The Note feels like a much bigger car on the inside thanks to its lofty roofline and clever packaging. The rear bench slides on runners, allowing you to choose the balance between rear legroom and luggage capacity, and with it pushed back there's plenty of room for four in the cabin.
You also get a vast array of cubbyholes for everyday clutter.
The 1.4 Acenta provides the best balance of performance, equipment and value, and is our choice of the Note range.
The Peugeot 5008 is a great family car, with pretty much all the practicality and refinement you could wish for. It's stylish and good to drive, too.
The 5008 has space for seven and its three full-size middle-row seats slide and recline. Adults can fit in the rear pair, but they're better suited to kids. All five rear seats fold away quickly to leave a long, flat load area and even with all the seats in place, there's enough space for a few bags of shopping.
The Peugeot 5008 1.6 HDi 112 Active is our favourite 5008. The engine provides a brilliant balance of power and economy, while Active-spec cars get electric windows, cruise control and rear parking sensors.
The Volvo XC90 is another great car for carrying families. It is comfortable, classy and has a smooth ride and a strong image.
The XC90's seven-seat cabin is MPV-like in its versatility. Space in the front two rows is plentiful, but the rear pair is only suitable for kids. The rearmost seats fold under the floor when not in use to create a massive boot. The three middle seats also slide individually and are easy to fold flat.
There's just one engine and all versions come well equipped so we’d stick with the entry-level ES model.
By Iain Reid
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