Best cars & vans

Best people carriers and MPVs 2021

Here are the 10 best MPVs and people carriers to buy this year – all loaded with family-friendly features and lots of space

The MPV and people carrier sector might not be the most glamorous, but it's nevertheless vital for those families who need a single car that can carry everyone in comfort, along with and the masses of luggage that family life with large families often entails.

The multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, can find its roots in the mid-eighties, when the incredibly boxy Renault Espace arrived in Europe, while the Chrysler/Plymouth Voyager launched in the US. The fundamentals of both were to combine the refined, comfy interior of an estate with the boxy shape of a van – creating a highly spacious, highly versatile vehicle.

Like many of the cars on sale in the UK, MPVs grew over the years, meaning that the larger models now offer even more space. There are now sub-sectors within the MPV class, too, with cars such as the Volkswagen Touran being labelled as a compact MPV and models based on commercial vehicles known as van-based MPVs. These models have evolved from little more than vans with windows and seats bolted in to become a genuine alternative to a purpose-designed MPV, with similar levels of luxury and kit, but arguably even more space for less cash.

Today, the MPV sector is under increasing pressure from the crossover and SUV class, as these more rugged models deliver nearly as much utility in a more stylish SUV body. However, they still can't compete against the best MPVs for sheer space and practicality. Below, we've selected 10 of the best MPVs on sale today, all of which deliver the versatility that family buyers need, while also offering reasonable running costs. We've chosen the best models in a variety of classes, ranging from the conventional five and seven-seat models to the best van-based MPVs, so there should be something for everyone.

Best people carriers and MPVs

  1. Citroen Berlingo
  2. Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer
  3. Volkswagen Touran
  4. Tesla Model X
  5. Ford S-MAX
  6. BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer
  7. Ford Tourneo Connect
  8. Toyota Proace Verso
  9. Mercedes V-Class
  10. Fiat 500L

1. Citroen Berlingo

The previous generations of the Citroen Berlingo van-based MPV had very little style, as it was never part of the practical brief. But this time around, the Berlingo does have some interesting design features about it, such as split-level headlights and Citroen’s Airbumps.

The interior is just as smart, and features an eight-inch touchscreen on top of the dashboard with all the phone connectivity you’d expect from a modern car.

Two versions of the Berlingo are available, the M and the longer XL. Even the shorter of the two has a vast 775-litre boot with five seats in place; XL increases this to 1,050 litres. Perhaps even more impressive are the numerous storage cubbies around the cabin, which on their own provide more litres of storage than some city cars’ boots.

Seven seats are available in both models, while the front passenger seat can be folded to enable items up to 2.7 metres long to be carried inside the car.

The Berlingo is mechanically identical to the Peugeot Rifter and Vauxhall Combo Life, and all three are now available with electric powertrains and around 170 miles of range.

2. Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer

Who said family transport has to look boring? The Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer proves that even the most practical cars can be as eye-catching and desirable as anything else on the market. You might find yourself coveting one even if you’re single without a family to carry.

The C4 SpaceTourer rides on Citroen's latest platform, giving far less body roll and more direct steering than the old car. It’s not enjoyable to drive per se, but it’s comfortable and refined.

Engine choices are now limited to one petrol and one diesel engine, both familiar Citroen engines with 128bhp. The diesel engine will still suit some buyers - those that need to tow, for example - but even the petrol engine is said to manage 45mpg so should offer reasonable running costs.

The standard five-seat model is no longer offered, but it could be worth finding a secondhand example if you want a car with genuine space for five adults with plenty of leg and head room. The Grand C4 SpaceTourer offers up two additional roomy seats in the back.

Boot space is plentiful too, with 632 litres on offer, stretching to 2,181 litres with all the seats down.

3. Volkswagen Touran

Volkswagen is one of the few companies to sell not one, but two seven-seat MPVs. The Touran is the smaller of the two, with the ageing Volkswagen Sharan sitting above it if you need even more space.

The Touran’s rearmost seats are handy for occasional use but, if you’re planning to fill all seven seats and the boot on a regular basis, a bigger MPV will provide the space required.

Thought of as a large five-seater with the flexibility to sometimes carry extra people, the Touran makes a lot of sense. It even comes with a dedicated SE Family trim level, which gets fold-out seat tables, extra safety features and sat nav.

Volkswagen’s punchy 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine is offered alongside a 2.0-litre TDI diesel, both with 148bhp. The petrol car is a lot cheaper to buy in the first place, so only the highest-mileage drivers will benefit from the diesel’s better fuel economy.

4. Tesla Model X

Tesla fans may be shocked at the inclusion of the Model X on this list, but it blurs the line between SUV and MPV. After all, the car’s signature ‘Falcon Wing’ doors are included to make it easier to get into the back seats in tight car parks, not just to look outlandish.

Five, six or seven seats are available, with the front and middle rows offering generous amounts of head and legroom. The sloping roofline robs space from the third row (if fitted), so these are best reserved for children or occasional short journeys.

The Tesla is easily the priciest car on this list, but features all the performance and technology that you could want. Acceleration from 0-62mph in under four seconds is unmatched by any other car here, yet also supplemented by a range of around 350 miles between charges.

Tesla’s electric powertrains mean the Model X is quiet on the move, while there’s plenty of features to explore in the large infotainment touchscreen - which should keep both adults and kids entertained.

5. Ford S-MAX

The Ford S-MAX is spacious, practical and cheap to run, and while the latest model isn't the driver's car the original was, it's still hugely comfortable and refined on the move.

Buyers currently get a choice of two diesel and a new petrol hybrid engine. A very quick 237bhp turbo petrol unit was briefly available, but the remaining engines suit the big S-MAX better. They’re flexible engines, and though economy doesn’t trouble the likes of the Citroen C4 SpaceTourer, the S-MAX is still reasonably cheap to run.

The 7-seat S-MAX isn’t as roomy as its larger Galaxy sibling, and the rearmost seats are pretty cramped. There’s also precious little boot space when they’re up, but there’s decent room when the car is in five-seat mode.

The handsome S-MAX is offered in three trim levels at the time of writing: Titanium, ST-Line and Vignale. The latter is for those who want a little more luxury, offering all the kit plus extra sound insulation and quilted leather seats – but it comes at a very hefty price, and is only offered with the highest-powered engines. For most buyers the lower trims will make more sense, and every car comes with the essentials.

6. BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer

The 2 Series Gran Tourer marked a lot of firsts for BMW. The brand’s first seven-seat MPV, the first front-wheel-drive BMW, and the first time those with large families could buy a BMW with the head rather than just the heart.

BMW may have garnered most fame for its rear-wheel drive cars, which make up the bulk of its range. But it’s easy to forget how much experience the German manufacturer has with front wheel drive cars too – it’s been producing the MINI since 2001. Some of that car’s character can be found in the 2 Series Gran Tourer – unsurprisingly, as much of the front end including the engines are the same as on the MINI.

Engines include some excellent three-cylinder petrols but BMW say the diesels make up the bulk of the sales. Most people purchasing a BMW wouldn’t want a slow one, which is why the two most powerful diesels are the best-sellers in the range – though they’re still not exactly hot hatchback levels of quick.

The Gran Tourer is luxuriously trimmed inside, as you’d expect from a premium marque like BMW, and trim levels range from SE through Sport and Luxury to sporty M Sport. All are generously equipped, but options are expensive.

The 2 Series Gran Tourer isn’t the most spacious MPV, but if you want something more premium than the regular offerings, it’s a fine choice.

7. Ford Tourneo Connect

When all you need is ultimate space and practicality, a van is the way to go. Eschewing fancy styling in favour of a boxy body, the Ford Tourneo Connect offers an absolutely cavernous interior, and with the seats removed it could easily double as a panel van.

As with the Citroen Berlingo, there are two body lengths available, the biggest being called the Grand Tourneo Connect.

Despite its van-based origins, the Tourneo Connect is great to drive. It’s streets ahead of rivals on the road, and genuinely entertaining – with only a slightly firm ride spoiling the fun.

The Tourneo Connect has a 913-litre boot even with all the seats up. That’s just about as big as you can get on such a compact footprint, and it gets even better when you fold the rear seats down – a massive 2,410 litres are on offer. Twin side sliding doors and an enormous tailgate make it really easy to load, too, and cabin storage is also good.

There are two versions of a 1.5-litre diesel engine, which offer car-like running costs as well as decent performance. A Tourneo with a 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol has previously been offered.

8. Toyota Proace Verso

It may look like a vehicle that your parcels are delivered in, but a van-based MPV like the Toyota Proace Verso is worth a look if you need an awful lot of space or seats from your next car.

Seven-seat versions get two rear-facing seats, like a taxi, while you can have up to nine seats for minibus use or really big families. Fold even a couple of seats down and there is an enormous boot, with up to 4,000 litres on offer if you don’t need to use the space for passengers.

Three diesel engines are available, but the Proace Verso’s bulk means 40mpg will only be achievable on the most economical journeys.

As van designs are often shared between multiple brands, the Proace Verso uses the same underpinnings and most of the same styling as the Citroen SpaceTourer, Vauxhall Vivaro Life and Peugeot Traveller. Just like the smaller Stellantis vans above, all of these vehicles are available with an electric option.

9. Mercedes V-Class

If you would like your family hauler to be a lot more luxurious than everyone else’s, and if you have the money to realise that dream, then the Mercedes V-Class will appeal. Top trim levels are more like a Mercedes S-Class or even a private jet than a van.

The Standard version includes seven seats, while Long and Extra Long versions get an extra seat - although you can opt for a six-seat Exclusive trim on the Long model, which aims for maximum space for its occupants.

It may be more expensive than other van-based MPVs, but Mercedes V-Class buyers have plenty of options to choose. There’s an electric one called the EQV, and even a camper van conversion called the Marco Polo.

The V 300 d diesel will appeal to buyers not ready to jump to the electric model just yet, as it offers fuel economy and performance that are both surprisingly good for such a large and powerful vehicle.

As is often the case with a van-based MPV, the tailgate is absolutely huge - which may be a pain in tight car parks, especially on the XL version which is longer than a standard UK parking space.

10. Fiat 500L

The Fiat 500 is one of the most compact cars on the road, which is no good if you need the space for a family. Fiat knows this, so also sells the Fiat 500L MPV with some of the 500’s styling cues and far more usable space.

In practice, not all of the 500’s cutesy details look good when scaled up on to a chunky car like this, but Sport and Cross models do add some visual interest. New models also come with a far better touchscreen system than was previously used.

The 500L trades practicality for some of that style, but its 400-litre boot is on par with many small SUVs and family hatchbacks. A tall roofline means headroom is good, and legroom is decent too.

Price is also on the Fiat 500L’s side, starting from just over £18,000 - although the base-spec Pop is a little too sparsely equipped to recommend.

Read our guides to the best 7-seat cars and best 7-seat electric cars...

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