THE DAYS of being amazed because a multi-purpose vehicle has enough bottle holders to open a small off-licence, seats that fold flat into the floor, picnic tables and sliding side doors are long gone. These features are now standard fare and the cars in this class have most of them — and a few more tricks besides.
Clarkson says… “Many people do like cars of this type, in the same way that many people like marzipan. I admit, grudgingly, you get more space than in a hatchback”
So we have judged these MPVs not solely on how good they are as beasts of burden, but also on whether you might want to own one. Are they actually any good to drive? Are they stylish as well as practical?
If you think that’s a contradiction in terms then BMW, which has launched its first MPV, clearly disagrees.
1 Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
Imagine ringing your mates and suggesting they come and check out your new MPV. It sounds laughable, but if it’s this Citroën C4 Grand Picasso, you might want to do just that. With its all-round smoothness and swept-back windscreen, it is capable of drawing appreciative stares from most street corners — and that is a rare quality in an MPV.
Its interior is even better: it has so much glass that it’s as light and airy as a gondola on the London Eye, and your forward view is dominated by the sleekest-looking futuristic dashboard.
As if to prove that it isn’t aimed solely at middle-aged dads who, as Jeremy Clarkson once suggested, “have given up on life”, the hi-tech cabin lets its occupants connect with Facebook and Twitter (providing you subscribe to Citroën Multicity Connect). The C4 Grand Picasso is still good at the boring stuff, of course, reasonable to drive and even economical in its 115bhp, 1.6-litre diesel guise.
This Citroën is easily the most accomplished of the latest generation of family MPVs.
- Price: £19,460-£28,110
- Our pick: Exclusive e-HDi 115 Airdream, £23,510
- Engine: 1560cc, 4 cylinders
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 12.1sec
- Top speed: 117mph
- Fuel | CO2: 70.6mpg | 105g/km
2 BMW 2-series Active Tourer
As well as being the first BMW MPV, this is also the first BMW to be front-wheel drive. Unsurprisingly, the company has got it right first time: with vast door bins, underfloor boot storage and a wealth of hidden cubby holes, this new MPV is as practical as veterans of the genre. Its interior is a cut above in style and quality, though, and folding down the seats frees enough space to lie down and sleep in.
But does it drive like a BMW? The 218d version gives a good blend of performance and economy, and while it can’t be mistaken for an M3 through corners, it’s good enough to do no harm to the credibility of its badge. For a compact MPV, that’s more than sufficient.
- Price £24,205
- Our pick 218d Active Tourer SE, £24,205
- Engine 1995cc, 4 cylinders
- Acceleration 0-62mph: 8.9sec
- Top speed 127mph
- Fuel | CO2 68.9mpg | 109g/km
3 Ford B-Max
The B-Max is innovative and attractive but not gimmicky. Its party piece is the lack of fixed side-window B-posts — opening the front and rear doors at either side reveals the entire, unimpeded length of the cabin. BMW’s similarly sized Active Tourer pips it to top spot in our “baby” MPV list.
- Price: £12,995-£19,095
- Our pick: 1.0T 100PS EcoBoost Titanium, £16,595
- Engine: 999cc, 3 cylinders
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 13.2sec
- Top speed: 109mph
- Fuel | CO2: 55.4mpg | 119g/km
4 Ford S-Max
The S-Max is so old that at the time of its launch Tony Blair had a year of his premiership left to run. And yet, while other MPVs now eclipse it for features (no sliding doors or space-age cabin here), if you want a seven-seat car that’s good to drive, there is little to touch it.
- Price: £23,310-£33,085
- Our pick: Titanium 2.0 TDCi 140PS, £26,045
- Engine: 1997cc, 4 cylinders
- Acceleration: 0-62mph: 10.2sec
- Top speed: 122mph
- Fuel | CO2: 53.3mpg | 122g/km
5 Seat Alhambra
There’s a good reason for buying a Seat Alhambra: it’s one of the biggest MPVs on sale. Step through its sliding rear doors and you enter a world of adjustable fold-down seats, gigantic storage areas and Isofix child-seat fittings. Unlike some of its rivals, its seven seats provide plenty of room.
- Price £25,630-£33,705
- Our pick Alhambra SE 2.0 TDi CR Ecomotive 140, £27,510
- Engine 1968cc, 4 cylinders
- Acceleration 0-62mph: 10.9sec
- Top speed 120mph
- Fuel | CO2 50.4mpg | 146g/km
6 Ford Grand C-Max
For Sliding rear doors; decent to drive
Against Less attractive than the Citroën C4 Grand Picasso
7 Vauxhall Zafira Tourer
For Spacious interior; stylish cabin
Against No sliding rear doors
8 Peugeot 5008
For Far better to drive than you would think; flexible seating
Against Not much luggage space for a seven-seater
9 Renault Scenic
For A conventional, no-nonsense multi-purpose vehicle
Against Not as attractive or interesting as some of its rivals
10 Citroën C3 Picasso
For Large boot; good value for money
Against Rear legroom not generous
Vote for your favourite!
Top 100 Cars 2014 sections
- Introduction by Jeremy Clarkson
- Top 10 4x4s & SUVs
- Top 10 Electric Cars & Hybrids
- Top 10 Supercars
- Top 10 City Cars
- Top 10 Sports Cars & Convertibles
- Top 10 Family Cars & Estates
- Top 10 Superminis
- Top 10 Executive & Prestige
- Top 10 Hot Hatches & Coupés
- Top 10 MPVs
- Driving.co.uk exclusive: Vote for your favourite of Top 100 Cars 2014
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Top 100 Cars 2014: the fine print
Top 100 Cars is compiled by Andrew Frankel, Joseph Dunn, Dominic Tobin and James Mills. Prices are correct at the time of going to press; fuel-economy figures are for the combined urban and extra-urban cycle (source: Newspress); electric-car prices quoted include government grants where applicable.