What is an MPV?

We delve into the ridiculously practical world of MPVs and people carriers

James Wilson
Oct 5, 2021

An MPV (Multi Purpose Vehicle), or people carrier, is typically a large hatchback with seating for five or seven. They are bigger and more practical than regular hatchbacks like a Ford Focus, but lack the off-roading ability and rugged looks of an SUV like a Land Rover Discovery Sport. In general, they cost inbetween the price of a hatchback and an SUV. They are markedly different from crossovers too, as MPVs typically offer more seats.

Well-known MPVs include the Renault Scenic and Seat Alhambra, although popularity is waning. Traditionally, MPVs were the vehicle of choice for anyone – families and taxi drivers especially – looking to get lots of people and their possessions from A to B in comfort.

Thanks to the rapid rise of the SUV, the people carrier is becoming a much rarer sight in dealerships, but, those that are surviving have done so for good reasons.

Whether it is luxury or utilitarianism you desire, there is a people carrier for everyone. As examples, the Mercedes B-Class takes care of the former, while Vauxhall’s Combo Life takes care of the latter.

The defining features of an MPV

Thanks to a target market wanting practicality over speed and performance, from their exterior shape to their interior design, MPVs are full of practical engineering.

What you will find is that the styling of MPVs is very similar irrespective of make. They tend to look like a loaf of bread with a diagonal cut from the front. This is mostly because of the desire for large boots and seven seats. After all, if you are putting passengers in the very back, they are going to need headroom. And no shape is better at carrying things than a box.

Also, they have very little car body extending beyond the wheels. As you normally sit inside a car's wheelbase this means the amount of space for passengers and luggage is maximised relative to the length of the car.

People carriers are also a type of hatchback and come with various configurations of folding seats. So getting large items and or relatives in is very easy. In larger MPVs, such as the Seat Alhambra and Ford Galaxy, it is the norm for there to be a third row of seats, or at least the option of, meaning you can fit six passengers and a driver in. You’ll find that, in most MPVs, the sixth and seventh seats are quite small; they’re primarily designed for occasional use or for children, and a smaller seat will take up less space in the boot.

Lastly for the exterior, they tend to be very simple bodywork wise, at least at the more practical end of the market. This is because a more complex body panel is more expensive to replace and let's face it, if you are carrying lots of people (including kids in your car) it's going to get a dent or two. With that said, the rise of the SUV has prompted manufacturers to add in a few design flourishes to grab your attention. We think the Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer looks quite stylish, for example.

Many MPVs will have neat storage compartments you wish all cars came with – hidden floor storage being a prime example. Multiple power outlets dotted around the interior are common, too – very useful if your kids travel better watching a film or you need to charge multiple devices on the go. Also great for kids are the folding seat trays, which, rather brilliantly are highly wipeable for the inevitable child-based goo that will form on them.

Used MPVs

The humble people carrier was the vehicle of choice for families the world over at the beginning of the 21st century. With all those seats and practicality in spades, the MPV was the best thing on the market if you needed more space. However, the birth of the SUV and subsequent success of the crossover has meant these admittedly undesirable cars have fallen by the wayside. But, where the price of SUVs is continuing to rise, MPVs are sneaking under the radar as a hugely affordable alternative.

7-seater MPVs

Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer

Used deals from £14,900
Monthly finance from £268*

Ford S-Max

Used deals from £15,299
Monthly finance from £300*

Volkswagen Touran front

Volkswagen Touran

Used deals from £16,990
Monthly finance from £323*

5-seater MPVs

Renault Scenic

Used deals from £8,495
Monthly finance from £212*

BMW 2 Series Active Tourer

Used deals from £10,980
Monthly finance from £224*

Mercedes B-Class

Used deals from £13,395
Monthly finance from £271*

MPVs: pros and cons

Seven seater options
Potential savings over a large SUVs
Child friendly

Dowdy image
Less desirable
Driver enjoyment is a rarity

What to look for when buying an MPV

  • Boot space: if you are buying a seven-seater, MPV manufacturers will often quote the boot space with the third row of seats down. Naturally, this means it is important to find out how much space you will have with them up. If there won’t be enough, either look elsewhere or make sure you buy a car with roof bars so you can fit a roof box when needed.
  • Folding and sliding seats: seats which fold completely flat are very useful, as are those which can slide forwards and backwards to change the distribution of legroom and luggage space.
  • Isofix points: popular people carriers will have three, four or in rare cases five Isofix points, so do your research to make sure you get enough.
  • Sliding doors: sliding rear doors remove the chance of a rear passenger banging car doors when you have parked – something that really sets people carriers out from SUV rivals.
  • Storage space: big door bins, multiple glove boxes and floor storage compartments are all brilliant. Although it is important to note, some child car seats require the floor storage boxes to be filled for safety, so make sure you check against your car seat requirements.
  • Towing capacity: families and caravans are a common mix. You might not think it now, but give it a few years and you could well find yourself dragging a caravan up the M1 with a car full of kids. It makes sense, therefore, to find a car now which will be a competent tower then.

Can I buy an electric MPV?

Some carmakers are bringing the MPV up-to-date with fully electric versions. Usually these 7-seater electric cars are based on vans, which can stash the batteries underneath the floor to minimise the impact on practicality. As such, electric MPVs like the Citroen e-Berlingo, Peugeot e-Rifter and Vauxhall Combo-e Life are just as spacious as their petrol and diesel counterparts.

The three cars we just mentioned are mechanically identical, and all use a decent-sized battery. They manage around 170 miles on a full charge. Each brand also offers a bigger electric MPV with up to nine seats - the Citroen e-SpaceTourer, Peugeot e-Traveller and Vauxhall Vivaro-e Life.

If the badge on the grille is important to you, the Mercedes EQV offers seating for up to eight, but it costs from over £70,000 new.

Plug-in hybrids offer a balance of around 30 miles of electric-only power with the added benefit of a petrol or diesel engine for long-distance driving. The BMW 2 Series Active Tourer and BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer provide seating for five and seven respectively.


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