HSE’s figures seem to back it up: more babies were born in Ireland last year than the year before, ending more than a decade of declining births. It proves the claim that there was one thing we all did during the long days and nights of lockdown, and it wasn’t just washing our hands. † †
With all these little kids on the way (or actually already here), we’re going to need some cars with extra seats. And that poses a problem. You know, 40 years ago the MPV was born, in the form of the Dodge Caravan (which later turned into the Chrysler Voyager), so at least we had the perfect family car.
Okay, a word on the dates: The Caravan was shown in 1982, but technically didn’t go on sale until 1983, and at least wasn’t sold in Europe until later models with Chrysler badges arrived 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 without needing a public transport license.
That Caravan/Espace ideal – maximum seating in the smallest possible package, with an aero-friendly “monobox” body – is now out of sight. We all only buy SUVs, it seems, which can pack with seven seats, but which inside are usually noticeably less roomy and less space-saving. So where can family buyers turn to when they’re looking for those crucial extra seats now that an unexpected family addition is on the way? Let us help. † †
For a budget of $10,000 you could buy. † †
A Toyota Verso. Originally launched as the Corolla Verso, this compact seven-seater should continue to drive reliably for a while, although you’ll almost certainly need to buy a diesel model, as this is now rare: a Toyota without a hybrid engine. There is plenty of room in the middle row, but the third row seats are for kids only, although you can slide the middle row forward a bit. You will probably find the diesel engine a bit noisy but they all do sir or madam. The Verso can also be quite tough on tires and disc brakes, so budget a little extra service time. A high mileage is not a problem, as long as there is 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 out for tired turbos, slipping cam belts and any holes in the service history.
You could buy for a budget of € 15,000. † †
A Citroen C4 Grand Picasso. When Citroën still had the rights to the Picasso name, the French car manufacturer applied it to this, a family-friendly MPV. While that may seem strange, there’s an art (ahem, cough) to fit seven people into a relatively compact car, yet leave room for some style. You could basically buy the same car with a Peugeot 5008 badge, but it’s the Citroën that has a much nicer cabin, with much more visual flair. Usual complaints about the back seat being small for all but kids but that’s part of the deal. Watch out for jammed power windows, smoky turbos, and electronic parking brakes that won’t let go.
One we found: Citroen C4 Grand Picasso from 2017. 170,999km. €14,950.
Also consider: Nissan Serena Hybrid. A converted van, imported from Japan. Plenty of room, but beware of sourcing parts. Should be reliable anyway.
For a budget of € 20,000 you could buy. † †
A Seat Alhambra. Although the large Seat looks somewhat like a chamfered brick, it’s honestly one of the best family cars of the past decade. Yes, you could buy it with a VW Sharan badge, but you’ll pay a few thousand more. † † Large sliding side doors make getting in and out easy, and while it’s not a sports car, it has good road manners. The 2.0-litre TDI 115 hp has just enough punch and is also economical. Solid reliable, but minor electrical hitches (central locking, problems with the navigation system, problems with the rear light) are common enough and early DSG automatics had to be recalled so make sure the job is done.
One we found: 2014 Seat Alhambra 2.0 TDI 115. 196,810km. €19,000.
Also consider: Opel Zafira Tourer. Little seen seven-seater based on Insignia, which drives well. We found one with a Vauxhall badge within budget, but make sure all the electrics are working properly.
You could buy for a budget of € 25,000. † †
A Dacia Jogger. Welcome to the first new car on this list, and probably the biggest bargain of all. The Jogger is based on the same platform as the little Sandero hatchback, but once you’re in it, you’d never know. There is a huge amount of space, even in the third row, where real adults can feel comfortable. Those third row seats either tumble forward or fold out all the way if you want to maximize luggage space. Not the most advanced thing out there, but for €24,190 it will do the trick. As with all new cars, supply is tight, so if you want one act fast.
New price: From € 24,190 for a 1.0 TCE in Essential version.
Also consider: BMW 2 Series Grand Tourer. The refined yin for the affordable yang of the Jogger. Not very big on the inside, but with three rows of seats. Sharp to drive but make sure it is well maintained.
For a budget of € 30,000 you could buy. † †
A Ford S Max. The S-Max is without a doubt one of the most underrated cars of the past decade. Basically a larger Mondeo, with seven seats, it drives with a sense of precision and fun that is rare in the MPV segment, but is generally much more fuel-efficient than a comparable SUV. The rear seats are on the small side (although there is plenty of room in the middle row). If you want to upgrade to an adult space in row three, buy a Galaxy, essentially an S-Max with a bigger roof. Look for clutch problems and corrosion in the rear suspension and check the history before use as a taxi or minicab.
One we found: 2017 Ford S-Max 2.0 TDCI 180 hp Titanium. 80,000km. €29,995.
Also consider: Nissan X-Trail. Truly a five-seater with some extra space, the X-Trail looks good, drives well and should be reliable. Watch out for vulnerable brake discs and particulate filters.
For a budget of € 35,000 you could buy. † †
A Kia Sorento. This third-generation Sorento model is the best of them all (although the current version is actually quite nice). It’s big and blunt in its design, just like an American SUV, but in real life it’s not so massive that you can’t park it or use it quietly in the city. 2.2 diesel isn’t the most powerful engine, but it’s fine, and there’s plenty of room inside. Small third row? Sure, but it’s usable for adults for short hops. Best of all is the sophistication and comfort – from west Cork to Belfast in one go? We did it in a Sorento. † † Reliability shouldn’t be an issue. Check for worn clutches in cars used for towing and that all seat folding systems are working 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, unfortunately. Lots of space, looks nice and not bad to drive. A clunky navigation system, and there aren’t many to choose from.
For a budget of € 40,000 you could buy. † †
A Hyundai Santa Fe. The fourth generation Santa Fe was actually a short-lived vehicle in the Irish market as it was replaced by the current (almost identical) model after only two years. Luckily it was a seller big enough to pick from, and it’s a great buy – big on the inside, exceptionally high quality, very smooth to ride and actually surprisingly good on tight and twisty roads. Usual caveats of cramped third row seats apply, but a Santa Fe represents a great purchase. Engine idling issues are not uncommon, and the touchscreen and Bluetooth connection can be a pain.
One we found: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Executive Plus 2.2. 57,700km. €39,995
Also consider: Volkswagen Touran. Hardly VW’s most exciting 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 isn’t Skoda’s most advanced car – there’s no hybrid or all-electric option – but it’s a huge and immensely useful passenger car. Those in row two will have more than adequate head and legroom, while the little kids in row three will be happy enough (probably best not to try to squeeze adults in the back). In the front you can enjoy the high-quality interior and the surprisingly spirited driving experience. The base model uses a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine which is actually fine, eliminating the need for diesel. It’s worth remembering that all this also applies to the VW Tiguan Allspace (if you want to spend a little more) and the Seat Tarraco (if you want to spend about the same).
New price: From € 41,685 for a 1.5 TSI in Ambition version.
Also consider: VolvoXC90. For this kind of budget, you’re looking at a 2016-2017 model with high mileage, but the cliff-top Volvo is worth tracking down for its beautiful cabin, refinement, reliability and levels of safety. The kids won’t be safer in anything else.
For a budget of €50,000 and more you could buy. † †
A Mercedes Benz EQB. Finally an electric car on this list! Just a shame it currently costs €68,765, but that’s for the all-wheel drive EQB 300 – more affordable front-wheel drive versions are out there. Either way, you get a handsome car, with hints of the great old G-Wagen in its styling, and a beautiful all-digital cabin. There are three rows of seats, but the ones at the very back are very small. Toddlers only need to apply. Merc claims a range of 419 km on a single charge and a charging speed of 100 kW, which means that with a fast charger you can add 140 km of range in just 15 minutes. New price: € 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 decal on the front, get one. Yes, it’s a windowed van, but it’s a really cool windowed van, and it’s huge in the back, with easily room for five adults (plus luggage). It will almost certainly have been used in the past as an expensive airport taxi and we found one for €54,950.