Car buying tips
How to buy the best MPV
By Martin Pratt
Article 6 of 11
How to buy the best MPV
An MPV is a great choice if you need a practical, flexible car. Use our expert guide to find an MPV for any occasion.
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 among the most versatile cars on the market.
Our expert guide will help you decide whether an MPV best suits your needs.
Find out which MPVs should be on your radar on our best MPVs page.
1. Size matters
Small MPVs are not geared around maximising space for people - they'll be five seaters - but they offer adaptable, practical cabins, often littered with useful storage cubbies, at low cost. Some have handy space-saving sliding rear doors that open wide for easy access to the back seats, or, like the Vauxhall Meriva, 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 form, usually with a stretched wheelbase. Yet they generally occupy little more road space than a regular hatchback or saloon, so they're mostly efficient and practical.
Large MPVs have declined in popularity recently as buyers increasingly turn to SUVs. But for maximum carrying capacity and the option of transporting seven adults plus their luggage, you can't beat full-size MPVs like the Peugeot 5008, Seat Alhambra, or the Ford Galaxy.
2. Five or seven seats?
It's very handy to have seven seats, even if your family isn't large enough to need all of them all of the time. But ask yourself how often you really need to carry seven people - if it's only very rarely, you can potentially save a lot of money by choosing a five seater.
If you do need to carry seven people regularly, make sure you can fit their luggage in, too. All but the very largest seven seaters have seriously compromised boot space when all their seats are occupied, and many only offer cramped, hard-to-access rearmost seats that are only really suitable for children.
Our best seven-seater cars page reveals the seven seaters that came top in our tests.
3. Seating layouts
With versatility key to a good people carrier, every single MPV has something clever to offer in the seating department. However, there are a surprising variety of different ways of designing flexible seating - and some will suit certain families better than others.
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 separate seats for rear passengers rather than a single fixed bench is a great feature, especially if the seats are individually removable. However, some seven seaters only have small middle seat on the second row, meaning that if you want to carry five people in comfort, you'll need to have the third row in place, restricting available boot space.
4. Flexible load space
One of the key USPs of the MPV is the flexibility and size of their luggage space. It's handy if the main boot is as big as possible, of course, and we take independent measurements of boot space for every car we test.
It's not just about volume, though. Check whether your MPV has a flat load floor with the seats folded, and 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 to hide valuable items out of sight?
The amount and type of cabin storage is worth considering, too, for things like children’s toys. Under-floor 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, as these can't be placed on cubby holes.
If you need even more luggage space, look for cars with roof rails as standard - you can typically 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 was once the traditional viewpoint for a motorist buying an MPV. However, the latest generation of people carriers can be just as much fun to drive as a regular hatchback. Take the Ford C-Max for instance: it's essentially a Focus underneath, and superb to drive. Other MPVs that drive crisply include the Vauxhall Zafira Tourer and Ford S-Max.
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, Isofix mounting points make them quicker and easier to install. 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.
7. Sliding doors
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 and Seat Alhambra both have very good sliding doors. Access to the rearmost row of seats in some seven-seaters is very tricky, but some offer sliding middle-row seats, making access to the rear seats much easier.
8. Parking issues
Before you buy an MPV, check that you're comfortable with manoeuvring it. Seeing out is one issue, as some MPVs can suffer from poor visibility, meaning you may want to consider parking sensors or a rear-view camera. The sheer size of larger MPVs can be daunting too: the position of the front-end can be hard to judge, parallel parking a wide MPV is tricky, and often the distance the car needs to make a turn can make low-speed manoeuvres frustrating.
9. Make sure you choose the options you need
There are lots of family-friendly options available for MPVs. 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 can take a long time to heat up and cool down, and the large expanses of glass can take a while to de-mist.
10. Consider a larger, van-based people carrier
The largest MPVs are nothing more than commercial vans adapted to become people carriers by adding windows and additional seats. But don't discount them just because of this - vans are built to carry as much as possible at low cost, after all.
Full-sized van-based MPVs are among the most practical cars you can buy in terms of sheer passenger and luggage space, with some models offering room for up to nine people. Examples of van-based MPVs include the Citroen Berlingo, Renault Kangoo, Peugeot Partner Tepee, Fiat Qubo, Peugeot Bipper Tepee, Fiat Doblo and the full-sized Volkswagen Caravelle.
Visit our reviews page for definitive verdicts on more than 700 new and used cars.