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Archive 7
six multi-purpose vehicles assessed in 2000


What's the attraction of the MPV? Stuart Bladon reckons
the high seating position and commanding view are important factors; but space and versatility also appeal, as revealed in
his assessment of six prime contenders.


Several manufacturers claim to have pioneered the concept of a car with high roof and lots of seats inside, at first given the awful name 'people carriers'. Happily, this didn't stick, and the slightly better term 'MPV', or multi-purpose vehicle is in general use now. At least it indicates their function, for which versatility is the key. With most of them, you can take out unwanted seats and turn them into a kind of van. Alternatively, the seats may be folded to serve as tables.
   Families find the MPV ideal, with its space for all the things children want to have with them, from prams for babies, to bikes when they are older, while all occupants enjoy the lovely view afforded by the high seating position.
   Manufacturers have been quick to exploit this interesting new market, and the choice has proliferated in the last couple of years, with some 20 now on the market. Originality of design has also bounded ahead, as seen in such recent examples as the Fiat Multipla and Renault Scenic 4x4.
   It's also good that the MPV doesn't have to be big. Quite compact models such as the Vauxhall Zafira are attractively roomy inside, although shorter externally than the Vectra. On the other hand, really generous space is provided by such models as the Peugeot 806 and Chrysler Grand Voyager.
   Some manufacturers opt for sliding side doors, which are practical for ease of access in tight spaces, and feature on the Fiat Ulysse and its sister models, Citron Synergie (called Evasion on the Continent) and Peugeot 806. The group built by Volkswagen (Sharan, Ford Galaxy and SEAT Alhambra) all have conventional front-hinged doors, claimed to make the vehicle less van-like in appearance. Renault's Espace and the Mitsubishi Space Wagon also have hinged doors, while the Kia Sedona and lordly Chrysler Voyager which has swept the American market as well as proving popular here, have sliding doors. Whichever format you prefer, a wide choice is still available.
   There was a time when families with more than three children had to put up with an estate car fitted with an occasional rearward-facing back seat. Not any more; the MPV is today's answer. We have selected six from all sections of the market for test and detailed appraisal. As usual, the cars are arranged in ascending price order. The acceleration time to 80 mph and maximum speed are shown for each car, without implying that these speeds should be used where lower limits apply. Fuel consumption figures are those achieved on test except where stated otherwise.


Fiat Multipla
When it first appeared at a Continental Motor Show, I thought the weird-looking Multipla was some sort of styling exercise and was fascinated to learn that it really was going to be produced looking like that. As I found when driving it, the Multipla attracts attention, and people usually follow the initial look of surprise with one of open amusement. But the Multipla is not a joke - far from it, because it introduces a lot of clever thinking into the MPV market.    One of the features, which many may appreciate, is the three-abreast seating in the front. The central seat belt is fitted to the seat itself and the airbag bursts diagonally from the left of the facia, protecting left and centre occupants.
   When not in use, the central seat can be folded to serve as a table and all seats fold or can be readily removed. Sometimes, after taking the seats out of an MPV, it's difficult to know where they go back, but with the Multipla each has a little identity label at the bottom.
   Although the screen pillars are very thick, they slope forward and do not seriously obstruct visibility. A very small quarter window is fitted at the front, with the door mirror at the bottom. Pleasant and relaxing to drive, the Multipla has very good steering, ride and handling, and the seats are well shaped. The interior bristles with novel features and bizarre styling, such as the facia panel with its multiplicity of slatted ventilation outlets and the large semi-circular speedometer. There is no rev counter. The gear change lever sprouts from the bottom of the facia panel, only a few inches from the driver's left hand on the wheel, but the change is a bit vague.    Fiat offers the Multipla with choice of two engines and two trim packages, combining to make a four-model range. The petrol version has a 1.6-litre 16-valve engine giving 103 bhp, while the diesel has capacity of 1,910 cc and, with turbocharger, intercooler and direct high pressure injection, it is slightly more powerful, at 105 bhp.
   The diesel should be considerably more economical. Fiat claim 44.1 mpg for the diesel, against 32.8 with the petrol model. In a necessarily brief test, it was not possible to carry out our usual fuel consumption measurement.
   Buy the Multipla, make people laugh, and laugh back when you show them what a versatile vehicle it is. But it's a bit expensive, especially in diesel form which costs a clean 1,000 more than the 1.6. ELX trim instead of SX also adds a further 1,700.The double sunroof with electric control is 550 extra for the SX model.

Fiat Multipla JTD SX1.9 diesel - 14,380
Automatic transmission - n/a
Standard/optional seating - 6
Warranty - 1 year/unlimited mileage
              - 8 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 106 mph
0-80 mph - 28.4 sec
Fuel consumption (see text) - 27.9 mpg
Insurance - Group 8


Mazda Premacy GXi
By chance, the Premacy arrived for test immediately after the Vauxhall Zafira, and it was noticeable at once how much better the ride was in Mazda's version of a very similar-looking MPV. Bump absorption is more effective, but the seats are not quite so good.
   In the Premacy, the cushions are rather hard, and the adjuster knob to the right of the seat gives height adjustment for the driver but only by raising the cushion at the rear. As in the Vauxhall Zafira (standard on Elegance and optional on Comfort models), there is provision for the front passenger seat to tip forward when not occupied.
   In place of Vauxhall's system of folding the seats away into the floor, the Premacy has provision for the seats to fold flat on to the cushion, after pulling a release strap, and a second release at the rear allows the seats to tip forward, each one individually. There is only one row of seats behind the driver, so Premacy is a five-seater. For greater comfort, the centre seat can be removed when not needed and the outer seats can then be moved inwards, giving more elbow room. They are certainly very easy to remove and relatively light, at only 12kg each.
   Engine choice is a 1.8-litre petrol in 100 or 115 bhp form, or a 2-litre diesel with 16 valves, turbo and direct injection. As tried in GXi form, the Premacy had the less powerful engine, but it still performed well, matching the acceleration of the Zafira, and it's a smooth, quiet engine giving relaxed cruising. An easy gear change and clutch with light pedal release make for easy driving in town, but rather a lot of revs are needed when moving off, or the engine is inclined to stall.
   Accurate and light, with a compact turning circle, the steering makes it easy to keep the Premacy in-lane on a motorway on a windy day and the handling is easily manageable. Although with drum brakes at the rear, the car stops well and has both anti-lock and electronic brake distribution as standard.
   A glass sunroof with electric tilt/slide action is one of relatively few additional items included with the GSi trim, but it is available for the GXi as an option at 400 extra and was fitted to the test car. All models have air conditioning and electric front windows.
   It's quite a big price jump from the 15,100 of the GXi including sunroof to the 16,850 cost of the GSi, so although this brings 15 bhp more, the less expensive model seems to represent better value. Extra cost for the diesel, which comes only with GXi trim, is 600 and worth considering since the fuel consumption of the Premacy 1.8 petrol was a little on the heavy side.

Mazda Premacy 1.8 GXi - 14,805
Automatic transmission - 695
Standard/optional seating - 5
Warranty - 3 years/60,000 miles
              - 6 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 108 mph
0-80 mph - 22.6 sec
Fuel consumption - 27.9 mpg
Insurance - Group 6


Kia Sedona
Extended experience of the new and very competitively priced MPV from Korea came with a well-run Press launch, followed by a caravan towing test. Much as I admired the smoothness of the V6 24-valve 2.5-litre petrol engine, the torquey four-cylinder diesel tried in the second version proved better able to cope with the considerable weight and bulk of this MPV, especially when towing a caravan. But whichever engine is chosen, the price is the same.    Inside, the walnut trim looks a little pseudo - but enhances the appearance - and the quality of construction is generally good. We had the gaiter round the gear lever come adrift, but otherwise everything seemed well put together and both Sedonas tried proved comfortable and capable.
   The steering is not very positive, as the Kia is mainly directed at the American market where they don't like it to be too precise, but it compensates with good directional stability. There was no tendency for the car to wander or waggle at the rear when towing.   The brakes are very effective, with anti-lock control, although drums are used at the rear.
   As well as the dual engine options - V6 petrol or turbo diesel - the Kia Sedona buyer can choose from four trim levels, with the price for the basic S model starting at a competitive 13,995.
   On the GSX version as tested, the Sedona driver has electric seat adjustment. The driving seat also has an electric pneumatic pump to alter squab firmness, but the cushion is rather hard. Seat shaping is good, though, giving comfortable support. Behind the front seats are two more individual seats like the front ones, and these are on slides so that they can be adjusted for leg length. A rear bench seat forms the third row, which can be folded and tipped to provide more luggage space when not in use.
   Both the central captain-type chairs have armrests each side and they can be swivelled to face to the rear, making possible a little four-seater conference area at the back. Sliding side doors on each side give access to the main area of the Sedona and are easy to operate.
   The Sedona is a little on the wide side for British roads, at 1.9m, but it is helpful that a switch allows both door mirrors to be motored inwards, flush with the body.
   This is a feature of the GSX, as are the electric seat adjustments, electric tilt/slide sunroof and opening electrically-operated rear quarter windows. But the 3,000 extra for this trim seems too much and it is the Sedona S which stands out as remarkable value.

Kia Sedona GSX 2.9 Turbo D - 16,995
Automatic transmission - 850
Standard/optional seating - 6
Warranty - 3 years/60,000 miles
              - 6 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 104 mph
0-80 mph - 28.5 sec
Fuel consumption - 32.8 mpg (24-25 towing)
Insurance - Group 11D


Vauxhall Zafira 1.8 16v
Much clever thought went into the design of the Zafira's seating, which takes the form of two individual seats with centre armrest attached to the driving seat, three more in the middle and two at rear. It takes literally a moment to fold all but the front seats down and the ingenious thing is the way they disappear into the floor.
   The central seat of the middle row also has a ski flap, useable since there is a gap between the two rearmost seats. The car can be converted from seven-seater to two-seater in less than half a minute. I thought it was pretty clever the way the seats were so easily removable from the Peugeot 806 (not included in this group), but with the Zafira it is even quicker and there is the advantage that the seats do not have to be stowed away.
   Three engines are offered for Zafira, beginning with a 1.6-litre petrol giving 100 bhp, through a 1.8-litre in the car as tested, with 115 bhp, to the new 82 bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel. All engines including the diesel are 16-valve units.
   The 1.8-litre copes well with this fairly compact yet internally roomy car, giving good acceleration and very relaxed cruising. The front wheels are driven through a five-speed gearbox with easy change action. Reverse gear is alongside first, protected by a safety collar on the gear lever.
   Brakes are good, with ABS standard, and the steering is accurate enough to hold the car neatly in-lane even when being buffeted about on a windy day; and the steering column is adjustable in both directions.
   The suspension is less pleasing. There's a lot of buckety lurch and plunge over big bumps. It is much happier on good surfaces when one is more impressed by the low level of tyre roar.
   The Zafira's body design is essentially that of a high-top estate, with front-hinged side doors and lift-up tailgate. There are some thoughtful touches, such as the pull-out drawer beneath the front seat and a lever at the side of this seat allowing it to be tipped forward when unoccupied. An anti-theft alarm can be suppressed when required by pressing both map light buttons together. Comfort and Elegance models have air conditioning.
   In addition to the basic Zafira trim (not available with 1.8 engine), Comfort trim is offered with all engines, adding such features as roof rails and electrically heated and adjusted mirrors. With the top trim, Elegance (not 1.6), ABS and an electrically operated glass sunroof are among the additions. There is also a wide range of options to enhance an already very attractive MPV.

Vauxhall Zafira Elegance 1.8 - 17,320
Automatic transmission - n/a
Standard/optional seating - 7
Warranty  - 2 years/45,000 miles
               - 12 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 115 mph
0-80 mph - 22.5 sec
Fuel consumption - 31.5 mpg
Insurance - Group 8E


Renault Scenic RX4
Older readers may have unhappy associations with the word 'utility', which applied to everything from shirts to sheets in wartime and immediate post war years, meaning horrid, made at minimum expense with coarse materials. So it's odd that the term Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) is now used for Renault's latest version of the Scenic, the RX4, which is an intriguing design and anything but utilitarian.
   Its important difference from the ordinary Scenic - which is, of course, still available - is that it has permanent four-wheel drive. So here's the MPV to choose if you want to be able drive on to the grass by the river for fishing, tow a boat up a slimy slipway, or go into the muddy car park at the races, all without fear of getting stuck. It goes on sale in Britain on 1 June.
   Familiar Scenic features which have made the model so popular since its launch, continue with this new SUV version - such as the double electric sunroofs, the copious storage space in compartments under the floor and the ease with which the seats can be folded or removed.
   To add drive to the rear wheels, which is engaged all the time and adjusted as required by a viscous coupling, Renault had to redesign the rear suspension. Spare wheel stowage beneath the floor was no longer possible, so the spare is now mounted on the tail door under a cover, and is secure unless released from inside.    The rear door arrangement is ingenious: a touch on the handle opens the window, which goes upward unaided. This gives access to the load space just to put in parcels or things like boots, but for full access the remainder of the door is side-hinged and opens taking the spare wheel with it. External styling changes include more protective trim at front and on the sides, up to waist level.
   With comfortable suspension, extra ground clearance and very good controls, the Scenic RX4 is a very pleasant car to drive, as well as having commendable off-road ability; and it is available with choice of 2-litre 16-valve engine or a new turbo diesel 1.9-litre with latest common rail technology. Here's the unusual point: the diesel is actually cheaper (at 18,200) than the petrol model (18,400).    Called dCi, this new unit is claimed to give average fuel consumption of 47.9 mpg in the front-drive Scenic, while with the added weight and drag of the RX4, it averages 38.4 mpg. As this assessment was based on an overseas launch including a lot of off-road driving, it was not possible to measure fuel consumption and the figures given are Renault's official claims.
   A luxury version called Monaco, with leather trim, is to be available for 1,200 extra.

Renault Scenic RX4 Turbo D - 18,200
Automatic transmission - n/a for RX4
Standard/optional seating - 5
Warranty - 1 year/unlimited mileage
                - 8 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 99 mph
0-80 mph - 25.5 sec
Fuel consumption (see text) - 38.2 mpg
Insurance - Group 9


Honda Shuttle ES 2.3i
With its smooth, elegant body shape to reduce wind drag and a very efficient 16-valve engine delivering 150 bhp, the Shuttle is an impressively lively performer. This is surprising since it is available only with automatic transmission. Put the foot down firmly on the accelerator and it drops down smoothly to third or even second and really sprints away.
   Coupled with this is the generous roominess of the Shuttle, making it a very capable and versatile vehicle indeed. It's also impressively comfortable, with a smooth ride on most surfaces, little tyre roar or thump and only moderate wind noise. The all-disc brakes are excellent and have anti-lock control as well as an electronic brake distribution system.
   There are four very comfortable individual seats, each with armrests. At first glance, it's a four-seater rejoicing in lavish space - but it's actually a six-seater, as the rear floor revolves upward and turns into a comfortable bench seat for two more rear occupants. When it is in position, the vacated trench in the floor provides more luggage space - an ingenious solution for those who don't want a multi-seater all the time.
   A further advantage of the individual seats is having a 'walk-through' from front to rear between the seats, as well as making it easy for the two rear occupants to reach their seats. The two central seats are readily removable.
   It is also easy to move across the front of the car, thanks to the lack of any transmission hump or gear change lever. The selector for the automatic is column-mounted and easy to use, with an indicator above the fuel and temperature gauges showing the selector position.
   On a windy day, the Shuttle tended to blow about a bit, but the steering is accurate and light making it easy to hold it in check. Cruise control switches are on the right-hand side of the attractive leather-trimmed steering wheel, but there are no remote controls for the radio/cassette unit and the set itself, by Pioneer, produced rather boomy tone even after careful adjustment. The front drops down to reveal the cassette slot, or to remove the front for security.    Air conditioning is standard on both trim versions and the dearer ES, as tested, also has an electric sliding steel panel sunroof over the cab area.
   Easy to drive, roomy and comfortable, the Shuttle has much to appeal, especially for the refinement of its very smooth and quiet four-cylinder engine. Drawbacks (for some) may be the lack of a manual transmission version and the fairly high fuel consumption.

Honda Shuttle 2.3i ES - 20,425
Automatic transmission - standard
Standard/optional seating - 6/7
Warranty - 2 years unlimited mileage
              - 6 years anti-corrosion
Maximum speed - 114 mph
0-80 mph - 20.5 sec
Fuel consumption - 24.9 mpg
Insurance - Group 12

 

 

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