The figures from HSE seem to confirm it – more babies were born in Ireland last year than the year before, ending more than a decade of declining births. It proves the thissis that there was one thing we were all doing during the long days and nights of lockdown, and it wasn’t just washing our hands. . .
With all these wee ‘uns on the way (or, indeed, already here), we’re going to be needing some cars with extra seats. And that presents a problem. You see, 40 years ago the MPV was born, in the shape of the Dodge Caravan (which later morphed into the Chrysler Voyager), and so at least we had the perfect family car.
Okay, so a word on dates – the Caravan was shown in 1982, but technically didn’t go on sale until 1983, and anyway wasn’t sold in Europe until later models arrived with Chrysler badges in the 1990s. Europeans had to wait until 1984, when Renault released the first-generation Espace, before we could see what it was like to carry seven people around without needing a public service vehicle licence.
That Caravan/Espace ideal – maximum seating in the smallest possible package, with an aero-friendly “monobox” body – has slipped from view now. We all only buy SUVs, it seems, which can be packaged with seven seats, but which are usually noticeably less roomy and less space-efficient inside. So where, then, are family buyers to turn when searching for those critical extra seats now that an unexpected family addition is on the way? Allow us to help. . .
For a budget of €10,000 you could buy. . .
A Toyota Verso. Originally launched as the Corolla Verso, this compact seven-seater should provide reliable motoring for a while yet, although you’ll almost certainly have to buy a diesel model as this is now that rare thing – a Toyota without a hybrid engine. There’s good space in the middle row, but the third-row seats are a kiddy-only zone, although you can slide the middle row forward a little. You’ll probably find the diesel engine a bit noisy, but they all do that sir or madam. The Verso can also be quite hard on tires and brake discs, so budget a little extra come service time. High mileage isn’t an issue as long as it comes with a full service history.
One we found: 2012 Toyota Verso 2.0d Luna. 205,000km. €10,750
Also consider: Ford Grand C-Max – sliding side doors are a bonus, but watch for tired turbos, slipping cam belts, and any holes in the service history.
For a budget of €15,000 you could buy. . .
A Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. Back when Citroen still had the rights to the Picasso name, the French carmaker applied it to this, a family-friendly MPV. While that might seem odd, there is something of an art (ahem, cough) to fitting seven people into a relatively compact car, but still leave space for some style. You could buy basically the same car with a Peugeot 5008 badge, but it’s the Citroen that has a far nicer cabin, with much more visual flair. Usual complaints about the back seats being small for anyone but kids, but that’s par for the course. Watch for sticking electric windows, smokey turbos and electronic parking brakes that refuse to release.
One we found: 2017 Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. 170,999km. €14,950.
Also consider: Nissan Serena Hybrid. A converted van, imported from Japan. Lots of space, but beware of sourcing parts. Should be reliable though.
For a budget of €20,000 you could buy. . .
A Seat Alhambra. While the big Seat looks somewhat like a chamfered brick, it’s honestly one of the best family cars of the last decade. Yes, you could buy it with a VW Sharan badge, but then you are also paying a couple of thousand more. . . Big sliding side doors make getting in and out of the easy-peasy back, and while it’s no sports car, it has good on-road manners. The 115hp 2.0-litre TDI has just about enough punch, and is frugal, too. Solidly reliable, but minor electric grumbles (central locking, satnav issues, rear light problems) are common enough, and early DSG automatics had to be recalled, so make sure that work has been done.
One we found: 2014 Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI 115. 196,810km. €19,000.
Also consider: Opel Zafira Tourer. Little-seen Insignia-based seven-seater, which drives well. We found one with a Vauxhall badge in budget, but make sure all the electrics work properly.
For a budget of €25,000 you could buy. . .
A Dacia Jogger. Welcome to the first new car on this list, and probably the biggest bargain of them all. The Jogger is based on the same platform as the small Sandero hatchback, but sitting inside it you’d never know. There’s tons of space, even in the third row, where real full-sized adults can get comfy. Those third-row seats either tumble forward or lift out entirely if you need to maximise boot space. Not the most sophisticated thing around, but for €24,190 it’ll do nicely. As with all new cars, supply is tight, so if you want one better act fast.
Price new: From €24,190 for a 1.0 TCE in Essential trim.
Also consider: BMW 2 Series Grand Tourer. The sophisticated yin to the jogger’s affordable yang. Not very big inside, but does have three rows of seats. Sharp to drive, but make sure it’s been serviced properly.
For a budget of €30,000 you could buy. . .
A Ford S-Max. The S-Max is, without question, one of the most underrated cars of the past decade or so. Basically a taller Mondeo, with seats for seven, it drives with a sense of precision and enjoyment that’s rare in the MPV segment, but it’s much more economical overall than a comparable SUV. Rear seats are on the small side (although there’s plenty of space in the middle row). If you want to upgrade to adult-sized space in row three, get a Galaxy, which is basically an S-Max with a taller roof. Watch for clutch issues and corrosion in the rear suspension, and check the history for use as a taxi or minicab.
One we found: 2017 Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCI 180hp Titanium. 80,000km. €29,995.
Also consider: Nissan X-Trail. Really a five-seater with some spare space, the X-Trail looks good, drives well and should be reliable. Keep an eye on fragile brake discs and diesel particulate filters.
For a budget of €35,000 you could buy. . .
A Kia Sorento. This Sorento, the third-generation model, is the best of them (notwithstanding that the current version is actually pretty nice). Big and bluff in its styling, rather like an American SUV, it’s actually not so massive in real life that you can’t park it nor ease it around town. 2.2 diesel isn’t the most powerful engine, but it’s fine, and there’s tons of space inside. Small third row? Of course, but it’s useable for adults for short hops. Best of all is its refinement and comfort – west Cork to Belfast in one go? We’ve done it in a Sorento. . . Reliability shouldn’t be an issue. Check for worn clutches in cars used for towing and that all the seat-folding systems work properly.
One we found: 2017 Kia Sportage Platinum 2.2 4×4. 157,566km. €32,850
Also consider: Renault Grand Scenic. The last of the Scenics, sadly. Plenty of space, looks nice and not bad to drive. Fiddly satnav system, though, and there aren’t many around to choose from.
For a budget of €40,000 you could buy. . .
A Hyundai Santa Fe. The fourth-generation Santa Fe was actually something of a short-lived vehicle in the Irish market, as it got replaced by the current (almost identical) model after just two years. Thankfully, though, it was a big enough seller that there are plenty to choose from, and it’s a cracking purchase – big inside, exceptionally high quality, very smooth to drive and actually surprisingly good on tight and twisty roads. Usual caveats of tight third-row seats apply, but a Santa Fe represents a cracking purchase. Engine idling issues are not uncommon, and the touchscreen and Bluetooth connection can be fiddly.
One we found: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Executive Plus 2.2. 57,700km. €39,995
Also consider: Volkswagen Tour. Hardly VW’s most thrilling vehicle ever, but the Touran is resolutely practical, with decent space in all three rows, and the reassurance of a Golf-based mechanical package underneath.
For a budget of €45,000 you could buy. . .
A Skoda Kodiaq. The Kodiaq is hardly Skoda’s most cutting-edge car – there’s no hybrid nor fully electric option – but it is a massive and massively useful people hauler. Those sat in row two will have more than sufficient headroom and legroom, while the small kids in row three will be happy enough (probably best not to try squeezing adults back there). Up front, you’ll enjoy the high-quality interior and the surprisingly peppy driving experience. Base model uses a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine that’s actually just fine, avoiding the need to go diesel. Worth remembering that this is also all true for the VW Tiguan Allspace (if you want to spend a little more) and the Seat Tarraco (if you want to spend about the same).
Price new: From €41,685 for a 1.5 TSI in Ambition trim.
Also consider: Volvo XC90. For this kind of budget, you’ll be looking at a 2016-2017 model with big miles, but the cliff-faced Volvo is worth tracking down for its gorgeous cabin, refinement, reliability and safety levels. The kids won’t be safer in anything else.
For a budget of €50,000 and upwards you could buy. . .
A Mercedes-Benz EQB. At last, an electric car on this list! Just a shame that it currently costs €68,765, but that’s for the all-wheel drive EQB 300 – there are more affordable, front-drive versions in the offing. Either way, you get a handsome car, with hints of the big old G-Wagen in its styling, and a gorgeous all-digital cabin. There are three rows of seats, but the ones in the very back are seriously small. Toddlers only need apply. Merc claims a 419km range on one charge and a 100kW charging speed, which means you can add 140km of range in as little as 15 minutes from a rapid charger. Price new: €68,675 for an EQB 300 4MATIC.
Also consider: Mercedes-Benz V-Class. If you want to haul yourself and six friends around, with a Mercedes badge on the front, get one of these. Yes, it’s a van with windows, but it’s a really, really cool van with windows and it’s massive in the back, with easy space for five adults (plus luggage). It’ll almost certainly have been used as an expensive airport taxi in the past, and we found one for €54,950.