If you're looking for a benchmark for vehicles in the people carrier sector then look no further than the Renault Espace. The arrival of the model in 1984 heralded a new dawn for the family vehicle. It's not an exaggeration to say the Espace created its own segment in the market, carrying seven passengers in comfort while managing to hit a top speed of 110mph. The model offered the kind of interior space that large families had never experienced before - gone were the days of being crammed into the back of saloons or estate cars like sardines. For the driver, the Espace offered an elevated ride height, excellent visibility and plenty of power. The model's sales figures spoke for themselves, with 200,000 units sold in the period to 1991.
While the choice of vehicles was somewhat limited back in the late 80s and early 90s, today's large families have no such worries. Indeed, with a huge range of MPVs on the market, along with plenty of variety in the increasingly popular SUV and crossover sectors, often the issue can be having too much choice. Of course, not all people carriers are created equal, and over the years there have been some stunning examples along with a fair few howlers thrown into the mix.
Starting off on a positive note, there are plenty of models that have made it to market over the last few decades that have picked up the torch lit by the Renault Espace in the late 80s and run with it. Innovation and refined production techniques mean the latest models have the edge when it comes to comfort, drivability and specs.
Unveiled in October 2008, the Nissan Qashqai+2 offers more space than its little brother thanks to an extended wheelbase, allowing for an additional row of seats. The model is able to carry seven people, with plenty of head and legroom for each passenger. While slightly longer than the standard Qashqai, it retains its good looks thanks to sweeping contours and an attractive yet purposeful front end, featuring large headlights and a bold grille. The extra space and seating options will be perfect for families with youngsters, or alternatively, when additional luggage space is required. A range of powerful yet efficient engines are available, and the ride is assured and smooth. Importantly, the Nissan Qashqai+2 offers a host of equipment as standard including air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and rear privacy glass.
Billed as more of a full-size people carrier compared to models such as the Nissan is the Ford Galaxy. While it might not offer the same kind of sleek looks, this people carrier delivers more space and increased practicality when carrying large groups and plenty of luggage. It is one of the most spacious seven-seaters on the market and most importantly is comfortable for long journeys and is considered to be one of the very best models of its size to drive.
Another solid option worth considering is the Volkswagen Touran. Also offering seven seats, this model is incredibly practical and a favourite with large families. Smaller than some of its competitors, the Touran is a great option for motorists looking to make occasional use of all their seats and instead focus on efficiency and drivability. Stunning exterior styling is complimented by a comfortable and refined interior complete with a host of innovative technology options. Depending on trim, features will include air conditioning, cruise control, tinted glass, hill hold assist and heated door mirrors.
Mazda 5 (middle) photo courtesy of mazda.co.uk, Mercedes-Benz Viano (right) photo courtesy of mercedes-benz.co.uk
The unfortunate truth is that not all people carriers that have made it onto the production line in recent years are vehicles that you'd want to end up with on your driveway. According to a survey carried out by Which?, the Peugeot 3008 is one of the least reliable family cars on the market, scoring 75.9 per cent in the consumer magazine's poll.
The Mazda 5 has come in for some stick as a result of how its CO2 emissions stack up against rivals, while the Mercedes-Benz Viano is said by some industry commentators to fall down in terms of running costs and maneuverability in urban environments due to its sheer size.
Ssangyong Rodius (left) photo courtesy of autoexpress.co.uk, Fiat Multipla (right) photo courtesy of unlimitedtuning.nl
While some people carriers can offer functionality and practicality by the bucketload, not all of these can stretch to supplying good looks too. There are numerous cases down through the years where it's fair to ask what the car's designers were thinking about when they came up with the final drawings.
The Ssangyong Rodius from Korea's SsangYong Motor Company is one such example. Actually designed by a Brit, the model was proclaimed by the BBC's Top Gear motoring team to be one of the worst cars of the last 20 years. The manufacturer has countered the negative reaction by insisting that the vehicle has a "strong emotional component" - take a look and decide whether you'd be proud to have one parked outside your home.
The five-door Fiat Multipla is another MPV that has come in for some stick due to its somewhat unconventional looks. Jeremy Clarkson suggested that the model appeared to have been designed by a group of people who seemingly never met. However, despite describing the looks of the Multipla as "completely bonkers", he decreed, "as a straightforward piece of logical thinking - it's a masterpiece".
With constant innovation in the automotive sector, the range of people carriers and SUV-type vehicles is constantly changing, as is the range of models available through the Carbase website. If you're intending to invest in your first MPV and aren't sure exactly what models you should be considering, or if you're a committed fan looking to upgrade to a more recent model, come and talk to one of our friendly and experienced sales staff.