► CAR tests seven-seaters
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Tell friends you spent childhood journeys in the boot of a car and expect a concerned look, followed by a call to social services. Yet this is how many middle-class youngsters travelled before the advent of the MPV (and latterly the seven-seat SUV). Cars such as the Volvo 240 and W124 Mercedes E-Class had a rear-facing bench seat that folded flat into the boot floor. Perching inches from the tailgate wasn’t ideal in a rear-end crash, but it did allow little Freddie and Charlotte to make creative hand gestures at the cars behind.
The arrival of the MPV in the 1980s – spearheaded by the Renault Espace in Europe and Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager in the US – changed all that. Suddenly, you no longer needed a minibus to carry seven adults in comfort. And models like the Ford Galaxy and Vauxhall Zafira meant less affluent families could also travel seven-up. The airport taxi industry rejoiced, too.
Perhaps it was all those airport cabs, but as the new century dawned, boxy MPVs began to fall from favour. The SUV was on the rise, offering a more fashionable way to seat seven. Was it more practical? Probably not. But buyers had swapped their sensible slacks for branded sportswear and they weren’t looking back. Two decades later, they still aren’t.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the best seven-seaters we’ve assembled are mostly SUVs. The Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer is the only traditional people carrier here. Nonetheless, if you have a large family or regularly ferry a five-a-side team to games, there should be a car to suit you. Read on for our buying tips and top choices, or click the links below to read our full reviews.
Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer
Land Rover Discovery
Best seven-seat cars 2019: a buying guide
As we’ve touched upon, the first question is which kind of vehicle you’d prefer. The level-headed logic of an MPV or the aspirational style of an SUV? Of course, it’s not quite that simple. MPVs also tend to be more affordable, while SUVs offer a lofty seating position many drivers love, plus added rough-terrain ability. By all means take each on its own merits, but you’ve probably made up your mind about this already.
The next thing to ponder is how often you need seven seats. If the car will only be full for family gatherings, you can manage with a ‘5+2’ like the Peugeot 5008. If you have five children, you may prefer something more spacious – a Land Rover Discovery, for example. Note that not all seven-seaters can accommodate three child car seats side-by-side in the middle-row. If in doubt, take your kids on the test-drive.
Practicality is paramount when it comes to family cars, so examine how big the boot is with all seven seats in place. Try sliding, folding and removing the chairs if possible, and look for useful features such as USB sockets for passengers. Our reviews will help you here. Check the Euro NCAP crash-test rating for any potential purchase, too – and the availability of active safety systems.
Lastly, if you really can’t stop having kids, you’ll need to upgrade to something bigger. We’re firmly into ‘vans with windows’ territory now, but vehicles such as the Ford Tourneo Custom, Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle and Vauxhall Vivaro Combi can carry eight passengers or more.
Can’t stretch to a Land Rover Discovery? May we present the Kia Sorento. With seven adult-sized seats and a seven-year warranty, it’s a reassuringly sensible SUV. It even looks quite handsome, in a generic sort of way. Buying a Sorento is straightforward: there’s only one engine offered – a 197bhp 2.2-litre diesel – plus six-speed manual or eight-speed auto transmissions. There are few options, too: just a choice of five trim levels. Avoid the top-spec GT-Line S, which creeps into £40,000-plus ‘premium’ tax territory.
Forty grand for a Kia? Yep, but this isn’t an uncultivated mud-plugger like Sorentos of old. Luxuries on the mid-range KX-3 include LED headlights, an electric tailgate and heated middle-row seats. A brawny 325lb ft of torque is ideal for towing a caravan or horsebox, while the electronic diff lock means useful off-road ability. Quick steering makes the Sorento feel nimble around town, but push harder and it wobbles like a trifle on a trolley. Better to ease off and appreciate the light controls and relaxed ride. Your passengers will thank you for it.
Read our Kia Sorento review
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Can’t stretch to an Audi Q7? May we present the Skoda Kodiaq. Both hail from the Volkswagen Group, yet the Czech starts at less than half the price of the German. The Kodiaq range stretches from 125bhp 1.4 TSI petrol to 237bhp 2.0 vRS diesel – the latter pitched at petrolheads with a penchant for procreation. You can spec five or seven seats, a manual or DSG gearbox, and front- or four-wheel drive. In keeping with Skoda’s ‘Simply Clever’ slogan, the cabin is brimful with useful stowage, including a double glovebox, removable cupholder tray, under-seat drawers and a bag-lined bin.
The Kodiaq is less convincing as a seven-seater. Adults in the rearmost row will be perched with knees at chest height. Nonetheless, you get plenty of infotainment and safety kit for your money, plus supportive seats and the ‘command’ driving position that SUV owners always extol. Engine noise is well suppressed and the chassis combines a loose-limbed ride with tidy handling. Just don’t expect excitement – even the vRS is a bit aloof.
Read our Skoda Kodiaq review
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After BMW’s recent efforts, the Q7’s gigantic grille almost looks understated. Sadly, its slab-sided lines can’t hold a dynamic DRL to its glamorous Q8 sibling – Audi’s SUV flagship – which shares the same MLBevo platform. That’s the price you pay for having seven seats. From mid-2019, the Q7 also gained the Q8’s interior, with two giant touchscreens supplementing the now-familiar Virtual Cockpit. We miss the quickfire MMI rotary controller and suspect greasy fingerprints on the gloss-black screens would drive us nuts. Still, few cars blend luxury and technology with such style.
Despite a footprint larger than Michael Phelps in flippers, the Q7 isn’t a spacious for seven as you’d hope. Adults will only tolerate short journeys in the third row. Standard air suspension irons out most bumps, though, and engines are smooth and serene: pick from petrol (335bhp) or diesel (228bhp and 282bhp). There’s also the 429bhp, 664lb ft V8 diesel SQ7, which uses active-roll stabilisation to make a 2,330kg SUV handle like a hot hatch. You can kid yourself it’s the sensible alternative to a Lamborghini Urus.
Read our Audi Q7 reviews
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Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer
The people carrier formerly known as Picasso is the only car here without pretence to being an off-roader. Its image may be more soft-play centre than country club, but we find its rational, fit-for-purpose ethos refreshing. Indeed, when we ran a Grand C4 as a long-termer, we concluded by calling it ‘a serious contender for best family car on the market’. Beyond that monobrowed prow is a one-box body, which transforms – via seats that individually slide, tilt and fold – from a seven-up family holdall into a small van. Slim pillars and roll-back sun visors mean better visibility than the Popemobile, especially with the optional panoramic roof.
Let’s not dwell on how the Citroen drives. Soft seats and a floaty ride are more important in an MPV than brilliant body-control. Suffice to say your passengers will enjoy journeys more than you will. We’d go for the 128bhp 2.0 diesel engine, preferably with a manual ’box rather than the jerky column-change auto. The SpaceTourer’s cabin looks a tad low-rent in this company and its fiddly infotainment is already dated. However, it gets the important stuff right, fitting into family life like an affable labrador.
Read our Citroen Grand C4 Picasso review
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Peugeot makes a point of calling this the ‘5008 SUV’, doubtless to distance it from the soporific 5008 MPV of old. It’s essentially a stretched version of the much-lauded 3008, with the same hawkish headlights, clamshell bonnet and chiselled flanks. It ain’t pretty, but nobody could accuse it of being bland. The 5008’s interior also does things differently. Up-front, you’ll find Peugeot’s trademark i-Cockpit, combining a Playstation-sized steering wheel with a configurable driver display. We’re not convinced it beats a standard set-up, although you soon acclimatise. Sadly, no-one out of short trousers will ever get used to the third-row seats, which feel claustrophobically cramped.
Assuming you’re not in the very back, the 5008 is a pleasant way to travel. Perceived quality is almost premium – we love the chrome ‘piano key’ switches on the centre console – all seats are independently adjustable and there are plenty of USB charging points. For the driver, impressions are more mixed: darty turn-in and reassuring roll-resistance meet lifeless steering and turgid throttle response. Switching to Sport mode merely makes it noisier. There’s a range of efficient petrol and diesel engines, but four-wheel drive isn’t available.
Read our Peugeot 5008 review
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As this is a guide to seven-seaters, let’s start on the inside. And frankly, once you’re ensconced in the XC90’s opulent midst, you won’t want to leave. Five years after launch, the wow-factor of its Tesla-style touchscreen may have worn thin – especially now other Volvos have inherited the tech – but the appeal of superb seats, immense space and Audi-rivalling quality is undimmed. Even those relegated to the third-row aren’t short-changed, with decent legroom and their own air vents. Plus you can relax in knowing that, should the worst happen, a raft of Intellisafe safety aids have your back.
Volvo has recently revamped the XC90 range with new mild-hybrid petrol and diesel engines. Bewilderingly, both are badged B5 (a B6 petrol follows soon), but fuel economy gains of 15 percent can’t be sniffed at. The 232bhp diesel returns around 40mpg and is exceptionally refined. Even so, the 401bhp ‘twin engine’ T8 is the one you really want: its plug-in drivetrain serving up 0-62mph in 5.6sec and a tax-dodging 59g/km. Think of it as Sweden’s riposte to the Range Rover. It really is that good.
Read our Volvo XC90 reviews
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Land Rover Discovery
There are suggestions the new Defender, due in early 2020, could decimate Discovery sales. The long-wheelbase 110 is even available with seven seats. However, while the Discovery carries seven adults in comfort, the Defender’s two extra berths – which pop-up from the boot floor – are for kids or pub-taxi use only. The Disco’s interior feels almost as luxurious as a Range Rover, and its optional Intelligent Seat Fold system lets you raise or lower each chair via the touchscreen, using switches in the boot, or even from a smartphone. Just don’t let your kids download the app, too.
At launch in 2017, Land Rover declared this its most capable off-roader ever. If your commute is more green lane than outside lane, it’s the default choice. On the road, air suspension (standard in the UK) serves up a refined ride and decent poise. You never forget the Discovery’s sheer size and 2.2-tonne heft, but it comports itself calmly and comfortably. The 237bhp four-cylinder sD4 diesel feels adequate and delivers a respectable 37.7mpg, plus enough muscle to tow a 3,500kg braked trailer. Now if we could just spec the Defender’s steel wheels…
Read our Land Rover Discovery reviews
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We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for our latest thoughts on the best seven-seat cars.
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