Ford Galaxy

What is an MPV?

If you need a car that can carry a lot of people, you may consider getting an MPV. But what exactly is an MPV? Here’s everything you need to know.

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By Cazoo editorial team

You’ve probably heard certain cars being referred to as ‘MPVs’ but what does the term mean? Whether you need five seats, nine, or something in between, a great-value used MPV could be a great option if you want maximum practicality for your money. Read on to find out more about the pros and cons of MPVs and whether you should consider buying one.

What does ‘MPV’ mean?

MPV stands for Multi-Purpose Vehicle. MPVs are sometimes called ‘people carriers’, too, which is perhaps a more accurate name. They have tall, box-like bodies designed to create as much interior space as possible and often have more seats than a comparable hatchback or saloon. Most allow you to fold or remove the back seats in various ways to prioritise passenger space, load space or a mix of the two.

MPVs come in a wide range of sizes. Smaller ones like the Renault Scenic are relatively compact, at about the same size as a Ford Focus. The biggest ones, like the Mercedes V-Class, are enormous, as much as 17 feet long and more than six feet tall.

Renault Scenic

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How many seats are in an MPV?

All MPVs have at least five seats. The biggest have as many as nine, which is the maximum a car can have before the driver needs a commercial vehicle licence.

Five-seat MPVs such as the Ford C-Max have two rows, with two seats in the front and three in the back.

MPVs with more than five seats have three rows. A seven-seat MPV has a 2-3-2 layout. An eight-seat MPV has a 2-3-3 layout. A nine-seat MPV has a 3-3-3 layout. There are a few six-seat MPVs with a 2-2-2 layout, as well.

Ford Galaxy

How practical is an MPV?

An MPV is usually more practical than a hatchback or saloon because it has a taller, more square-sided body that gives you extra interior space and makes it easier to get people and loads in and out.

The best used MPVs make great family cars. Even small MPVs such as the Ford C-MAX have more passenger space than a conventional car of similar size. And because MPVs are built with families in mind, they often have features that are designed especially for kids (and parents). These can include flip-out tables to help keep children occupied, underfloor storage for toys and kit and, crucially, the ability to fit three Isofix child seats in the second row.

MPV seats are also often positioned quite high off the ground. That can make access easier for people with mobility issues and it also means less bending down to put children in child seats. Some MPVs have sliding side doors that make getting in and out even easier, especially in tight parking spaces.

Citroen Berlingo

How big is an MPV’s boot?

It’s not just people that MPVs are good at carrying – these are multi-purpose vehicles, after all. Their tall, square shape means they also have unusually large boots.

The size of an MPV’s boot depends on whether you’ve got all the seats in place, of course. Five-seat MPVs always have a huge boot but many MPVs with more than five seats have a fairly small boot once the third row of seats is in place. Once these are folded, however, you get a huge load space.

Most MPVs have ‘individual’ seats in rows two and three that can be folded down out of the way, separately or in blocks, to create more load space. In some cases, these seats can be removed entirely, freeing up even more space.

Because an MPV is tall and wide, you can usually pack in more stuff  than would fit into an estate or SUV of similar size. Some MPVs are as spacious as a van when all of their back seats are removed or folded and some are even sold as vans – minus the back windows and various other features.

Volkswagen Touran

Is an MPV a car or a van?

The Citroen Berlingo is one of several MPVs that’s available either as an MPV or as a van. The difference is that the Berlingo MPV has back windows and seats, while the Berlingo van has all-metal sides from the front doors backwards and a huge load area inside.

‘Van-based’ MPVs tend to have slightly wider, taller bodies, and more passenger and load space. So if outright space is your priority, a van-based MPV will serve you better than another type of car. All van-based MPVs also have sliding back doors, making it easier to reach the back seats. Of the MPVs that aren’t based on vans, only the Ford Grand C-MAX, Seat Alhambra and Volkswagen Sharan have sliding back doors.

Van-based MPVs have huge windows that let lots of light in and give everyone a great view out. They’re often as good to drive as any other type of car and are usually very good value. One thing to keep in mind: The biggest nine-seater models – such as the Ford Tourneo Custom – are enormous, bigger even than the biggest SUVs. So you have to think carefully about driving down narrow roads and where you park.

Citroen Berlingo

What’s the difference between an MPV and an SUV?

There’s a bit of crossover between MPVs and SUVs in that some SUVs, like the Land Rover Discovery, have seven seats and very large load spaces. The difference, though, is that SUVs are designed to be capable of driving off-road, over rough terrain. So they have a lot of ground clearance and many have four-wheel drive.

MPVs are often just as tall as SUVs, but they have less ground clearance. Only a few MPVs are available with four-wheel drive and that’s to boost security on slippery roads and to improve towing ability, rather than to increase their off-road capability.

BMW 2 Series Gran Tourer

Are there any drawbacks to an MPV?

MPVs cost more to buy than many hatchback or saloon cars of similar size and the sheer scale of the biggest models can be an issue when driving down narrow roads or trying to park. But those are small prices to pay if you value practicality above all else, in which case MPVs can’t be beaten.

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