The MPV once reigned supreme for big families with lots to carry, but not any more.
Once the car-buying public realised that it was entirely possible to buy a big, seven-seat family car with the space and cabin flexibility to accommodate more than 2.4 children but with looks less like an Antonov cargo transporter than an otherwise pretty normal SUV, the sales decline of the ‘one-box’ multi-purpose vehicle was under way. But for the most successful few, it still continues.
There are now myriad sizes and types of SUV that’ll offer up to seven seats for those who need them. Not all of them will do so while also giving you access to the entire engine range, though – and while others claim full seven-seat practicality, the usability of those rearmost seats is often restricted.
Here, then, are the best seven-seaters outside of the MPV class, according to Autocar, and the reasons we like ’em. All cars here offer up to seven forward-facing seats, although not necessarily as standard. One or two new cars still include rearward-facing child seats in the boot as an option (the Tesla Model S still does, for example; the Mercedes E-Class Estate doesn’t any longer) but we’re not counting those as quite the same kettle of fish.
1. Volvo XC90
Raising your budget and buying a bigger car doesn’t guarantee you a more usable seven-seat option in this class, but even so, few will be surprised to see that our top three options are all big SUVs. And the best of them remains the Volvo XC90. Although most of its direct rivals are newer, none has matched its combination of seven-seat versatility, handsome desirability and upmarket cabin ambience.
The XC90 has seven seats as standard regardless of which engine and trim level you choose. Even the T8 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version gets all seven, unlike in its PHEV opponents from BMW, Mercedes and Land Rover.
Volvo’s recent impressive record on exterior design still makes the car stand out on the road, and the interior looks and feels roomy and light. Volvo offers petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrain options. Although the PHEV has the most convincing blend of performance, refinement and economy, the B5 mild-hybrid diesel makes for a very respectable compromise, while both the mild-hybrid petrol options are quite a lot less economical in real-world use.
The car’s second-row seats all slide fore and aft individually, with the middle second-row seat optionally converting into an integrated booster seat. The third-row seats can be furnished with air conditioning vents at extra cost, and although they don’t have Isofix booster seat anchorages, they’re big enough for smaller adults or children to use in reasonable comfort, and access to them is pretty good.
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2. Land Rover Defender
Land Rover’s latest big new model ought to have been a candidate for the top of this chart; because, while it’s expensive, the car’s cleverly configurable interior seems to present the option of as many as eight passenger seats.