If being able to carry people and/or cargo in your vehicle is critical, your two main options are the multi-purposes vehicle (MPV) or the sports utility vehicle (SUV) - unless you plan to open a bus company or a haulage firm!

Each vehicle type has pros and cons - including off-road ability, capacity, styling, features - and price. It's important to evaluate these before making a final purchase decision.


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

What is an MPV

MPVs maintain a focus on practicality over style/sportiness, with more space for people and luggage.

MPVs tend to offer less power and performance than SUVs.


What is an SUV?

SUVs tend to have less space, but are more powerful and can handle rough terrain better.

SUVs tend to cost more than MPVs.


People carrying: MPV or SUV?

For smaller families - say, two adults and two children - both MPVs and three-row SUVs offer enough capacity. For larger families, MPVs tend to have more space.

With an MPV you’ll also get more headroom and more efficient use of space compared to an SUV.

Both vehicles have a similar footprint.

The newest models in each category will feature the latest tech - although entry-level models may offer minimal features.


MPV vs SUV: Hybrid or electric?

As you might expect, neither van-style vehicles nor SUVs have been left out of the hybrid/electric revolutions.

These powertrains offer superb fuel economy/running costs - and will reduce how often you refuel/recharge on longer journeys.

However, the initial cost of an electric vehicle may be significantly higher than a petrol-driven option. This is because they are produced in smaller numbers and use more expensive technology.

Naturally, there could be limitations regarding the number of available charge points for EVs - something to consider. Installing a homecharger is an option, but bear in mind that the government’s £350 home charger grant scheme ends in April 2022. The full cost starts at around £800.


Off road: MPV vs SUV

When it comes to off-road ability, the SUV reigns supreme. Most SUVs offer four wheel drive powertrains, which makes them easy to drive over rough terrain and handle slippery or muddy surfaces.

MPVs by contrast tend to be front-wheel-drive, which makes them more likely to get stuck on difficult terrain. But unless you live on a farm or another very rural location, this shortcoming may not be an issue.

In truth, most UK drivers never need to go off road - and rarely get the chance to.

However, for those who have to deal with rough terrain regularly - or who simply want the potential power to be able to do so - the SUV provides the best solution.

SUVs also have more ground clearance than MPVs, and generally have more powerful engines.


Comfort and view of the road

Today’s carmakers work hard to ensure their vehicles are as comfortable as possible - and this bears out in both MPVs and SUVs. However, for sheer comfort and luxury, the SUV may edge out the average MPV.

It should be noted however that having a good view of the road can make driving a more relaxing affair, and in this regard the MPV is the winner - with larger windscreens and higher driving positions.


Moderate space needs

If you regularly need to ferry around three, four, or five people, an SUV such as a Peugeot 3008 or a Nissan Qashqai could be ideal. You might even opt for a supermini such as a Ford Fiesta or a VW Golf, or a five-door coupe such as Audi A5 Sportback.

When it comes to MPVs, if your space needs are moderate, you might opt for a mini MPV such as a Citroen SpaceTourer/E-spaceTourer electric, or a used Picasso C3. BMW’s 2 Series Active Tourer or VW’s Golf Mark 8 are also popular in the mini-MPV space.

As regards moderate space needs in the SUV vs MPV debate, there are some solid options in both camps.


Need extra space?

More people? More luggage? The spacious Skoda Superb Estate could be ideal. For more flexibility, the Ford C-MAX or the Citroen Picasso C4 are good options because you can reconfigure seating to either carry more people or more luggage.

As far as SUVs go, the road-focussed Skoda Kodiaq with its seven-seat layout is a good option. The Seat Tarraco - closely related to the Kodiaq (both are VW-owned) - is also a great choice if you want something that bridges the gap between MPV and SUV. The Spanish-made Tarraco is a little more responsive and fun to drive than its Czech-built relation.


Larger van-based models

If you regularly travel with the better part of a football team, or often transport larger items (surf boards, bicycles etc), then a larger van-based model might be more suitable than an SUV or regular MPV.

Among the prime options is the well-equipped Ford Tourneo Custom, based on the highly successful Transit Custom. The Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle also ticks most boxes, coming as it does from a long line of comfortable and well-built 8-seaters.

The Mercedes-Benz V-Class, launched in 2015, also offers 8 seats - plus that expected touch of Merc luxury (although this comes at a cost). The Volkswagen Caravelle, meanwhile, is another 8-seater, popular with taxi firms and chauffeur companies thanks to its van-like dimensions and good handling.

The UK-built Vauxhall Vivaro Life is another refined option, based as it is on the Vivaro - considered one of the best panel vans of the last few years. The Vivaro Life shares many mechanical components with the Citroen SpaceTourer.


Which is best for kit: SUVs, MPVs or larger van-based models?

In the past, MPVs and larger van-based models have lacked the equipment of flashier SUVs. But this is no longer the case: Bluetooth, ESP and ABS braking and Automatic Post-Collision Braking are commonplace, and you can pay more for things like more upmarket interiors and trims.


What about styling?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - but let's face it, SUVs look sportier. A top-of-the-line Range Rover will also out-style the most stylish people carrier. That said, MPVs are a lot sleeker and less boxy than they once were.


What about price?

In terms of SUVs, an entry-level Nissan Qashqai or Peugeot 3008 will set you back less, while a Volvo XC90 bursting with options could easily double the cost.

For the MPV buyer on a budget, the Citroen Picasso or the Ford C-MAX are good options. And you can pick up a three-year-old Golf SV for under £14,000.

Larger van-based models tend to cost the most, but of course it all depends on whether you buy an entry-level model or select lots of extras. Among the most costly options is the Mercedes-Benz V-Class, which will set you back around £60,000 new and on-the-road.


Approximate entry-level prices (2022) mentioned in this article:

  • Mercedes-Benz V-Class - £60,000
  • Volvo XC90 petrol - from £59,000
  • Ford Tourneo Custom - from £35,000
  • Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle - £41,000
  • Audi A5 Sportback - from £38,000
  • Seat Tarraco -  from £38,000
  • Skoda Kodiaq -  from £32,000
  • Peugeot 3008 - from £32,000
  • Nissan Qashqai - from £23,000
  • Citroen Picasso C3 (discontinued) - from £14,000 used
  • Ford C-MAX - £18,000