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MPV contenders

  • 17 categories of awards
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  • What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed

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What Car? Awards 2012 website

Best buy less than 16,000
Citron C3 Picasso 1.6 VTi VTR+
List price 14,845
Target Price 12,531

Once upon a time, owning an MPV meant swapping desirable styling for practicality.

Not any longer and nothing typifies this new breed of funky, fun and super-useful cars more than the Citroen C3 Picasso.

While the good looks are there for all to see, it combines these with hidden depths of practicality and usability that are startling at this price and especially so after youve haggled for a generous discount.

The cabin is light and airy, thanks to the narrow front pillars and a windscreen that stretches up and into the roof. That also means visibility is great from all the seats.

Inside, theres plenty of space, including several handy hidden storage areas, and the rear seats slide or fold when you need to adjust boot space. The materials are good, too.

Our pick of the range is the smooth, refined 1.6 VTi petrol engine. By opting for VTR+ spec, you get air-con and six airbags as standard.

Alternatives include the Nissan Note and new Hyundai ix20, but neither match the Citrons blend of looks, practicality and value.

Citroen C3 Picasso review

Performance
0-62mph 10.9sec Top speed 113mph
Running costs
Economy 40.9mpg CO2 159g/km
Insurance group13
Best buy 16,000-22,000
Peugeot 5008 1.6 HDi 112 Sport
List price 20,945
Target Price 19,637

There are two closely matched contenders for this category win and it should be no surprise just how close the fight is, given that the Peugeot 5008 and recently face-lifted Citron Grand C4 Picasso share most of their mechanicals and a clever seating system.

The Peugeot has a classier and more stylish cabin, and it feels airy and spacious, even without the Citrons large windscreen and walk-through space between the front seats.

The 5008 is also better to drive, rolls less in bends and offers far more steering feel. The suspension is a bit hard for our liking, but the trade-off is superior body control that stops its contents being tossed about and which, unusually for an MPV, lets you have some fun behind the wheel when the time is right.

In terms of practicality its a tie, because both cars have the same seven-seat layout and a system for moving those seats about that allows you to swap effortlessly between more passenger and load space.

Our favourite engine is also the same for both a 110bhp diesel that offers enough power and economy.

Peugeot 5008 review

Performance
0-62mph 12.9sec Top speed 114mph
Running costs
Economy 53.3mpg CO2 139g/km
Insurance group16
Best buy more than 22,000
Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI 140 Ecomotive S
List price 24,055
Target Price 23,555

When you're buying an MPV its easy to think that big is best, but the truth is that the way space is put to use is just as important. The Seat Alhambra gives you the best of both worlds huge capacity and lots of practicality.

It has genuine space for seven adults and even a decent amount for their luggage; fold the rear five seats and theres an enormous load area to play with.

The cabin is as usable as you could wish for, with every switch well placed, the materials plush in places and hard-wearing in others, and the seats all comfortable and supportive.

The only must-have option is the electric rear sliding doors, at 780.

Slim pillars at each corner make parking and manoeuvring such a large vehicle surprisingly easy, while nimble handling gives the car a verve that goes against expectations for such a large vehicle.

Chief rival is the VW Sharan, which is essentially the same car as the Alhambra.

The Seat undercuts the VW on price, which makes up for its slightly worse retained value.

Seat Alhambra review

Performance
0-62mph 10.9sec Top speed 127mph
Running costs
Economy 50.4mpg CO2 146g/km
Insurance group18
Tester's view
In reality, most so-called multi-purpose vehicles have to do just one job: shift a lot of people and their stuff as easily as possible. Its not surprising, then, that so many families end up buying one, especially as many of todays models combine practicality with comfort, and excellent refinement and handling.

With my toddler to transport, Ive found raised seating to be a useful MPV feature theres no need to bend down to put him in his seat, and he gets a good view out. Nowadays, even small MPVs allow you to change the position of the rear seats to suit occupants.

What also makes MPVs so appealing is that you get 4x4-like space and versatility, but with much more palatable buying and running costs.
Alex Newby Deputy editor
Alex.Newby@whatcar.com