Mini-MPVs in particular are proving very popular, with their blend of compact size and family-friendly layout.
It is also a sector which has seen some activity in the past few months, with Renault giving the Scenic family a refresh late last year and Volkswagen updating its bland Touran with a much- needed facelift earlier this year.
But it is Citroën that is making waves in the market with its all-new C4 Grand Picasso, a full seven-seater that manages to balance practicality and economy with a stylish exterior.
The one they must all beat, however, is the evergreen Vauxhall Zafira, a model that has dominated the sector since its launch in 1999 thanks to its pioneering (at the time) Flex7 seating system, which allows the seats to be collapsed into the floor to create a flat loading area.
Nowadays, all the car firms have their own versions of this system, so the Zafira no longer has this distinct advantage in the sector. What it does offer is a wide range of models, competitive running costs and affordable lease rates. The Citroën has a tough job on its hands.
Contract services manager, DaimlerChrysler Fleet Management
VAUXHALL’S Zafira gave this sector real impetus on its launch in 1999, with innovative design that claimed much of the seven-seat MPV market. While it retains a cult following, storage space and standard equipment could be better.
The Mazda5 has useful twin sliding doors. The driving experience is lively, if slightly hard. The Picasso has striking looks inside and out, with excellent visibility.
The Toyota’s diesel engine performs well, contrasting with the underpowered Renault.
The Touran’s cabin and classy build balances comfort and control, but newer rivals offer more versatile seating.
Pricing manager, Lex
NO easy task, choosing a mini-MPV – it needs to carry the under-11 five-a-side team but not look or feel like a bus.
The best drives here are the two Japanese cars, with the Mazda5 living up to its ‘zoom-zoom’ image and the Toyota feeling very sure-footed.
The C4 Picasso is excellent, offering huge amounts of space, clever foldable seats and great visibility.
Volkswagen has facelifted the Touran, adding some extra character to its practicality and durability.
The Renault and the Vauxhall set the benchmark – Zafira’s folding seats are the stuff of legend in playgrounds throughout the land.
Head of risk, Hitachi Capital
APPEALING to those with young families and active life- styles, this sector has grown in volume and vehicle size.
Drivers choosing these vehicles require versatility – the ability to accommodate varying combinations of people and luggage at the weekend, without a bus-like driving experience on the commute.
Citroën’s first seven-seat attempt looks good, as does the Mazda, which combines style and practicality.
Poor RVs and high running costs hamper the Scenic.
Volkswagen and Toyota’s strong RVs and running costs result in competitive rentals, while the Zafira will appeal to those holding the purse strings.
Commercial operations manager, Lloyds TSB autolease
IN the past, this sector was all about function, but now form is much more of a consideration.
Small MPVs have moved on since the Scenic and Zafira were unchallenged, though in their latest forms they are still strong contenders.
New styling standards have been set by Citroën and Mazda, with the C4 offering excellent visibility and a smooth ride, while the latter benefits from sliding side doors.
The Touran and Verso also reflect the qualities of this new generation. The Scenic comes out first for rental, but overall the Zafira just edges it with a combination of style, practicality and value.
Average leasing rates
THE Mazda’s low front-end price and strong RV give the lowest rental. The Touran is the most expensive, with the least discount on offer. The Renault makes up for a poor RV with plenty of support.
THE Renault has the smallest engine and is the least powerful, helping it fall into the lowest (for a diesel) 18% BIK tax band, with the C4 and Touran next at 21%. The Mazda5 is the highest at 24%.
ONCE again, the Renault is way in front and is the only model to beat 50mpg combined. The Citroën, Vauxhall and Volkswagen are very evenly matched, while the Mazda and Toyota are close in last place.
THE Renault brand suffers, rightly or wrongly, from a perception of poor reliability and this hits used demand, putting the Grand Scenic last. The Toyota and Volkswagen, both noted for their quality, are top.
RENAULT is the most generous when it comes to support, offering an average of 16% off the Grand Scenic. Volkswagen offers the least, with an average of just 7% off the recently-revised Touran.
THE Zafira has a large advantage in SMR terms, undercutting the next cheapest, the Mazda5, by nearly £200 over 60,000 miles. Once again, Renault’s reliability legacy hits the Grand Scenic.
1. Citroën C4 G/Picasso 1.6 HDi SX
P11D price: £17,322
2007 BIK bill (22%): £800
2007 VED bill: £140
Hitachi Capital: £364
Lloyds TSB autolease: £328
VERDICT: Winning praise for its style and interior, the C4 stacks up with a strong RV, average levels of discount and a competitive monthly rental.
2. Vauxhall Zafira 1.9 CDTi 120 Life
P11D price: £17,097
2007 BIK bill (22%): £827
2007 VED bill: £140
Hitachi Capital: £334
Lex: £321 Lloyds TSB autolease: £323
VERDICT: Low SMR costs contribute to the second lowest rental and the Zafira holds its value well. Still a strong all-round package for fleets and drivers.
3. Volkswagen Touran 1.9 TDI SE
P11D price: £17,792
2007 BIK bill (22%): £821
2007 VED bill: £140
Hitachi Capital: £362
Lloyds TSB autolease: £331
VERDICT: Little in the way of support from Volkswagen means the Touran has the highest monthly rental, although a strong RV pegs costs back slightly.
4. Mazda5 2.0d TS2
P11D price: £16,652
2007 BIK bill (22%): £879
2007 VED bill: £165
Hitachi Capital: £292
Lloyds TSB autolease: £317
VERDICT: The cheapest of the six to rent, the 5 has a low front-end price, strong RV and decent support from Mazda. High CO2 and low economy are downsides.
5. Toyota Verso 2.2 D-4D T3
P11D price: £17,922
2007 BIK bill (22%) £906
2007 VED bill: £165
Hitachi Capital: £360
Lloyds TSB autolease: £342
VERDICT: A high front-end price and steep BIK bills blunt the Toyota’s challenge. The best RV of the six, but there’s not much discount on offer from Toyota.
6. Renault G/Scenic 1.5 dCi Extreme
P11D price: £16,767
2007 BIK bill (22%): £663
2007 VED bill: £115
Hitachi Capital: £394
Lloyds TSB autolease: £302
VERDICT: Not even a generous discount can offset a poor RV and high SMR costs. It does offer the lowest BIK bills and the best economy returns, though.