Family haulers aren’t restricted to MPVs any more. These are 10 of the best
The MPV once reigned supreme for big families with lots to carry, but not anymore.
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 normal SUV, the sales decline of the ‘one-box’ multi-purpose vehicle was underway. Other than 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 some 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. Better still, a recent increase in battery size means it can travel over 40 miles on a charge and qualifies for 8% BiK tax for business users.
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 child seat anchorages, they’re big enough for smaller adults or children to use in reasonable comfort, and access to them is pretty good. What’s more, even with all sevn seats in use there’s still a reasonable 316-litres of boot space to play with.
The recently revised Santa Fe has plenty going for it, not least the fact it’s just been named Best Large Car in the 2022 Autocar Awards. The vast, family-friendly Korean machine has always been one of our favourites, but the addition of efficient and tax-busting plug-in petrol-electric powertrains has lifted it to the top of our rankings.
Despite the addition of a large lithium ion battery pack and electric motors, the space in the Santa Fe’s seven-seater interior has remained unchanged. That means third row seats that are not only easy to access, they’re also genuinely adult-sized. And when you don’t need to carry extra people, the Hyundai’s boot is an impressive 571-litres, swelling to 1,649-litres with all the seats folded flat. Better still, the facelift has seen uplifts in material quality and technology, giving the car real premium appeal.
On the move it favours a relaxed approach, but that’s just fine because it’s a seven-seat SUV after all. The 262bhp 1.6-litre motor sounds a little strained when extended, but it does its best work in the mid-ranges, where the 90bhp electric motor can add some instant torque-fill muscle. Speaking of which, the Santa Fe claims a decent 36 miles of all EV running on a full charge. There’s also a less powerful 227bhp ‘self-charging’ petrol electric unit, plus a 2.2-litre diesel for those who do big miles or tow (its braked limit of 2500kg is 1200kg more than the PHEV).
Elsewhere, the steering is light and precise, and provided you’re not in a massive rush the Hyundai can be hustled along with satisfying precision. Refinement is also good, and while the ride can get choppy on really bad surfaces for the most part it’s composed and comfortable.
At £50,000 for the plug-in version the Santa Fe ain’t cheap, but look more closely and you’ll find not many others provide a similar blend of talents for the cash.
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 presents the option of as many as eight passenger seats.
Buy a longer-wheelbase, five-door Land Rover Defender 110 and the firm will offer you a choice of five-, six- or seven passenger seats, while the elongated 130 seats eight in a two, three, three formation. Sadly, for legislative reasons you can’t order the latter with the jump seat inbetween the driver and front seat passenger, making it an eight seater. However, that probably won’t stop some people retrofitting jump seats to secondhand eight-seaters (or even seven-seat 110s) in years to come, of course.
Even without this as an official option, though, this car has impressive versatility. The seven-seat Defender has third-row chairs that are a little smaller than those of the related Discovery’s, but still perfectly usable by children, teenagers and smaller adults. In the 130 you can have all eight on board and still have a very usable 400-litre boot, although the trade-off is the car’s vast 5358mm length that makes it something of a squash and a squeeze in most parking spaces.
This is also an expensive car, with even the very cheapest five-door passenger-car models pushing £50,000 – but, unlike the old Defender, it drives nearly as well as almost any luxury SUV of its size and type, has a broad range of modern electrified powertrains, and has off-road capability to spare. As a big, desirable family workhorse, you couldn’t ask for much better.
4. Kia Sorento
The unuttered truth about full-sized seven-seat SUVs, which many of the cars in this chart confirm, is that most of them don’t come for the same price as a full-sized MPV. The Kia Sorento, which has just entered a fourth model generation, used to be a rather glorious exception to that rule. Now that it has taken on a more premium look and feel, however, it’s not quite the bargain it once was, with prices starting at a whisker under £45,000. However, no matter whether you buy a diesel, petrol hybrid or plug-in hybrid, you’ll get seven good-sized seats, which makes the buying process nice and simple – and is one of the reasons that we recommend it in such unqualified terms.
Kia’s latest redesign for the car has brought an all-new model platform, an eye-catching exterior and a roomy and fairly classy-feeling cabin. The interior benefits from the car’s biggish outward size (it’s a closer match for a Land Rover Discovery than the Discovery Sport against which it’s priced), and the third row would even be usable by adults provided they’re not particularly tall (although there are only Isofix child seat points in the second row).
For a private buyer with a mixed pattern of use in mind, the 2.2-litre diesel engine remains the one to choose, even if its asking price of just under £50,000 makes the eyes water and wallet weep. The cheaper 1.6-litre petrol hybrid returns reasonable economy around town but isn’t so frugal on longer trips, and needs to be driven quite hard to maintain a quicker stride. The more powerful plug-in hybrid is a little more effortless, but that will appeal to company car drivers for different reasons. A quiet but slightly brittle-feeling ride, average body control and numb, unenticing steering characterise all versions of the car, but needn’t discourage anyone too much.
5. Audi Q7
Audi’s full-sized SUV, the Q7, is taken to the very edge of the podium of this chart on the basis that it has six good-sized passenger seats, all with proper Isofix child seat points; and it’s the only car here that does. That’s an advantage for which Audi charges plenty, of course, and it’s worth noting that if you opt for either of the tax-saving TFSIe plug-in hybrid models in the range, your car will come with five seats rather than seven in order to make space for the electric drive gubbins, which seems a great shame.
Still, the big Audi does make a very convincing seven-seater if you stick with the conventional powertrains – and there are several. The car’s 3.0-litre TDI diesel engines produce 228bhp or 282bhp, with a 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged 55 TFSI petrol option bridging the price gap up to the 55 TFSIe plug-in powertrain, which with an EV range of 34 miles is starting to show its age a little. Further above still, there’s also the 4.0-litre 500bhp V8 petrol (also seen in the Porsche Cayenne and Bentley Netayga, to name just two) of the SQ7 for those who want to transport a family of seven at a greater rate of knots – and can afford to.
The Q7’s key strengths, besides those spacious, well-provisioned seats, are its top-notch on-board technology and cabin quality, and its refined, isolated, luxurious drive. Such filtered controls do make a big car feel even bigger at times, but those who aren’t put off by the Q7’s sheer size or price will find a lot to like.
6. Peugeot 5008
Peugeot’s bigger ‘double-oh’ SUV option deserves special mention here for making the most of the space it affords. It’s the only mid-sized SUV that makes the top half of our rankings, and so while it doesn’t provide as much passenger comfort and space as the bigger options, it does give you more choice than rivals about where to fit in your bigger, bulkier child seats and how to comfortably arrange older passengers around them.
That’s because the 5008 has three separate middle-row seats that all slide and fold individually, all with Isofix anchorages. Sliding the middle one forward by itself might make room to shoehorn in three fairly bulky moulded-plastic booster seats side by side although, because the 5008 doesn’t have the widest cabin, this will always be a bit of a squeeze.
The third-row seats are only big enough to be used by children, but will just about take a smaller belted child seat and an occupant if you slide the seats in front of it forward to make space.
The engine range starts with 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol and 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel options of about 130 horsepower, ranging upwards to include more powerful 2.0-litre diesel- and 1.6-litre turbo petrol options for the flagship GT trim. The car handles well, feeling a little smaller and more wieldy, and handling more keenly, than plenty of rival options. It’s pretty good value, too; although fleet drivers may be disappointed to learn that there’s no plug-in hybrid version as, once again, housing the petrol-electric gubbins would result in the removal of the third row seats.
When Land Rover introduced the current Discovery, much fuss was made about the convenience added by its five rearmost motorised seats, which can be raised and lowered electrically – and even remotely via smartphone app. The idea is that, instead of having to wrestle with straps, latches, backrests and removable tonneau covers, you can configure the car for however many passengers you happen to be carrying before you even board.
The feature isn’t standard equipment on lower-trim models, though – and, moreover, isn’t much use if you’ve got cargo in the boot that needs to be either moved or removed before you can convert the seats. But get past the showroom gimmicks and this big, functionality-first Land Rover remains a fine, full-sized seven-seater, with a likable charm and luxury vibe, that we would recommend for any big family with the means to afford it.
That’s a pretty big caveat, of course, because you’ll do very well indeed to escape a Land Rover showroom these days having bought one for less than £60,000. Yikes! But the good news is that even vehicles in entry-level S specification get seven seats as standard, with Isofix anchorages on four out of five of those back seats. You have to climb all the way to HSE grade to get access to those motorised, app-managed ‘intelligent’ folding seats, though, and even then you must order them as a cost option.
The Discovery received a facelift early 2021, getting subtly revised suspension, cabin and exterior styling. The engine range now is comprised purely of six-cylinder petrols and diesels, all with varying amounts of mild hybridisation. There will be no plug-in hybrid version, because Land Rover has concluded that buyers wouldn’t want to sacrifice the necessary pair of seats for it.
8. Skoda Kodiaq
Skoda branched out into the seven-seat SUV market in 2016, launching a car that split the difference between full-sized and mid-sized options quite cleverly. The Kodiaq has a big cabin and a generous boot for a car of its price and size, and all versions of it bar the bottom-rung variant get seven seats as standard; even the warm vRS performance version.
The one dimension in which the car is lacking a bit of space is cabin width, and because the middle second-row seat can’t be slid into an offset position relative to both outer ones, it’s tricky to get three child seats installed side by side. Moreover, crash testing body Euro NCAP confirms that the rearmost seats aren’t approved even for belted safety seats (although the Kodiaq isn’t the only seven-seater to which that caveat is applied) and access to them can be a little bit tight when squeezing behind the tilted second-row chairs.
The Kodiaq’s engine range is pretty broad, offering plenty of choice on both the petrol and diesel sides. It’s the only one of the volume brands to offer a performance derivative, in the form of the 242bhp vRS, although it’s not as quick as you’d think and quite thirsty with it. All Kodiaqs are pleasant and easy to drive, if a little bit firm-riding in some trim editions.
9. Mercedes GLB
Mercedes has adopted an interesting design strategy with its new smallest SUV: to miniaturise much of the visual DNA of its largest (the GLS) and also to squeeze in seven seats as standard into a vehicle small enough that you probably wouldn’t expect to find them. Both factors might just help to sell the car in an increasingly crowded market.
The GLB is available as a GLB 200 petrol, or a 200 d or 220 d diesel, plus an AMG-lite GLB 35 AMG that borrows its 302bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol from the Mercedes-AMG A3 hot hatch. Even the base petrol engine serves up ample performance for what’s a fairly laid-back-feeling car on the road, with ride quality being impressive on adaptive dampers and body control a little soft and permissive but still good. The all-wheel drive 4MATIC models are also impressive off-road, rivalling the Land Rover Discovery Sport for go-anywhere ability.
The middle-row seats slide fore and aft and offer decent space for adults although the rearmost chairs are much smaller and useful for children only. Only four out of five rear seats have Isofix child seat points, though.
Finally, Mercedes has broadened the GLB’s appeal with a pure-electric EQB versions, which retains the option of seven seats, making it one of only two electric seven-seater SUVs on the market, together with the much more expensive Tesla Model X. It’s available in 225bhp and EQB300 and 288bhp EQB350 guises, both with a twin motor four-wheel drive set-up. It’s comfortable and easy to drive, but with prices starting at just over £55,000 it’s not cheap, while a range of up to 257 miles falls well behind cheaper, albeit five-seat, rivals.
The smallest Land Rover of the range (leaving aside Range Rovers for now) gets seven seats as standard across the range, provided you steer clear of the P300e plug-in hybrid. Few of its mid-sized SUV direct rivals (Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC) offer the same passenger accommodation, which is a selling point for the Land Rover; albeit probably only for families who might make very occasional use of those extra back chairs – and only for those willing to pay for the privilege (even the very cheapest seven-seat Disco Sport is a £35k car before options).
The Discovery Sport’s rearmost seats aren’t as big as some. You can, in principle, make extra leg room for them by sliding the middle row chairs forward as you need to, but there isn’t too much of it to spare in row two. Moreover, there’s little boot space available if you do regularly use the car in seven-seat mode, making this much more of an occasional seven-seater than the bigger Discovery might be.
The driving experience is impressive for its car’s comfort, and in 4WD forms, it has more rough-terrain capability than most people will need, although Land Rover’s Ingenium four-cylinder diesel engines don’t feel quite as strong as equivalents from Audi, BMW or Mercedes.