WITH more flexible interiors than traditional company car offerings, mini-MPVs are stealing a sales march in the fleet sector.
Drivers want much more from their cars now than just the ability to cover motorway miles in comfort – they want space for their family and associated paraphernalia at the weekend.
The current breed of cars all offer this, while also being fleet-friendly – they offer better RVs than lower and upper-medium cars yet are just as economical and low on CO2 emissions.
Vauxhall’s new Zafira has always been the one to beat, thanks to its clever seven-seat layout which allows chairs to be dropped into the floor to create more luggage space.
The new model retains this, but offers sharper styling and new engines.
But it faces stiff competition from its fellow seven-seaters, the Toyota Corolla Verso, Renault Grand Scenic and Volkswagen Touran.
The Citroen Xsara Picasso and Ford Focus C-MAX only offer five seats, but both have good points as well – the former is very cheap and has by far the lowest monthly rentals, while the Ford is the most economical and has the lowest CO2 emissions, meaning lower tax bills.
Citroen Xsara Picasso 1.6 HDi Exclusive
P11D price £16,942
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £559/£1,017
2005 VED bill £115
Custom Fleet £277
Ford Focus C-MAX 1.6 TDCi Ghia
P11D price £18,327
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £602/£1,094
2005 VED bill £115
Custom Fleet £367
Renault Grand Scenic 1.9 dCi Expression
P11D price £18,097
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £796/£1,448
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £319
Toyota Corolla Verso 2.0 D-4D T3
P11D price £17,822
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £784/£1,426
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £359
Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTi 120 Club
P11D price £17,922
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £749/£1,362
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £349
Volkswagen Touran 2.0 TDI SE (7-seat)
P11D price £18,532
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £815/£1,483
2005 VED bill £135
Custom Fleet £373
Commercial director, Alphabet (GB)
ONE in 10 sales to fleets so far this year have been mini-MPVs, underlining the strength of what was until recently a niche segment.
The Zafira dominates for its business-like practicality and the new model, with its punchy, economical engine and versatile seven-seat layout, is a top contender. Build quality and badge appeal work in the Touran’s favour although fleets, surprisingly, buy relatively few. The C-MAX is still fresh and has a strong fleet following despite the drawback of only having five seats.
The Toyota is winning fleet sales after its recent facelift. It holds its value well, although space is not its strongest point.
Renault’s Grand Scenic presses all the right buttons for this class, at a competitive rental. Drivers with a higher limit would probably go for the 130bhp engine option. Being a five-seater puts the ageing Picasso at a disadvantage despite its competitive pricing.
Pricing risk manager, Lombard
THIS segment is largely split between five and seven-seaters, with the choice between two additional seats or boot space.
Of the five-seaters, the Citroen has a low list price but also the lowest RV. It is showing its age, but aggressive manufacturer support means it has the lowest rental.
The Focus C-MAX has good fuel economy, the lowest CO2 and the most car-like drive but is also only available as a five-seater.
The Touran is high on quality and price, and the Volkswagen brand gives it the second-best RV.
The Zafira is brand new, the market leader and has the most flexible seating, so at the moment it is very strong.
Toyota has recently given the Verso a facelift and seven seats. It is the dark horse but has the best RV here, giving very competitive rentals.
The Scenic is still very competitive but service costs are up on Euro IV-compliant engines, giving it the highest SMR costs.
Head of strategic and international sales, Arval
THIS is a growing sector providing continued innovation, but it is becoming increasingly crowded due to the trend for lifestyle family motoring, which is a core fleet requirement.
The Citroen is a great company car, with a low rental and running costs allied to reliability, versatility and funky styling – it is just a shame about the residuals.
A poor interior, top-end pricing and sluggish residuals harm the Ford. It faces tough competition and it is not easy to see value for money.
Safety is a big plus for the Toyota, but the Corolla Verso is unlikely to score highly with fleets against established competition. It may be boring to look at, but the Touran provides beauty on the inside with Teutonic toughness and quality. The Volkswagen badge ensures strong residual values, but it remains expensive.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Renault maintains its reputation for innovation and design.
A larger wheelbase than the five-seat version offers confident, smooth road handling. The 1.9-litre diesel offers the best in the Renault range for power, drive and competitive running costs. It is the one to beat and a must-have choice for fleets.
Trade services manager, Custom Fleet
THERE is some disparity in terms of specification and list price this month, so we have based our decision on a ‘value-for-money’ criteria, weighing practicality against price and monthly rental.
Our number one is the Corolla Verso, which has a great engine, good specification and represents excellent value for money.
If we had been comparing like-for-like in terms of spec, our first choice would undoubtedly have been the new Zafira. This latest version represents further improvement on the previous model. It is an excellent package and has the benefit of the lowest SMR costs in this group.
In third is the Ford, which has a high standard specification and a good power train, while the Grand Renault Scenic carries on the trend to upscale mini-MPVs.
The Citroen now looks long in the tooth but benefits from exceptionally low capital costs and has the cheapest monthly rental.
The Volkswagen is the most expensive from all aspects, and may struggle at this end of the market where functionality and practicality may well outweigh other considerations such as brand prestige.
Senior pricing analyst, Masterlease
THE mid-size compact MPV sector is an important segment of the fleet market, offering a flexible and convenient alternative to both the traditional lower-medium and upper-medium segment vehicles.
The new Vauxhall Zafira builds on the success of its predecessor, improving in the areas that needed it most – driveability and a wider mix of engine options – while retaining the innovative seven-seater Flex 7 seating arrangement.
The Toyota Corolla Verso is probably the Zafira’s strongest rival in this sector and ultimately the decision on which to have may come down to personal preference.
Volkswagen’s Touran is very capable and built to the company’s typical quality levels, but it is perhaps not as fun to drive as some of the others.
The Grand Scenic is the longer seven-seat version of the very popular Renault Scenic and offers a good value-for-money package.
The Citroen Xsara Picasso and Ford Focus C-MAX are the only five seaters in this group and while being very useful and flexible, they both lose out to their competitors when the need for additional seating occurs.
Average leasing rates
ALL models except the Citroen are closely matched in the mid-£300 bracket. The Xsara Picasso is much cheaper, reflecting the amount of support Citroen gives this car to get it on leasing fleets.
THE Ford is the cleanest, but it uses a 1.6-litre engine rather than the larger units in the others. Ford’s pricing means a 2.0-litre TDCi is out of this bracket. All fall into the 20% band or below for company car tax purposes.
THE Citroen and Ford lead the way in frugality, with both claimed to return an impressive 57.6mpg. The others are way off this mark, although they offer strong economy of between 45.6 and 48.7mpg.
Residual value forecasts
IT IS hardly surprising that a Volkswagen tops the RV chart, with an average retained value of 34%, the same as the Toyota. The Zafira is the only other car to top 30%. The Ford and Renault both retain 29%.
Average net prices of cars to leasing firms
THE Citroen is a £17,000 car, but our leasing panel are buying them for an average of under £13,000, which shows the level of support given by the manufacturer to the Picasso. Renault is next best in terms of support.
Average maintenance costs
THE Vauxhall leads the way in SMR costs, undercutting its rivals here over three years/60,000 miles. The Toyota and Volkswagen are predicted to cost the most in garage bills over the same period.
How the panel voted
1. VAUXHALL ZAFIRA
STILL the one to beat for its blend of performance, style and practicality. With strong residual values, the Zafira looks set to retain its best-seller reputation and takes a convincing victory here.
TOYOTA COROLLA VERSO
A RECENT facelift, seven-seat layout and the usual Toyota benefits of reliability, high specification level and strong build quality see the Corolla Verso take a strong second place.
3 = FORD FOCUS C-MAX
DESPITE being limited by offering only five seats, the Ford takes joint third place, with praise for its engine, spec and car-like driving position, though detractors say it is not practical enough and too expensive.
3 = RENAULT GRAND SCENIC
WITH the second lowest rental rate and some decent manufacturer support, the Grand Scenic stacks up financially. It also appeals to drivers with its versatile interior and strong engine.
3 = VOLKSWAGEN TOURAN
IMPRESSIVE build quality and the usual high Volkswagen residuals, but the Touran is just too expensive to challenge here. High front-end price, high rentals and not much manufacturer support.
6. CITROEN XSARA PICASSO
THE Picasso has always sold well, and when you see how much support there is from Citroen it becomes obvious why. Easily the lowest rentals make it appealing; only five seats makes it less so.