A good friend of mine, Carol, has recently rediscovered the joy of driving by purchasing a Fiat Panda. To say she’s besotted with it would be putting it mildly. Given the chance, I think Carol would have the Panda parked up in her living room and treated to a warm drink before bed. Clearly buoyed by her new found love of cars, Carol has taken to helping her friends out with all matters of an automotive nature. So last week, I received an email from Carol looking for some advice for her friend, Sarah. Here’s the brief I received.
“Because her Renault Grand Espace has just died, Sarah is in need of a new vehicle. She has one husband, four children, one buggy, one set of tack for a large horse, one small trike, one bag full of everything necessary and unnecessary, plus the obligatory kitchen sink. She needs seven proper forward facing seats, a big boot, a diesel engine, manual gearbox and it must cost less than £5,000″.
Right. My first reaction was that it looked very much like a brief for a people carrier. As I’ve said before, I’m not the world’s biggest MPV fan, so asking me for advice on this subject is rather like asking me for my thoughts on Julia Bieber. Or whatever her name is.
It would also mean researching the MPV market, which is about as appealing as having pins stuck in my eyes whilst having my toe nails wrenched off with rusty pliers. Not to mention the fact that I’d end up with a dirty history on my internet browser. Remind me to clear my cache after finishing this.
But hey, Carol’s a good friend and when a friend asks for help, you do the right thing. So I’ve drawn up a list of ten potential vehicles for Sarah, each one well equipped to suit her needs. I just may have got a little distracted in the process. There’s only so much you can take when looking at Zafiras, Sharans and Scenics.
Nissan Elgrand E50
The E50 was produced between 1997 and 2002 and although never officially imported into the UK, there are around 850 of all variations of the Elgrand on these shores. There’s also quite a following for the big 8-seater Nissan, but when you see the levels of spec, you begin to see why. Cruise control, twin electric sunroofs, reversing camera, electric curtains, split front and rear climate control, DVD player and sliding doors are just some of the toys you can expect. There’s also a convenient folding table between the two front seats.
Available in two or four-wheel drive with a choice of petrol or diesel engines, the Elgrand E50 can be yours for as little as £2,000. But double that and you’ll be able to choose between a number of top spec, well looked after models.
I’m not usually a fan of Japanese imported MPVs, but there’s something mildly tempting about the Elgrand E50. Not that I’d admit to liking a people carrier on an open forum such as this. That would be silly.
Vauxhall Zafira GSi
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Zafira GSi. Perhaps it’s the fact that it comes with the same 2.0 litre 16v turbocharged engine that you’ll find in the VX220 Turbo? Or maybe it’s the 187bhp that will propel the 7-seater to 60mph in less than eight seconds? Or the 17″ alloy wheels and retro-style Recaro seats? It certainly isn’t the fact that it has the clever Vauxhall Flex7 seating arrangement, but that will prove useful to Sarah.
When you think about it, the basic premise of the Zafira GSi is a tad flawed. When it comes to a people carrier, it’s factors such as safety, convenience, comfort and practicality that are the most important selling points. But here’s a car that encourages daddy to drive like a hooligan on his favourite B-road. Maybe Vauxhall offered aircraft-style sick bags in the back of the front seats?
A decade ago, ‘Daddy Cool’ (remember the TV ad?) would have paid nearly £20k for his hot hatch taming MPV. Today, they’re available for less than £4k. Sure, it’s too heavy and tall for it to be a genuine B-road toy, but if you must have a Zafira, it has to be the model of choice?
Truth is, this could be one of any number of MPVs, it’s just that the Touran sprung immediately to mind. Sarah will want the first generation of the Golf-based MPV, produced between 2003 and 2006. Choose between the 1.9 or 2.0 TDi engines, producing 99 and 138bhp respectively. A 6-speed gearbox will ensure good economy and a long legged nature on long trips. Pay between £2k and £4k for a nine year old car. Yawn.
Land Rover Defender/110
I have direct and recent experience of the Land Rover 110 and can vouch for its versatility and practicality as a family vehicle. You don’t so much own a Land Rover, rather you invite one into your family. They become central to family life in the way that a golden retriever may do.
Sarah’s £5k budget should be enough for a late ’80s or ’90s 110 with the desirable 12-seat option. Three in the front, three in the middle and the two bench seats in the back. Even when carrying as many as eight people, there’s still ample room for pets, accessories and things required for family living. My choice would be a 200 or 300 TDi, although our V8 with LPG conversion presented an interesting alternative.
Be patient and you’ll find a decent and well looked after example. The chassis and engine are the two big things to be concerned with, everything else can be fixed, beaten out or just left. The only thing is, you’ll have to get used to acknowledging other Land Rover owners on the road. It’s quite a community.
Citroën CX Familiale
Do you feel lucky? Well do you? If so, then how about taking the plunge on a wonderful Citroën CX Familiale? With two seats in the front, three seats in the middle and a rear bench seat that can comfortably sit three people, it’s every bit the retro MPV alternative.
The legendary hydropneumatic suspension isn’t as fragile as you may think and if properly maintained, is relatively trouble-free. Parts are in good supply and there are a number of specialists up and down the country who will lovingly look after your CX. Buy one from an enthusiast and check the car’s history. Just inspect the car thoroughly for rust as this is one of the main reasons why there are only 27 left on the road today.
Strange as it may seem, I’d rather have a CX than a DS. Prices are well below those of its more illustrious cousin and I predict they will rise dramatically in the future. What could possibly go wrong?
Daihatsu Hijet MPV
Hang on, before you skip to the next car, hear me out on this. Who needs a diesel when you can have a tax, insurance and fuel efficient 993cc Daihatsu Hijet. With the rare 6 or 7-seat option, the tiny Hijet makes for an interesting fun size alternative to the mainstream.
For sure, it’s more Mini Purpose Vehicle than Multipurpose Vehicle but an ability to deliver up to 60mpg from a ‘car’ that only costs £20 to fill the tank is highly tempting.
Or maybe this is more PetrolBlog logic at work? Best move on…
Even when all six seats are occupied, there’s still room for Sarah’s tack and kitchen sink. The looks are probably best described as ‘challenging’, although I personally love them. The Multipla sticks two fingers up at the rest of the dull and uninspiring MPVs and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Let’s not forget that early cars came with a sticker on the back that simply said “wait until you see the front”. Marvellous.
The interior layout is brilliant and the dash-mounted gear lever makes driving easy and effortless. The 1.9 JTD diesel engine is probably the pick of the bunch and if properly maintained, is usually trouble free. Just look out for electrical gremlins and some pieces of interior trim that may not have stood up too well to a decade of family abuse.
But the best thing about the Multipla is the price. Pay between £1,000 and £2,000 for a good ten year old car. You can even pay less than this. But increase the budget to around £3,000 and you’ll get yourself a lovely late pre-facelift Eleganza model. Just avoid the facelift model. Fiat took all the best bits of the exterior and chucked them away. Shame.
Peugeot 504 Family
When I was growing up, the school car park didn’t contain many interesting cars. I know this because I can’t remember any of them. Except one – a very large and very beige Peugeot 504 Family. It was owned by Mrs Peacock who was clearly an inspired thinker when it came to choosing cars. Sadly the same couldn’t be said of her choice of names for her children. I’m sure her son, Chris, would join me in this observation.
With a diesel engine that could probably outlive the entire human race, the 504 Family may not be the obscure choice it first seems. And like the Citroën mentioned above, you needn’t worry about nasty things such as depreciation. But be quick, according to How Many Left? there are only six left on the road and only two of these have a manual transmission. I wonder if one of these belonged to Chris Peacock’s Mum?
Mercedes ML270 CDi
With the Family Pack, the Mercedes M-Class is converted into a genuine 7-seater. Add the Lux Pack and you’ll be treated to such niceties as wood trim, heated leather and memory seats. The pick of the engines is by far the 2.7 litre CDi turbodiesel which will certainly suit Sarah, plus the 4WD will ensure feeding the horses is achievable in even the harshest of conditions. The diesel unit will deliver fuel economy figures between 25 and 30mpg, making it a more sensible buy than the petrol-engined models.
Manual ML270s are few and far between, so unless you’re prepared to be patient, you may be better off with the auto. Admittedly, the ML270 doesn’t stem from the best period for Mercedes and the ML does suffer from reliability and quality issues. But choose wisely and you’ve got a premium German car that’s great off road and will seat seven adults in comfort. Just avoid the cars with hideous aftermarket styling kits.
By rights, a vehicle designed by Michelotti with a rear-mounted 8.3 litre straight-six engine should have gained legendary status. After all, Giovanni Michelotti gave us the likes of the Triumph Herald, Dolomite and Stag.
But this isn’t a car, it’s a bus – the much maligned Leyland National. I’m sure if you conducted a survey to find the nation’s favourite bus, it would be the Routemaster that would come out on top. Or perhaps the AEC Regent III RT, more commonly referred to as “that bus what Cliff Richard drove on Summer Holiday”. But as much I like the iconic London buses, it’s the Leyland National for me. An unlikely choice I know, but PetrolBlog logic stretches much further than the subject of cars.
I’m not sure what it is about the National, but I’ve always loved them. The noise of the Leyland 510 diesel engines was unmistakable, as were the plumes of smoke that would invariably be pouring out of the back. I also loved the distinctive roof-mounted ‘pod’ on the back that was there to feed hot air into the bus.
One day I’d like to own one, but in the meantime, I think a Leyland National would suit Sarah just fine. The 52 seats will certainly be enough for her family. Heck, there’s probably enough room for the horses too. Job done.
So there we have it, PetrolBlog’s choice of 7-seaters for Sarah. Who would have thought that searching for MPVs could be so much fun? I must do it more often.
Dammit, I may have missed the point a little. In which case, I’d politely suggest that the previous generation SEAT Alhambra would probably be the sensible choice for Sarah. It’s essentially a rebadged VW Sharan, so you’d be getting Volkswagen quality for a lot less money. Interior space is great and there are lots of useful pockets, storage holders and toys to keep your family happy. There are lots of them about, parts are plentiful and there’s an extensive network of specialists who will take care of your Alhambra for a great deal less than a main dealer.
Blimey, I seem to have come over all sensible. I need to go and have a lie down. Oh wait, I’ve just noticed that prices of the Ford S-Max are tantalisingly close to Sarah’s budget. This MPV game is more interesting than I thought…