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How to choose between a people carrier and an SUV

Our handy guide to choosing the right large vehicle.

People carriers vs SUVs

People carriers vs SUVs

Since the 1980s, people carriers have been family bestsellers. With all the space and practicality anyone could ask for, they had the market cornered. Then came the dawn of the SUV. With their sporty good looks and off-roading ability, they offer a more stylish practicality. But before you commit to buying, it’s important to look beneath the surface and work out what you really need from a car.

The case for the people carrier

When they launched, people carriers provided a spacious alternative to the boxy mundanity of an estate car. With their greater size, they offered more practicality for storage and better comfort for passengers. But still, in some ways buying a people carrier was seen as an admission of defeat. You were no longer buying a car for its great engine, premium badge or stylish body, but because you needed something practical to transport all the people who expect lifts from you.

Thankfully, such unenlightened views have been cast into the scrapyard of history and today’s MPVs are far less utilitarian than their predecessors. Beneath the new dynamic bodies, you still have the same practicality, decent fuel economy and sliding doors meaning loading the little ones is never a problem. The big attraction of a people carrier has always been the ability to comfortably carry up to seven people. This remains one of the big selling points and if it comes to a choice between a people carrier and a second car, the people carrier always makes more financial sense.

Our pick of people carriers

SEAT Alhambra The Alhambra shares a number of components with the Volkswagen Sharan but just edges its stablemate on style. You get a comfortable, spacious vehicle with a hardwearing cabin perfect for family life. There’s a selection of efficient petrol and diesel engines available, each with enough grunt to move seven people.

Ford Galaxy No matter where you sit in the Galaxy, you’ll enjoy some spacious surroundings. The back row comfortably seats two adults and still has 300 litres of boot space. Fold all the seats down and you’ll have a cavernous 2339 litres. You’ll also get 17-inch alloy wheels, parking sensors, climate control and an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

Citroën SpaceTourer While the C4 Grand Picasso is Citroën’s go-to MPV, the SpaceTourer offers the ultimate spacious alternative. While it’s often used as a taxi, if you need a car with nine seats, there’s really no better option. What it lacks in style, it makes up for in space, and there’s plenty of fine equipment available too with cruise control hill start assist, parking sensors and remote central locking.

The case for the SUV

There’s no getting away from it, SUVs are just a little bit cooler. While the people carrier has a certain grounded charm, SUVs just exude more presence, giving the impression that they rule the road. That’s not to say that an SUV is all style and no substance. SUVs are solid, spacious, well-equipped vehicles and it’s easy to see why they’ve enjoyed such a meteoric rise.

Many SUVs come with four-wheel drive as standard. This is a big selling point if you’re driving in rural areas but most people don’t generally have to do the school run over tough terrain. The higher ride height also makes them appealing, providing a better view, perfect for navigating the city. While they may not offer quite the same efficient fuel economy as a people carrier, SUVs are likely to offer a bit more power, as well as the ability to take you the places other cars can’t.

Our pick of SUVs

Kia Sorento The Kia Sorento offers the full package with seven seats, four-wheel drive and plenty of great equipment including alloy wheels, roof rails and power door mirrors. It also has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating with a number of useful safety features including six airbags, electronic stability control and vehicle stability control.

Peugeot 3008 It may not be the most spacious SUV on the market but the distinctive-looking Peugeot 3008 offers relatively cheap running costs and a wide range of great kit. As standard, you’ll enjoy DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, rear parking sensors and emergency automatic city braking.

BMW X3 If you’re looking for a quality interior combined with the ability to go off-road then look no further than the BMW X3. There are a selection of 2.0 and 3.0-litre diesel engines available which offer a surprisingly efficient drive. This SUV comes with high specifications including 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, touchscreen infotainment system, parking sensors and hill-descent control.

What’s the verdict?

Controversially, it all comes down to your personal requirements. In some ways, the lines have started to blur on these segments with each adding the best elements from the other to offer people the features expected for comfortable 21st century driving. With so many choices out there, it’s worth taking some time to consider your options, take a test drive, find out more about the features and discover the car that best suits your lifestyle.

About the Author

Andrew Moir

Staff writer at Arnold Clark.