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!

But what is an MPV vehicle and what is SUV? And which is the right car for you?


MPV and SUV meaning

MPV stands for Multi Purpose Vehicle.

MPV cars are often also referred to as people carriers. 

An SUV is a Sports Utility Vehicle.

Similar to estate cars or station wagons. SUV’s are usually four-wheel drive and are designed to be driven off-road as well on.

For further details on other car shapes, why not take a look at our blog on common car body shapes. 


Pros and cons of SUV vs MPV

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?

Multi-Purpose Vehicles (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?

Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) tend to have less space than MPVs., However, SUVs are more powerful and can handle rough terrain better.

SUVs tend to cost more than MPVs.

For more information on SUV's, why not take a look at our top 10 tips for choosing a new suv.


People carrying: MPV or SUV?

Is an SUV a good family car?

MPV’s and SUV’s can both make for ideal family cars.

For smaller families - say, two adults and two children - both MPVs and three-row SUVs offer enough capacity.

The difference between SUV and MPV when it comes to people carrying, is that for larger families, MPVs tend to have more interior space.

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

If you are a tall person looking for a vehicle with space to account for your height, perhaps one of these 10 cars for taller drivers offers the solution? 

Both MPV and SUV 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, ideal for those of us looking for a large car that also offers fuel efficiency.

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


Electric vehicle costs and infrastructure

Despite being fuel efficient, 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. 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.


Are MPVs any good for driving off-road?

MPVs by contrast to SUVs, 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.


Off-road driving and SUVs

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.


What’s the difference between SUV and MPV when it comes to comfort?

Today’s carmakers work hard to ensure their vehicles are as comfortable as possible - and this bears out in both MPV cars and SUV cars.

However, for sheer comfort and luxury, the SUV may edge out the average MPV.


View of the road: SUV vs MPV

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 one of the mini SUVs available on the market 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 C4.

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?

Looking for the best MPV for a family of 5?

The spacious Skoda Superb Estate could be ideal.

For more flexibility, the Ford S-MAX or the Citroen Picasso C4 are good options because you can reconfigure seating to either carry more people or more luggage.


Spacious SUVs

As far as SUVs go, the seven seater road-focussed Skoda Kodiaq 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.


Ford Tourneo Custom

Among the prime options is the well-equipped Ford Tourneo Custom, based on the highly successful Transit Custom.


Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle

The Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle also ticks most boxes, coming as it does from a long line of comfortable and well-built 8-seaters.


Mercedes-Benz V-Class

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

The Volkswagen Caravelle, meanwhile, is another 8-seater, popular with taxi firms and chauffeur companies thanks to its van-like dimensions and good handling.


Vauxhall Vivaro Life

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?

SUV prices

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


MPV prices

For the MPV buyer on a budget, the Citroen Picasso or the Dacia Jogger are good options.

And you can pick up a three-year-old Golf SV for under £14,000.


Larger van-based model prices

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 £67,000 new and on-the-road.


Approximate entry-level prices (2023) mentioned in this article:

  • Mercedes-Benz V-Class - £67,000
  • Volvo XC90 petrol - from £61,995
  • Ford Tourneo Custom - from £45,564
  • Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle - £43,000
  • Audi A5 Sportback - from £41,220
  • Seat Tarraco -  from £32,255
  • Skoda Kodiaq -  from £33,485
  • Peugeot 3008 - from £32,605
  • Nissan Qashqai - from £26,000
  • Citroen Picasso C4 (discontinued) - from £14,000 used
  • Dacia Jogger - from £17,000
  • Ford S-MAX - £38,500


Are MPV’s losing out to SUVs?

MPVs have lost a lot of their popularity to SUVs and crossovers.

Figures from ACEA, the EU’s automotive trade body show sales of MPVs peaked at 1.7 million in 2009, falling to just 680,831 in 2020, whilst sales of SUVs continue to rise.