There was a period where multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs) did duty as the practical family haulers – but this seems to have ended.
South Africa’s love of bakkies and SUVs has made sure of that.
Typically based on a sedan chassis from the same marque, the MPV was practical, flexible, and thoughtful.
Their compact dimensions meant they were easy to live with during the daily grind, and parking was easy. The same could not be said for much larger van-based people movers.
I owned a Renault Scenic for a number of years and had the pleasure of reviewing many MPVs that were on the market.
Sexy they were not, but they made up for this with dynamics and versatility relative to their modern-day replacements: mini-SUVs and bakkies.
Packed with quirks and features
MPVs like the Renault Scenic, Citroen Picasso, and Opel Zafira had five individual seats – sometimes seven – that could tilt, slide, and fold flat.
This transformed soccer-parent’s kiddie-hauler into a van to carry anything from bikes to a chest of drawers.
High rooflines and comfortable high-perched seats meant long-distance cruising was a superpower – and some like the Opel Meriva, Ford B-Max, and Mazda 5 had some quirky doors with super-wide openings that made them even more practical to get things, or kids, in and out of.
The Fiat Multipla and Honda FRV seated six with a complete three-seat front row – with the middle seat doubling as an extra-wide front tray and cup holder when not in use.
Most had a version with fold-down tray tables in the back, too.
The Peugeot 4008 even had factory-fitted screens, a DVD player, and wireless headphones long before becoming a cool option in high-end luxury sedans.
Unfortunately, if you search the new car pages or classified today they are nowhere to be found.
None of the leaders in this space import any of these models anymore, which is rather disappointing.
SUVs and bakkies are the new kings
MPVs were never quite as desirable as a svelte sedan or pert hatchback.
Still, what they lacked in styling was more than made up for in the local school or Builders Warehouse parking lot.
Why, then, are they no longer in demand then?
I blame the Nissan Qashqai.
As one of the first SUV-like hatchbacks, it satiated the customer’s need for something that felt more robust with chunkier rubber and felt taller than the other cars on the road.
In reality it was a hatchback with SUV styling cues which “felt” like a 4×4 – and customers gravitated towards it.
The MPV segment never really recovered from this trend as more manufacturers started bringing in smaller SUVs and, by around 2017, it was completely dead.
The Kuga, CX5, ix35, Tucson, Sportage, and proliferation of raised-body bakkies are the new kings of family leisure vehicles.
Unless you owned an MPV like a Scenic, Picasso, or Meriva, it’s easy to condemn them to the history books – and talk about “survival of the fittest”.
I, for one, am disappointed this segment no longer exists.
Every other option on the market today just feels like a compromise.