Buying a car Top 10 MPV buying tips

The rise of the MPV, or Multi Purpose Vehicle, has been a remarkable one. At one stage, MPVs looked like wiping out other classes of car almost entirely, but demand has tailed off as brands offer more and more 'niche' and 'crossover' products. 

MPVs are all about practicality. And this doesn't mean merely people-carrying or luggage-stuffing - it's about being adaptable and flexible too. MPVs may not be sexy but they are probably the most practical, versatile cars on the market.

Our top 10 buying tips will help you decide which MPV suits you best, and our Best Buy MPVs and people carriers guide tells you which cars we recommend.

Vauxhall Meriva MPV doors

Small but well-formed MPV: Vauxhall Meriva

1. Size matters

MPVs are available in three distinct size categories: small (Renault Modus), medium (Ford C-Max) and large (Ford Galaxy). They're all very different in terms of their target market. 

Small MPVs are not about people-carrying - they're all strict five-seaters - but offer adaptable, practical cabin space at low cost. The Vauxhall Meriva sums this sector up perfectly, with clever rear-hinged doors that ease access for fitting child seats.

Mid-size MPVs like the Ford C-Max have much more room for luggage and can often be bought in seven-seater guise, usually with a stretched wheelbase. Yet they occupy no more road space than a regular hatchback, so they're efficient and practical.

Large MPVs have declined in popularity recently as their sheer size, price and running costs have turned buyers off. But for maximum carrying capacity and the option of transporting seven people plus their luggage, you can't beat full-size MPVs like the VW Sharan, Seat Alhambra and Ford S-Max and Galaxy

2. Five, six or seven seats?

Some people think an MPV has to have seven seats. Sure, it's very handy to have seven seats, and some large families do genuinely need all seven. But ask yourself how often you really need to carry seven people. If the answer is 'very rarely', you can potentially save a lot of money by choosing a five-seater.

If you do need to carry seven people regularly, then make sure you can fit their luggage in too. All but the very largest seven-seaters have seriously compromised boots with all seats occupied. And many seven-seaters suffer from cramped, hard-to-access rearmost seats.

An interesting compromise is a six-seater, with two rows of three seats, but the only examples are the Fiat Multipla and Honda FR-V, both of which are now used-only. 

3. The seating situation

You could argue that MPVs are all about their seats. Every single MPV has something clever to offer in the seating department, but there are a surprising variety of different ways of designing flexible seating - and some will suit certain families better than others. Here are some things to look out for.

Sliding rear seats can be a real bonus. You can push them back to increase rear legroom or slide them forwards to improve boot space. Some cars also offer a small degree of recline on the rear seats – a good feature to stop kids’ heads lolling forwards if they fall asleep.

Having three individual seats for rear passengers is a great feature, especially if they're removable. In contrast, some seven-seaters only have two usable middle-row seats, meaning that if you want to carry five people in comfort, you'll need to have the third row in place. And usually the rearmost seats are uncomfortable and eat up boot space. 

Bootspace: VW Touran

MPVs are all about space and versatility

4. Your flexible friend

MPVs live or die by the flexibility and size of their luggage space. It's handy if the main boot is as big as possible, of course, and Which? Car makes independent measurements of boot space for every car we test. Check out the Comfort & Practicality sections of our car reviews to find out exactly how much luggage each car can swallow. 

It's not just about volume though. Check whether your MPV has a flat load floor with the seats folded. Look to see how low the load height is. Is the boot a boxy, tall shape so you can fit in large and awkward objects? Is there an extra area under the boot floor?

Think about cabin storage too, for things like children’s toys and drinks. Underfloor storage in the rear footwell might seem useful, but not if you’re using an Isofix-mounted child car seat that has a support leg (these can't be placed on cubby holes).

If you need even more luggage space, look for cars with roof rails as standard - typically you can add up to around 100kg of luggage on rails in roof-top boxes.  

5. You don't have to stop having fun

Start a family, stop having fun - that's the way things used to be. But the latest generation of MPVs can be just as much fun to drive as a regular hatchback. Take the Ford C-Max, for instance: it's essentially a new Focus underneath, and superb to drive. Other MPVs that drive crisply include the Vauxhall Meriva, Volkswagen Sharan and Peugeot 5008

Child seats in MPVs

Will your child seats fit easily?

6. MPVs and child seats

If you have three young children, all needing to be seated in child car seats, an MPV may be the only viable option to transport the entire family safely and securely, as many conventional cars can't accommodate three child seats abreast. Check the rearmost fold-up seats in seven-seaters too - not all can carry child seats. 

If you need to fit child car seats, mounting points make this easier and quicker. But make sure these mounting points are easy to access, and take your child car seat along when you view a car to see how easy it is to fit.

Read all of our child car seat reviews

7. Doors and access

MPVs have become increasingly clever in terms of passenger access. Sliding doors are a real boon, especially in tight parking spots - the Ford Grand C-Max, Mazda 5 and VW Sharan all have very good sliding doors. Access to the rearmost row of seats in some seven-seaters is very tricky, but some (like the Mazda 5) offer easier walk-through access.

Another clever new idea is Vauxhall's rear-hinged FlexDoor system on the Meriva, which makes life easier for anyone strapping kids into child seats. 

8. Park life

Before you buy an MPV, check that you're comfortable with manoeuvring it. Seeing out is one issue, as many MPVs suffer from poor visibility (you may want to consider parking sensors or cameras). The sheer size of larger MPVs can be daunting too: parallel parking a wide MPV is tricky, and often the distance the car needs to make a turn can make low-speed manoeuvres unwieldy. 

9. Make sure you choose the right stuff

There are lots of family-friendly options for your MPV. For example, the more 12-volt power sockets you have, the better for items like phone chargers, sat navs, DVD players and handheld games consoles. What about fold-down trays? Or swivelling seats so passengers can face each other? Climate control is another must-have, as the large cabin space in MPVs takes a long time to heat up and cool down, and the large expanses of glass can take a while to demist. 

Citroen Berlingo MPV

Space bargain: Citroen Berlingo

10. How about buying a van?

Some MPVs are nothing more than commercial vans adapted to become MPVs by adding windows. But don't discount them just because of this. After all, vans are built to carry as much as possible at low cost. And van-based MPVs are among the best-value cars you can buy, and their practicality is usually second to none. 

Examples include the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner Tepee, Citroen Nemo, Fiat Qubo, Peugeot Bipper Tepee, Fiat Doblo, VW Caddy Maxi Life and Renault Kangoo. There's also the full-size VW Caravelle

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