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Which is better: a 7-seater car, an SUV or an MPV?

Find out whether a seven-seater, an SUV or an MPV would be better suited for your needs, and browse some of our top-picks for used SUVs and MPVs

A family sitting in a 7-seater car

What’s the best way to carry seven people in a car? It’s not a trick question. We’ve got some thoughts for car buyers who need that big, practical vehicle.

There used to be just one way of carrying seven people in a car: a people carrier, A.K.A an MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle). There are many more options on the market today, however, including large SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles) and even van-based passenger carriers.

But which one’s right for you?

What is an MPV?

Until recently, multi-purpose vehicles had traditionally been the choice for families with three or more children. They’ve also proved popular with anyone who has to regularly ferry kids around

The appeal has always been seven seats. The usual layout for these is to have two seats up front (driver and passenger), a bench of three seats behind, with two more (which can usually fold flat) at the back. The seats at the very back often don’t have a huge amount of legroom but are ideal for children.

However, some buyers didn’t find these cars particularly sexy.

Car manufacturers responded by paying more attention to the design of these seven-seater cars, and the likes of the Ford S-Max demonstrated that an MPV could actually look cool. Now, there are quite a few stunners on the block, such as the Citroën Grand C4 Space Tourer and Toyota Verso.

However, people carriers have become less popular over recent years due to the rise of seven-seater SUVs and all-electric seven-seater cars.

The rise of the SUV 

SUVs are now hugely popular among car buyers, especially as they are available in all sizes, from compact to large – with the large ones often having seven seats. This means that if you want seven seats, you don't have to buy a ‘boring’ people carrier: you can have a rugged, tough-looking SUV instead.

The best seven-seater SUVs

There are now numerous seven-seater SUVs, from the Volvo XC90, Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport, Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLS at the more expensive, premium end of the market, to the more affordable Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Škoda Kodiaq and Seat Tarraco.

It’s worth knowing that the term 4x4 is often used for an SUV, but they’re not necessarily the same thing.  

What is a 4x4?

A 4x4 is a car that is fitted with four-wheel drive, all of which can pull the car forward if one or more than them can’t grip the surface beneath because, say, it’s muddy or icy. Traditionally, these cars have been SUVs, but now many cars are fitted with all-wheel-drive systems.

Many car companies are even making all-electric 4x4s to appeal to a wider audience and to help get the power down from the really powerful electric motors.

A shot of a large Ford transit car driving forwards

Eight-seater cars

The drawback with both seven-seater SUVs and people carriers is that when all seven seats are being used, there’s not much space in the boot for carrying luggage, kitbags, Labradors, or whatever else you transport in your boot. 

If you need at least seven seats and luggage space, consider an eight-seater car. 

There are a number of these on the market that are even more practical than a people carrier. Not only do they have more space for luggage, but they can also carry eight older children or even adults in comfort. 

Many of them have different length options, different seating combinations (up to nine seats) and different trims, offering everything from basic equipment to a more executive-style level.

These vehicles are all based on vans, so they can’t be beaten for practicality.

The likes of the Ford Tourneo Custom (based on the Transit), Vauxhall Vivaro Combi, and Hyundai i800 are all worth a look if you're after a functional eight-seater. 

If you have a bit more to spend, a used Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle and Mercedes-Benz Vito Tourer (or the more luxurious Volkswagen Caravelle or Mercedes-Benz V-Class) add more premium touches.

Which is better – the MPV or the SUV?

The best car is the one that works best for you, so consider what you need to make everyday travel as smooth as possible.

Both MPVs and SUVs can offer a good amount of space, but you'll often find that an MPV will be roomier. These types of car favour function and practicality over style and sportiness, but can usually fit an impressive amount of luggage on board – even with a full load of passengers.

SUVs are the sportier option for motorists who want something really stylish. They won't be as spacious as your classic MPV, but they are better for tackling tough terrain and might even take you off-road if needed.

Benefits of MPVs

  • Spacious – MPVs pack a lot of space that's ideal for fitting passengers and anything else you might want to fit in your car.

  • Can be cheaper – since MPVs favour a no-nonsense approach, they can be cheaper to purchase.

Things to consider about MPVs

  • Not as flashy – your MPV won't have style at the front of its priorities, as functionality will be the main focus.

  • Harder to manoeuvre – due to their large size, MPVs might take some getting used to on the roads. You might find them harder to drive at first, but most people adjust quickly.

Benefits of SUVs

  • Sporty and stylish – your SUV is sure to be on-trend, as these are models that really consider a sporty feel to go alongside all of that space.

  • Off-road capabilities – you'll find that an SUV will do better off-road than an MPV, and some models even have added features to help with this.

Things to consider about SUVs

  • Not as spacious – MPVs are often the most spacious option between the pair, so you might want to opt for the classic people carrier if you need lots of space.

  • Not as fuel efficient – SUVs can be less fuel-efficient than MPVs, as the latter usually have smaller engines.

How to choose the best large car for you

If you want to make the right choice for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many people will I carry?

  • Will I need seven or eight seats frequently?

  • Am I going to be carrying young children, older teens or adults?

  • If it’s young children, will I need to upgrade to something bigger soon?

  • Will I need luggage space as well as seven/eight seats?

  • Do I need to drive on slippery roads, or in icy conditions, often? 

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