We should abandon SUVs and return to people carriers – here are six of the best

Multi-Purpose Vehicles have enjoyed a post-pandemic renaissance. Pictured: The Ford Tourneo Connect
Multi-Purpose Vehicles have enjoyed a post-pandemic renaissance. Pictured: The Ford Tourneo Connect

The clamour to control the inexorable rise of large 4x4s will only increase with the news that a one-year-old girl died after being hit by Land Rover in a church car park in Aberdeenshire. But what is the alternative? The less glamorous, but far more practical, people carrier or MPV.

Most millennials will remember these vehicles when sales were at their height 30 years or so ago. Growing up in the Nineties meant spending quite a lot of time in the back of one, or at least a similar “people carrier” – the Renault Espace, Volkswagen Sharan, Ford Galaxy and Chrysler Voyager were favoured middle-class mum-mobiles on the run-up to the turn of the century.

And then Volvo changed everything. Land Rover had been building the Discovery for a decade, but it didn’t capture the school run’s imagination as much as the XC90 from Sweden. This muscular, upmarket SUV was the must-have car for affluent, safety-conscious parents – after all, who wouldn’t want to cocoon their children in a huge, heavy 4x4 with a five-star safety rating?

It’s now 20 years since the XC90 appeared and look what’s happened since. With a handful of exceptions, every manufacturer followed Volvo into the segment, prioritising these wildly profitable but dynamically compromised products over smaller, cheaper and more price-conscious hatchbacks. Volvo, once famous for its estate cars, stopped selling them altogether in the UK, choosing instead to focus on the ubiquitous sports utility vehicle or SUV. Britain’s streets teem with these large, bloated trucks.

That’s true even in cities, where an SUV’s off-road capabilities (or pretensions) provide little practical benefit and where their sheer heft compromises overcrowded car parks and narrow streets. The higher fuel consumption of these heavier, less-aerodynamic vehicles also has a negative impact, even as we pivot towards an electric future; manufacturers are struggling to keep family cars light, especially if they have to add batteries, with some relatively mainstream models now weighing two tonnes. A number of high-profile accidents involving SUVs have prompted questions about whether such hefty, powerful vehicles should be normalised in civilian life.

SUVs are still wildly popular, with new models being launched every month. But there’s growing unease around their ongoing role in family motoring, and something of a taboo surrounding their use in cities.

MPVs over SUVs

But there’s an antidote to all of this. Multi-Purpose Vehicles, or MPVs – also known as people carriers – are still around, and despite being neglected by their manufacturers (or, like the Espace, reinvented as SUVs) have enjoyed something of a renaissance post-pandemic.

They have a great deal of advantages over SUVs – they’re often roomier on the inside, they tend to be more efficient, they’re usually much better to drive and, crucially, your neighbours won’t be annoyed with you taking up two parking spaces. In almost every measurable way, the MPV is superior to the SUV; it’s only ride height and styling that make SUVs more attractive.

Take the Ford Tourneo Connect, for example. It’s one of my favourite cars, with a huge, versatile interior that can accommodate an astonishing amount of cargo. Its five-star Euro NCAP rating includes an 84 per cent adult occupant score and an 82 per cent child occupant score, while its lower centre of gravity and good all-round visibility make it feel safer, too. Its seating arrangement is far more flexible than the often slightly compromised format of an SUV, and while it’s not the swishest thing on four wheels, at least no one will take umbrage and let your tyres down at night.

The MPVs to buy

But the Tourneo Connect is just an example. It’s a real buyer’s market for MPVs at the moment, with prices starting at £20,000 and even the best models only costing a little more. The Ford costs £31,000, so about the same as a Nissan Qashqai family SUV but with considerably more versatility – and none of the social stigma.

And while design-led and highly desirable models like the Volkswagen ID. Buzz cost closer to £60,000, that’s still on par with high-end SUVs like the Volvo XC90. SUVs have their benefits, but they also have considerable downsides – and there’s never been a better time to buy a people carrier.

Vauxhall Combo Life, £21,000

Vauxhall Combo Life
The Vauxhall Combo Life is the perfect vehicle for local trips - Vauxhall

The Zafira was a fairly popular car for around two decades, and you still find plenty of them out and about. But sort-of replacing it is the Combo Life, a versatile van-based people mover with up to seven seats that shares its underpinnings with the Peugeot Rifter MPV and the Citroen Berlingo. You can get it as a battery-electric car for another £5,000. While the range isn’t amazing, it’s still an affordable way into family EV ownership for anyone doing mostly local miles.

Volkswagen Multivan, £48,000

Volkswagen Multivan
German cabbies have taken a liking to the Volkswagen Multivan - Uli Sonntag

It’s not cheap, but what it lacks in outright affordability it makes up for in all-round versatility. If you’ve taken an airport shuttle in Germany recently you’ve probably been exposed to this van-based car, which is favoured among European cabbies for its practicality and money-saving plug-in hybrid option. If you want to use it as a van, you can; simply remove the seats entirely to open up a cavernous load space.

Ford Tourneo Connect, £31,000

Ford Tourneo Connect
The Ford Tourneo Connect is just as practical as the Volkswagen Caddy - Ford

Available as both a five- and seven-seater, and with the option of a long-wheelbase version for those who need the extra space, the Ford Grand Tourneo Connect is one of the most practical all-rounders you can buy at the moment. What it lacks in aggressive styling and dominant road presence, it more than makes up for with a class-leading balance of size and practicality – shared only by its close mechanical relative, the Volkswagen Caddy.

Volkswagen ID. Buzz, £59,000

Volkswagen ID. Buzz
The Volkswagen ID. Buzz looks like a futuristic version of the minibus - Volkswagen

Leaning heavily on the old VW microbus – and presumably popular among the now rather affluent generation of former hippies – the ID Buzz is an all-electric MPV with smart, retro-futuristic styling. It’s quiet and pleasant to drive, and while it’s mechanically pretty similar to every other electric Volkswagen on the road, it does feel a bit different. You can’t have a seven-seater, which rather detracts from its otherwise excellent practicality, and the infotainment system is horrid. But if you want a standout family vehicle that nobody will hate you for, the ID Buzz is difficult to beat.

Citroen Berlingo, £23,000

Citroen Berlingo
The Citroen Berlingo is a more practical version of the showier SUV - William Crozes

Formerly one of the least cool vehicles you could buy, the Berlingo remains practicality-focused rather than conventionally desirable – albeit with a little more attention paid to styling compared with the original. Available as a bargain fossil-fuel seven-seater or a surprisingly affordable EV, the Berlingo squarely meets the needs of the pragmatic family buyer without the pomp of a more ostentatious SUV.

Dacia Jogger, £17,500

Dacia Jogger
The Dacia Jogger gives you good bang for your buck - Luc Lacey

Offering probably the most car per pound anywhere on the market, the Jogger is astonishingly cheap – cheaper than a Volkswagen Polo small hatchback. You can have it with seven seats, too, making it the most cost-effective machine for large families. And while the lowest-priced version is a no-frills affair, without a sat nav or infotainment screen, that might be quite appealing for thrifty motorists who don’t need a TV screen on their dashboard.