Remember the good old days when making a bold statement about your commitment to family motoring meant choosing an estate car instead of a saloon?

The ubiquitous hatchback was still largely the preserve of continental types and if you really needed to carry six passengers, it was simply a matter of sticking the big kids in the rear seats and the smallest sprogs in the boot.

Today, the situation is different, not to mention somewhat safer. Seven seats are available in everything from a compact hatchback to a selection of all-terrain vehicles. If you’re in the market for space with style, what’s it to be?

At the moment, the main face-off concerns people-carriers and off-roaders. Put another way, it’s Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) versus Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV). Both have several features in their favour and a few against.

Sporting chance

SUVs like the Land Rover Discovery or Jeep Grand Cherokee are often crudely caricatured as ‘gas guzzlers’ but in fact many of perform sterling service as family vehicles.

Manufacturers of 4x4s were quick to realise that while MPVs like the Renault Scenic, Citroen Picasso and Kia Sedona had created a major new market segment in the 1990s, many of their innovations could readily be transferred onto their own similarly sized products.

The extra seating and clever folding systems were a challenge, but items such as drinks holders, tray tables, entertainment systems and rear seat air conditioning are hardly beyond the wit of modern design studios.

Stalled development

Meanwhile, MPVs - also known as minivans or people carriers - are becoming relatively static and predictable in their development. After a decade and a half of relentless innovation, advances are now more incremental.

Each new model offers little more space, an extra airbag or two, a slight increase in structural rigidity and seats that fold a bit quicker and a bit flatter than before.


It seems the class of vehicle currently getting all the attention and most of the creativity from car manufacturers is the crossover. Crossovers combine some of the ruggedness of the SUV with the comfort and sleeker design of the MPV.

It’s a matter of debate where the crossover began but Nissan’s original Qashqai is a contender; combining the ride height and driving position of an SUV with coupe-like design and hatchback versatility.

The crossover has gained much ground in recent years as individual models have sought to blend the elements that buyers most want in their cars.

Following the Qashqai, the Skoda Yeti brought elements of the 4x4 to an upright hatchback shape but with estate car versatility.

More recently the Nissan Juke combined supermini size with SUV ride height and seating position.