Car buying tips
How to buy the best 7-seater car
By Martin Pratt
Article 9 of 11
How to buy the best 7-seater car
Do you need a 7-seat MPV, SUV or estate? Our expert guide will help you to buy the best 7-seater car for your family and budget.
7-seater cars are increasingly popular, coming in a variety of different formats and with seats in three rows for all the family (and a couple of friends). An extra pair of seats can be a very handy thing to have, and your choice is wide. 7-seat MPVs, estate cars and SUVs are available.
Our guide will help you decide which type of 7-seater car will suit you best.
To see the cars that wowed us in the Which? test lab, go to the best 7-seater cars.
1. Who will your passengers be?
Your first task should be to think about who you'll actually be carrying. If you're transporting a seven-a-side rugby team and all their kit on tour, you're clearly going to need a pretty big vehicle - one of the more van-like MPVs such as the Volkswagen Caravelle, for example.
But if you're only going to be carrying small children on an occasional basis, you can get away with something much more compact. That obviously has benefits when it comes to running costs and manoeuvrability.
Bear in mind that not all models will be able to accommodate three child car seats side-by-side (scroll down to read more about fitting child car seats).
Also, 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 instead.
2. 7-seater MPV
The MPV (or multi-purpose vehicle) has become an important part of the new car market. Medium-sized MPVs are offered in 7-seat formats as well as the large full-sized models; the Citroen Grand Picasso, Ford Grand C-Max and Ford S-Max are probably the best-known of this type.
The super-sized MPVs are rarer than they once were, with the once-popular Renault Espace and Chrysler Grand Voyager, for example, discontinued in the UK. The Ford Galaxy, Seat Alhambra and Volkswagen Sharan remain on sale, nonetheless.
Our MPV and people carrier reviews include a number of models that can seat seven. Only a handful passed our tests with flying colours and are recommended as the best MPVs.
3. 7-seater estate cars
Don't rule out a traditional estate car, either, if your need for seven seats is only occasional. Safety legislation has largely put paid to the pop-up rear-facing seats in the boot you used to see in older estate models, but the Peugeot 308 SW still comes with the option of (forward-facing) modular third-row seats.
If you're buying second hand, the Mercedes-Benz E-class estate did come with the option of rear-facing seats until 2014.
Generally speaking, estates have a lower roofline than MPVs and SUVs. So the rearmost seats of seven seaters can be more difficult to access and are likely to offer little leg or headroom.
If an estate car seems like the right option for you, make sure you check out our round-up of the best estate cars.
4. 7-seater SUVs
Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of 4x4s and SUVs - particularly compact 'crossover' models. Among these, quite a few have the option of seven seats. Although, as with estate cars, the usefulness of their rearmost row of seats can be compromised.
5. What about luggage?
It's all very well having seven seats, but it could be embarrassing to load up your passengers and find there's nowhere to put your luggage.
With many seven seaters, this scenario can be all too common, as the rearmost row of seats eats into available boot space. With seven up, there can often be effectively no useful boot space in some medium-sized cars. If you need to carry seven people and lots of luggage together on a regular basis, you'll really need a full-size MPV.
Many 7-seaters have rear seats that handily fold away into the floor, leaving the load platform flat. But you need to remove the rear seats to maximise the boot capacity of some models. Which can be difficult and strenuous.
If you need more luggage space, look for cars with roof rails fitted as standard. Typically these can support up to around 100kg of extra weight in roof boxes or specially designed aerodynamic carriers.
6. Seating options
Not all seven seaters are alike. Many have two occasional seats in the rearmost row, which disappear under the floor when not required.
While others, such as the Volkswagen Caravell, only have two usable middle-row seats. So if you want to carry five people in comfort, you'll need to have the third row in place. These models often come with more flexible seating arrangements, allowing passengers to swivel their chairs and face each other, for example.
Usually the rearmost seats have thin bases, not much lateral support and little room for feet. That makes many of them uncomfortable for adults on all but short journeys, while some will only be able to accommodate smaller children.
7. Fitting child seats
If you're transporting several young children who need to be seated in child car seats, a seven seater can make sense. While many can accommodate three child seats abreast in the middle row of seats, check that the rearmost seats are suitable - not all can carry child seats.
If you need to fit child car seats, Isofix mounting points make this easier and quicker. But make sure these points are easy to access, and take your child car seats along when you view a car to see how easy it is to fit.
It's worth noting that few MPVs and other 7-seater cars have airbag protection that extends all the way to the rearmost row of seats.
8. Passenger access in a 7-seater car
Passenger access can be an issue with seven seaters. Getting into the rearmost row is usually tricky, so try it out. Some offer easier walk-through access, with middle-row seats that slide back and forth at the pull of a lever.
Sliding doors are a real boon, especially in narrow parking spots where it's difficult to open a conventional hinged door - the Ford Grand C-Max, Seat Alhambra and Volkswagen Sharan, for example, all have very good sliding doors that are either light enough to be easily opened and closed, or electrically operated.
9. Keeping your passengers happy
There are lots of family-friendly options available for your seven seater. 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.
Consider the usefulness of fold-down trays and swiveling seats, so that passengers can face each other.
Climate control is another must-have. The large cabin space in these cars 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. What about cars with eight or nine seats?
Sometimes seven seats just aren't enough so, luckily, there are a few cars out there with eight or even nine seats.
These tend to be large vans converted for passenger-carrying duties, but that means they make extremely practical carry-all vehicles. Eight-seaters include the Hyundai i800 and Mercedes-Benz Viano, while the Citroen Dispatch Combi, Peugeot Expert Tepee and Volkswagen Shuttle can be ordered with up to nine seats.
No one tests cars like we do. We collect our own emission and fuel economy data from our independent, realistic tests. So our reviews are your best guide to how clean a car is and how much you will spend on fuel. Plus our extensive owners' survey reveals how reliable each car is. To find a car you can trust, see our car reviews.