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Girl TORQUE: MPVs - Sensible or sexy?


Few debate how sensible an MPV is, but would you have one?

A dealer once told me the art of selling a car is not about selling a punter what they need – but what they want. A point which was driven home to me when my brother went looking for a sensible family car and came home with a two-seat Porsche. His wife was rapt – not.

You don’t have to be a petrolhead to want something nice; to want a Jaguar when you can only afford a Corolla, a Ford Mustang when you’re on a Ford Fiesta budget.

So most buys are compromises between what we need and what we want. For families, that means buying something that’ll suit both parents and the kids; and often, that the sensible parent must bully the romantic out of their four-wheeled dreams and into reality.

But even reality doesn’t see many buyers choose an MPV – however sensible it is. That’s why only 488 sold last year, why Honda refers to its Odyssey as a wagon – and designed it lower and sleeker to get away with it.

An MPV looks like a van. No matter how swoopy its lines, it’s a van with extra seats. A van which says, ‘I have a lot of kids. My life is over so I may as well buy whatever will keep them happy.’
Unfortunately just as your neighbour’s outdated opinion on Skoda prevents you from trying one however good it is, so their loud derision will prevent you taking that MPV home.

I’ve tried a couple as they’re meant to be tried. Took two mums and four small children to the zoo in a petrol Kia Carnival a few years ago. That still left three seats to fold flat as table-tops; all the kids could see out; access to all the rows was simple. The extra rear mirror meant I could see what everyone was up to, they all had plenty of leg room, and the boot still swallowed two pushchairs parked upright, two nappy bags, and all the other detritus travelling with small children involves.

The Carnival has doors that open electrically at a press of the fob – I understand it’s popular as a conversion to wheelchair use. With a small hand in each of mine and a busy road, that’s fantastic. Far easier than letting go of one to reach a door handle, let alone the difficulties of reaching up into the MPV’s most common replacement – an SUV - to fasten them into their child seats.

An MPV’s lower dimensions mean it rolls less than the average SUV too – so there are fewer seasickness problems to cope with.

Of course few debate how sensible an MPV is. But which would you have, that MPV, or something less spacious which says more about you than how fertile you are?

My brother’s Porsche is the extreme, of course. For most, it’s whether to buy the hatch, the sedan or the wagon. That’s why Holden makes its Commodore wagon handle almost as well as the sedan and look almost as sexy; why Audi builds its Avant wagons in performance variants – so buyers can have their cake and eat at least some of it too.

Shame MPV designers can’t also find some glamour for their products – they’re too good at the job they’re designed to do, to be ignored so completely.

See a range of MPVs for sale here.

Read past Girl TORQUE columns here.

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