Best MPVs

Excellent carrying ability alone isn’t enough for the latest people movers. The best buys do it in style

What makes a great MPV? Well, the ability to carry more than five passengers was the minimum requirement as we set our sights on the best people carriers in the business. But that’s not all. Stylish exteriors, versatile interiors and capable driving dynamics would all score highly with the Auto Express judges.

1st Gold

SEAT Alhambra 

Price range: £23,525-£32,585

If you want the best all-round family MPV, look no further. The hugely practical SEAT takes the gold medal thanks to its brilliant blend of space, quality and value. The big MPV is almost identical to the VW Sharan (the two cars are products of a joint development), but more attractive prices give it the edge over its VW Group cousin. One thing they have in common is a pair of sliding rear doors, and that makes a big difference – the only other full-sized model in the running for championship glory with sliding back doors is the Citroen Berlingo Multispace.

The functional design of these doors usually comes with styling compromises, but the Alhambra looks smart inside and out. Cabin quality is first rate and equipment generous – even entry-level S models feature three-zone climate control, plus front and rear parking sensors. Mid-range SE versions add handy kit including a USB/iPod connection, 230V power socket, integrated sun blinds in the rear doors and cruise control.

Engine options include a 148bhp 1.4-litre TSI petrol, but diesel power makes most sense if you plan to carry a full load or travel longer distances on a regular basis. VW’s 2.0-litre TDI takes care of business; 138bhp and 168bhp versions are offered. All have the option of a twin-clutch DSG box, which makes the Alhambra the ultimate MPV all-rounder.

2nd Silver

Ford S-MAX

Price range: £22,295-£32,045

This Ford has long been the handling benchmark for full-sized MPVs. If you need the space of a genuine people carrier but don’t want to give up on the driver appeal of a family car, the S-MAX is for you. It backs up its stylish looks with a commanding performance on the road. Put simply, the S-MAX goes, steers and stops better than many conventional hatchbacks. You don’t get a useful set of sliding rear doors, which can make getting in and out a pain in tight spaces, but there’s plenty of room once you’re inside.

The S-MAX range was revised in 2010 and an improved engine line-up was part of the refresh. The 2.0-litre TDCi is the pick of the bunch, in 138bhp form. If maximum fuel economy and low CO2 emissions are high on your list of priorities, the 1.6-litre TDCi diesel claims 54.3mpg and 139g/km of CO2 respectively – although it won’t be winning any sprint events.

3rd Bronze

Ford Grand C-MAX

Price range: £19,295-£23,995

Ford covers all the bases in the MPV sector. The C-MAX comes as a five-seater or a seven-seater Grand, and the latter is the pick of the bunch. It’s a fine compact MPV, thanks to a third row of seats and user-friendly sliding rear doors. The practical design sacrifices style compared to the five-seater, but it shares the smaller model’s quality interior and sharp driving dynamics.

The C-MAX sets the benchmark in its sector for handling – but that’s not all, as it’s comfortable, refined and has a flexible seating layout. There’s also a lot of kit on offer, ranging from a standard DAB radio to options such as a Blindspot Information System and Active Park Assist. Competition in the compact MPV sector is fierce, but the Grand C-MAX is a sound bet.

Runner up

Citroen Berlingo

Price range: £12,575-£16,450

Don't dismiss the Citroen Berlingo Multispace (or its very similar Peugeot Partner Tepee cousin) in the race for MPV honours. Only quirky looks prevented the Citroen from coming away with a medal in this category. To really understand the appeal of the Multispace, you have to embrace its van-like appearance. Pay-offs include huge interior space, practical sliding rear doors and a surprisingly enjoyable driving experience. Don’t expect neighbours to be overcome with jealousy when they see it parked on your driveway. But you can still enjoy the satisfaction of knowing the Multispace is far better than it looks.

Runner up

Chevrolet Orlando

Price range: £16,410-£21,315

Missing out on a medal by the narrowest margin always brings heartbreak, and the team behind the Orlando will be disappointed. However, there’s plenty to get excited about, as the Chevrolet has carved itself a niche. A mix of good value, decent dynamics and chunky styling makes it attractive to family buyers. The seven-seat interior and gutsy diesel engine hold universal MPV appeal, plus you get a long warranty and low running costs.

False start

Mercedes R-Class

Price range: £43,755-£47,910

The luxury MPV sector is hardly a hotbed of sales activity, and the Mercedes R-Class has this niche all to itself – but we’re still not sure we’d choose one. For the £43,755 price of the entry-level R300 CDI version, you could have a Land Rover Discovery 4, which is a genuine seven-seater – with a badge to rival the Merc.

Read our latest run down of the best MPVs

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