There are now as many varieties as there are cars, with all sorts of new innovations. Take the key to our long-term Fiat Ulysse. In keeping with the large nature of the car, the key is a hefty piece of kit, almost an inch thick with a foldaway key and four buttons – one each to lock and unlock the car and another two for the automatic-opening rear sliding doors. It makes for a complicated set-up which indicates the sheer weight of technical gadgetry that comes with this car. But first you have to master the doors.
With four identical buttons to press, mistakes are easy to make and my neighbours have had a giggle or two as I stand by the car frantically pressing buttons to comic effect.
For example, the other morning I pressed the wrong button and the rear left door slid open. I panicked and pressed another button, thinking it would close the doors, but all the windows slid down. So I pressed another one and the windows slid up and the car locked. I pressed another two and the alarm went off.
Despite being occasionally frustrating, the electric sliding doors are proving useful. For example, if you are carrying something heavy, you can 'plip' the door open as you are walking to the car and put your baggage straight in.
And once inside, the driving environment is excellent. MPVs are now certainly becoming more car-like for drivers. There are small changes to get used to, such as the handbrake on the right of the driver, the dash-mounted gear lever and a huge dashboard area with instruments in the middle. But the seating position is just like a car, not a van as with earlier models from most manufacturers.
Handling is impressively car-like as well. Roundabouts don't send the car heeling like a sailing boat in a strong wind, but its bulk and weight means the tyres are unlikely to cope with fast cornering and it will slide wide. Although I normally hate MPVs for providing little in the way of driving enjoyment, I have actually warmed to the Ulysse over the past few weeks – even with its mad magical doors with a mind of their own.
Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer): £126 per month