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Best people carriers for families

  • We pick the most practical people carriers with clever touches
  • All have seven seats and plenty of versatility
  • Could one of these be your next family car purchase?

You’ve got a growing family, you occasionally ferry about your kids’ friends, your parents, your in-laws and, if you’re very lucky and get to have a social life once every blue moon, you might give your friends a lift too.

Yes, you’ve reached that stage in life where you’re no longer looking for a racy hot hatch or a feel-good sporty saloon: now is your personal era of the seven-seater people carrier.

Long gone are the days when these family buses have all the lustre of a van with windows – today’s MPVs often feel like conventional cars to drive, have comfortable, well-appointed interiors and lots of practical touches to make them flexible enough to cope with the rigours of everyday life.

We’ve saved you the legwork by identifying the best of the seven-seater breed, the ones that make family life more of a doddle. The only caveat is that none of them promise to end that perennial question of “are we nearly there yet?”

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso (14 on)

Citroen Grand C4 Picasso - Best people carriers for families

As distinctive on the inside as it is on outside, the futuristic Citroen Grand C4 Picasso is an especially flexible and adaptable seven-seater.

Like many in our top five, the Citroen’s rearmost seats are ideally suited for children but adults can squeeze themselves in there for shorter journeys, too.

While the largest Picasso won’t thrill its driver along a winding B-road, it’s superbly comfortable making long journeys feel particularly relaxed.

Individual seats in rows two and three ensure all passengers have ample head, leg and elbow room, with lots of storage cubbies to keep cabin detritus well-hidden from prying eyes. All five rear seats fold flat into the floor in less than a minute and the front passenger seat also folds to accommodate long items.

Excellent all-round visibility ensures everyone can see out easily helping reduce travel sickness, while two tablet-like screens dominate the dashboard allowing everyone to see the sat-nav and monitor how far away the destination is without asking.

We’d opt for top-of-the-range 2.0-litre BlueHDi 150 diesel in Flair trim to benefit from standard sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay, an electric tailgate and a reversing camera.

Star rating: 4
Pick of the range: Grand C4 Picasso 2.0 BlueHDi 150 Flair
New price: £22,475 - £29,900
Used price: £7,820 - £19,620
Fuel efficiency: 68.9mpg
Road tax cost: £0 - £145
Boot space: 793-2,181 litres (lower figure is in five-seater mode)

Ford S-Max (15 on)

Ford S-Max - Best people carriers for families

The Ford S-Max is the Blue Oval’s sportier take on the people carrier - it's got seven seats like the larger Galaxy, but with a lower roofline and more focused driving experience.

That doesn’t mean to say that practicality has been sacrificed in the quest for excellent driving dynamics – they haven’t at all – yet the big Ford remains a sound choice for drivers who like to get enthusiastic behind the wheel.

As with others here, the rearmost seats are primarily designed for children but they fold into the floor at the touch of a button. There’s also an electric tailgate option which can be activated by waving your foot under the rear bumper. Many interior surfaces are coated with an anti-stain layer to preserve the longevity of fittings.

With a range of economical turbocharged petrol and diesel engines, we’d opt for the mid-range Titanium to land cruise control, keyless entry, automatic lights and wipers, as well as sat-nav and a range of active safety technologies. Pair it with the 150hp 2.0-litre TDCi diesel for the best results.

Star rating: 4.5
Pick of the range: S-Max 2.0 TDCi 150PS Titanium
New price: £25,895 - £37,045
Used price: £14,645 - £28,830
Fuel efficiency: 56.5mpg
Road tax cost:£110 - £230
Boot space: 285-2,020 litres (700 litres in five-seater mode)

BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer (15 on)

BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer - Best people carriers for families

For some the BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer represents something the brand shouldn’t stand for, which is a narrow-minded perspective for what is an engaging family car to drive.

Underneath the functional-looking bodywork lies a front-wheel drive platform – four-wheel drive xDrive models are available too – powered in part by a range of three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. It doesn’t sound like an entirely enticing recipe, but BMW owners trading older cars in for one would be hard-pressed to know the difference.

That said, it isn’t quite as practicality-focused as the others here, but that’s not to say it’s without merit. The middle row of seats is essentially a bench rather than individual chairs, but there’s storage space under the seat and seat-back tables too.

Those relegated to the back row will need to be of smaller stature as it’s quite cramped back there but neat solutions such as elasticated strappings on the sides of the boot allow kids’ clutter to be conveniently restrained. The seats themselves can be raised and lowered with a single hand and the tailgate can be raised electrically in the same manner as the Ford’s.

We’d opt for the mid-range 218d Sport version combining impressive real-world fuel economy with features such as sat-nav, automatic lights and wipers, Bluetooth connectivity, 17-inch alloy wheels and sports seats complemented by dark-finished detailing inside and out.

Star rating: 4
Pick of the range: 218d Sport Gran Tourer
New price: £25,420 - £35,180
Used price: £12,465 - £24,465 
Fuel efficiency: 64.2mpg
Road tax cost: £20 - £145
Boot space: 560-1,860 litres (lower figure is in five-seater mode)

SEAT Alhambra (10 on)

SEAT Alhambra - Best people carriers for families

Pitched as a slightly lower-priced alternative to its sister car, the Volkswagen Sharan, the SEAT Alhambra nevertheless has all the VW’s qualities and attractions.

It’s a bigger seven-seater than the others here, meaning adults are more likely to find the back two chairs more comfortable than the others. With those swollen dimensions – it’s the longest, widest and tallest here – comes even more space inside for a combination of people and their stuff.

Whereas the Alhambra’s also available, like the others, with an electric tailgate, the big SEAT’s trump card in this company are the sliding doors to access the middle and rear rows of seats – these too can be electrically-operated. The result is fewer dings in car parks as kids swing them open wildly into neighbouring vehicles.

Choosing the relaxed yet economical 2.0-litre TDI 150hp engine paired with the DSG automatic gearbox makes sense, particularly with mid-range SE specification, netting you rear privacy glass, roof rails, heated front seats and additional storage areas.

Star rating: 4
Pick of the range: Alhambra 2.0 TDI 150PS SE DSG automatic
New price: £25,380 - £36,840
Used price: £6,585 - £28,640 
Fuel efficiency: 54.3mpg
Road tax cost: £110 - £230
Boot space: 267-2,297 litres (809 litres in five-seater mode)

Fiat 500L MPW (13 on)

Fiat 500L MPW - Best people carriers for families

Something of a leftfield choice, the Fiat 500L MPW (Multi-Purpose Wagon) is the largest member of the 500 family and the only one capable of carrying seven passengers, despite its dinky exterior measurements.

That said, those rearmost seats are definitely for children, such is their diminutive size, but considering how much space there is in such a compact car, you can forgive that.

All the other seats are spacious and airy, build quality is good and there’s a wide range of interesting options such as an on-board coffee maker. Like the tinier 500s you can also customise the exterior with contrasting roof colours.

We’d choose the diesel 1.6-litre MultiJet in 120hp form, pairing it with range-topping Lounge specification. This brings you 16-inch alloy wheels, an electrically-opening glass roof, rear privacy glass, automatic lights and wipers and dual-zone climate control.

Star rating: 3
Pick of the range: 500L MPW 1.6 MultiJet 120hp Lounge 7-seater
New price: £19,355 - £21,855
Used price: £5,440 - £12,700 
Fuel efficiency: 67mpg
Road tax cost: £20 - £145
Boot space: 168-1,509 litres (638 litres in five-seater mode)

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Ford C-Max (2010 on)

Ford's C-Max

With a high-quality interior and excellent driving experience, the Ford C-Max is a versatile machine that’s ideal for small families.

There’s a wide range of petrol and diesel engines to choose from but the 1.6-litre diesel is cheapest to run, averaging  a claimed 61mpg and emitting a tax-friendly 119g/km of CO2.

Standard equipment evels are high – with only three trims (Zetec, Titanium and Titanium X) there’s no poverty  spec here. Zetec versions are cheaper but still feature digital radio and air-con. Some may be fitted with the optional family pack which includes a powered tailgate and rear blinds.

Boot space is larger than the Focus and with the rear seat backs down it’ll easily cope with a trip to the DIY store. Smart buy is the 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol in Zetec trim. The larger seven-seat Grand C-Max ideal if you’re the Swiss Family Robinson.

Star rating: 4.5
Pick of the range: 1.6-litre EcoBoost petrol in Zetec trim
New price: £19,595 - £28,095
Used price: £4,445 - £18,185
Fuel efficiency: 42 - 74 mpg
Road tax cost: £0 - £185
Boot space: 432-1,723 litres

To see used car deals for the Ford C-Max, click here.

Ford B-Max (2012 on)

Ford's B-Max

The B-Max is a bit of a star. It’s compact as far as people carriers go and it features clever rear sliding doors. Their design means there’s no pillar between the front and rear doors, creating a huge 1.5-metre opening to improve access for passengers and loading cargo.

Its small dimensions make it great around town and it should prove cheap to run, too. The 1.6-litre TDCi diesel emits 104g/km CO2, making it cheap to tax and averages a claimed 70mpg (though you may struggle to match that figure in everyday driving).

Petrol fans might wish to consider the clever 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine, which in top spec averages a claimed 57mpg (though we’ve seen much lower  figures on test) and emits 114g/km. Bear in mind that the B-Max’s boot isn’t huge if you’ll regularly carry two or more passengers’ luggage.

Parkers star rating: 4
New price: £15,345 - £20,475
Used price: £4,325 - £13,570 
Fuel efficiency: 44 - 74 mpg
Road tax cost: £0 - £145
Boot space: 318-1,386 litres

To see used car deals for the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, click here.

Vauxhall Zafira (2005-2014)

Vauxhall's Zafira

The original Zafira revolutionised MPVs with clever seating and family-friendly features. The current model retains these strengths but adds improved build quality.

It seats seven, though the middle bench needs to be slide forward to access the rear seats. Rear seats fold flat and some models feature overhead storage bins.

The 115bhp 1.6-litre petrol best compromise between pace and costs, plus Exclusiv delivers most kit for your cash. Avoid tired interiors and seats should fold flat easily.

Star rating: 4
Pick of the range:115bhp 1.6-litre petrol Exclusiv
New price: £13,830 - £26,875
Used price: £730 - £9,400 
Fuel efficiency: 29 - 55 mpg
Road tax cost: £130 - £500
Boot space: 645 - 1,820 litres

To see used car deals for the Vauxhall Zafira, click here.

Renault Grand Scenic (2009-2014)

Renault's Grand Scenic

There is a regular five-seater Scenic, but the seven-seat Grand version offers greater practicality and better value. Large windows and a high roof mean there’s lots of space and storage.

Three second-row seats with Isofix points slide individually and remove completely if required, although they’re heavy. The two rearmost seats fold flush to create a flat, large boot space.

Driving the Grand is a pleasant experience because it has a smooth ride and a quiet cabin. Entry-level Extreme packs a lot of kit and 1.4 TCe Dynamique best all rounder.

Star rating: 4
Pick of the range: 1.4 TCe Dynamique
New price: £22,360 - £25,285
Used price: £2,300 - £15,735 
Fuel efficiency: 34 - 68 mpg
Road tax cost: £20 - £270
Boot space: 208 litres

To see used car deals for the Renault Grand Scenic, click here.

Toyota Verso (2009 on)

The Toyota Verso

If reliability’s what you’re after, you could do worse than the well-built Toyota Verso. It has an excellent reputation for durability.

Seven seats are standard and the rear five can be individually folded down for plenty of passenger and cargo combinations.

On the negative front, its bland cabin is populated by some slightly flimsy materials and it’s not inspiring to drive.

We’d avoid the base T2 spec and auto boxes in favour of the TR model. Latest 2013 Verso interior is better quality.

Star rating: 3.5
New price: £19,175 - £26,895
Used price: £3,145 - £20,475 
Fuel efficiency: 39 - 62 mpg
Road tax cost: £30 - £230
Boot space: 178 - 607 litres

To see used car deals for the Toyota Verso, click here.

Vauxhall Meriva (2010 on)

Vauxhall's Meriva

Larger than the original model but  the 10-on Meriva is still a compact people carrier that’s perfect for urban driving.

It’s easy to drive, helped by light steering and excellent visibility. A big talking point is the car’s rear-hinged side doors, a genuinely useful feature which make getting into the back seats or fitting a child seat much easier. The interior’s impressive too, with an easy-to-use layout and durable materials borrowed from the  Astra and Insignia.

We’d recommend the 1.4-litre Turbo in either Exclusiv or SE trim as best for value and you get air con as standard.

Star rating: 3.5
New price: £12,380 - £23,185
Used price: £2,485 - £12,110 
Fuel efficiency: 39 - 74 mpg
Road tax cost: £0 - £210
Boot space: 397-1496 litres

To see used car deals for the Vauxhall Meriva, click here.

Citroen Berlingo Multispace (2008 on)

Citroen Berlingo Multispace

If you’re after no-frills family motoring, the Berlingo Multispace is perfect. A five-seat people carrier for buyers on a budget, it’s spacious, practical and full of family-friendly features.

The Multispace uses car underpinnings and is comfy and good to drive. It’s a utilitarian car with a functional and hard-wearing interior.

Bright seat fabrics and a large glass area brighten things up and make the cabin feel spacious. Twin front airbags are standard but side and curtain airbags or stability control aren’t on base models.

The XTR with the higher-powered 1.6-litre petrol is the pick of the range.

Star rating: 3.5
Pick of the range: XTR 1.6-litre petrol
New price: £16,190 - £20,345
Used price: £2,020 - £13,395 
Fuel efficiency: 33 - 68 mpg
Road tax cost: £20 - £270
Boot space: 100-3,000 litres

To see used car deals for the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, click here.

Nissan Note (2006-2013)

The Nissan Note

Pros: Easy to drive, Good rear passenger space, Build quality.

Cons: Noisy, No steering reach adjustment.

The Note is more hatchback than people carrier so if you’d like a roomy, practical car rather than an out-and-out MPV it makes a lot of sense. Its boxy shape means there’s lots  of room inside with plenty of rear legroom even for six- footers. The seats fold flat at the  pull of  a lever for an impressive load space and they also slide forward and back for a choice of extra legroom or more luggage space. You also get a huge glovebox and a storage box under the front passenger seat. Note was updated in 2009 to improve interior quality so is the best bet for a used buy. Pick of the range is the 1.4-litre petrol in mid-spec Acenta trim.

Star rating: 3.5
Pick of the range: 1.4 litre petrol Acenta
New price: £9,875 - £15,835
Used price: £865 - £6,950 
Fuel efficiency: 39 - 67 mpg
Road tax cost: £20 - £210
Boot space: 380-1,332  litres

To see used car deals for the Nissan Note, click here.

Top buying tips for people carriers

Don't buy diesel
Most people carriers do short trips, so don’t rack up the annual miles to claw back the extra  fuel and purchase costs included with buying a diesel. Worse still, lots of short trips can clog particulate filters and these are expensive to fix. Go for a cheaper petrol  unless you do 16,000 miles or more.

Take the kids
Take pushchairs  and child seats to check they fit, and bring along the kids. You don’t want a car where they feel car-sick when travelling. Cars with large panoramic windscreens and large  glass sunroofs can help prevent motion sickness.

Check the records
Household budgets are tight and family life is busy, so services and MoTs can be overlooked. Check services are up to date, done on schedule and by a reputable centre.

Look out for abuse
Families can abuse cars. Lift rear seats and if there’s debris from sweets and general mess, you know it’s had a hard life.

Beware sporty alloys
Top-spec models may come with large wheels so replacement tyres may be expensive. Check costs.

Go flat out
Ideally the seats will fold flat, including the front passenger seat – this can help with loading lengthy items. Even the titchy Ford B-Max can manage 2.4m long objects – helpful for DIY apparatus.

Roof damage?
Many people carriers are fitted with roof bars – check for any scuff marks from roof boxes, bike racks and cargo straps.

 

*VED car tax bands and costs correct at time of publication