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Top 7 seven-seater cars for big families

With a big family, it's hard to find time to shop around and consider all the 7 seater car models currently on sale (nearly 50!) to decide which is right for you. So, we’ve done the legwork for you – Here is Zuto’s review of our seven favourite 7-seaters to help those of you with a growing family.

1. Citroen Grand C4 Picasso

The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso offers “space age” modern style, packed with features, in supersize proportions.

The flexible seat folding system means that this car can be adapted to suit a busy school run, a family day out and a weekly supermarket shop. When all seven seats are folded down, there is still room in the boot for a folded buggy. When you need only 5 of the seats, the 2 rear seats can be folded away to reveal a boot space larger than a Volkswagen Golf’s. If you need to transport larger items, the second row of seating can also be easily folded down to reveal a huge loading bay that rivals a van’s. However, the seating system does mean that the two rearmost seats aren’t suitable for adults on a regular basis or on long journeys.

This MPV is also one of the few seven seaters that provides 3 same-sized seats across the middle row, which means that 3 child car seats can be comfortably seated next to each other. The seating also comes with ISOFIX, which makes it both safe and practical for large young families.

The C4 Picasso isn’t as much fun to drive as its sportier rival - the Ford S-Max. But, with good suppression of external noise and soft suspension (that irons out small bumps in the road) it provides a calm cabin space on the road.

Standard models come fairly well equipped but, if you can afford to spend a bit more, exclusive models are worth considering. They come with lots of really useful equipment, including Sat Nav, a reversing camera and keyless entry and start.

If you’re looking for the cheapest models to buy, we’d suggest the basic 1.6ltr diesel, which is free to tax due to its low emissions. If you prefer petrol vehicles then the 1.6-litre 115 e-HDI also only costs £20 a year to tax.

Some owners have reported problems with the efficiency of the ventilation and heating system. So, if you’re buying a C4 Grand Picasso used then make sure you check this when test driving it.

2. Seat Alhambra

The Seat Alhambra is a favourite MPV among critics and the winner of both CarBuyer.co.uk’s Best MPV for 3 years running and WhatCar’s MPV of the Year 2015.

Why do the experts give it the thumbs up? Well, it’s smooth to drive, practical, comfortable and incredibly spacious, which makes it great value for money!

The Alhambra is one of the few seven-seater cars that can comfortably carry seven adults and still has a usable boot. It also has sliding doors on both sides of the car that makes getting the kids in and out easier, especially in cramped car parks.

This impressive SUV scored the maximum 5 stars when put through its paces in the Euro NCAP crash test and has ISOFIX technology to give parents peace of mind when transporting their young family.

After the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso, the Alhambra is one of the cheapest MPVs to run. The most efficient entry-level S car, with a 2ltr diesel engine, costs just £110 per year to tax.

However, SEAT’s warranty doesn’t compete with other manufacturers, like Kia or Hyundai, offering just a 2 year unlimited mileage and then 3 year up to 60,000 mileage warranty as standard. This means that if you’re buying used you’re unlikely to enjoy much benefit.

While the Alhambra itself has received great reviews so far, it’s worth noting that SEAT finished 24th out of 32 manufacturers in the 2014 Drive Power customer satisfaction survey. This doesn’t give buyers much confidence in manufacturer reliability.

3. Ford S-MAX

Neat handling and powerful engines make it easy to negotiate urban streets and cruise along the motorway in the Ford S-Max. In fact, the Ford S-Max has gained a reputation as “the most fun MPV to drive”, with some owners reporting that it feels like being behind the seat of a smaller estate car rather than an MPV.

The S-Max has tons of storage, including large door pockets, for family clutter and a versatile seating system that makes negotiating passengers and luggage easy. The second row of seating can accommodate three child car seats and includes ISOFIX technology.

The easy-to-use toggles that fold away the rearmost seats make it simple to switch the vehicle between a 5 seater and a 7 seater to free up boot space as needed. However, the third row of seats offers less space that the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso, which means they aren’t really suitable for adults.

Some owners have reported that electrical problems cause the most maintenance headaches. So, be sure to have the electronics checked, if you’re buying used, before you purchase.

4. Volvo XC90

The Volvo XC90 offers a package of sleek style, generous size proportions , a robust safety kit and relaxing driving experience that earned it the 2015 Auto Express Car of the Year Award.

It’s the only SUV on the market that can accommodate 3 child seats in the middle row of seating while the rearmost seats also offer enough room to accommodate teens and adults. Even with all seven seats erected, the latest XC90 can now hold up to 451 litres of luggage. That’s more than most MPVs!

With all of the seats down, the XC90’s boot space is even larger than the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso’s, making it perfect for a trip to IKEA to replicate this motor’s Swedish design in your home.

Volvo were extremely generous with the safety kit installed in this SUV. Importantly, the airbags protect passengers in all three rows of seating, by deploying the full length of the cabin, in the event of an accident. It also received an incredible 97% adult protection rating and 87% child protection rating during Euro NCAP crash testing that earned it a well-deserved overall 5 star rating.

However, the Volvo CX90 is also fairly expensive compared to other SUVs on the market, starting at £45,750 new and from around £6000 for a 2005 model used.

Reliability and cover are also concerns when choosing to buy any Volvo, after finishing in a disappointing 25th place out of 37 brands in the Warranty Direct Index 2014, which is based on total warranty claims. Volvo’s warranty is also only 3 years with a 60,000 mileage restriction that means used car buyers aren’t likely to have much coverage at all.

Owners have reported problems with the electric mirrors and diesel engine problems. So, when buying used make sure you test the electric mirrors and ask to start the engine a few times while test driving. If you have any trouble starting the engine, it could be a sign of a problem with the injectors, which is very expensive to fix.

5. Land Rover Discovery Sport

The Land Rover Discovery is the most upmarket and compact SUV to make our top 7 list. Its sleek design makes it look more like the stunning Range Rover Evoque than a member of the Land Rover family.

The Discovery Sport provides supremely comfortable seats, top-notch interior materials and well suppressed road and wind noise that spoils passengers with a calm and luxurious cabin experience.

However, at the same length and width as a Volkswagen Golf, this SUV is more suitable as a regular 5 seater with 2 occasional passengers rather than a well-used seven seater. While the rear two seats are easy to access, with rear doors opening almost 90 degrees, the lack of space means these seats are only really suitable for adult passengers on short journeys.

The discovery Sport scored five stars in Euro NCAP crash testing. It is also fitted with Land Rover’s Terrain Response System that adjusts the car's traction to help with driving in different conditions including snow, sand and rocks. This can come in handy when you need to pick up the kids in snowy or remote conditions.

The luxury and prestige of this SUV does command a fairly high price tag but it also holds its value very well on the used car market. Experts predict that it should retain between 50-55% of its value after 3 years and 36k miles, meaning it should be a solid investment.

Owners have reported problems with air suspension. So, if you choose to buy a used Discovery Sport then make sure this is checked when you test drive it.

6. Kia Carens

The Kia Carens is one of the cheapest MPVs on the market with prices starting at just £18,195 new and around £4500 for a used 2009 model. This MPV certainly doesn’t feel like a budget choice though, with an attractive design, practical interior layout and quality equipment included in standard models.

All Carens models include air-conditioning, cruise-control, USB and auxiliary ports for MP3 players and IPADs. The great suspension and well insulated interior makes travelling comfortable and quiet for drivers and passengers.

It’s the most compact MPV on our list, which means that when all seven seats are erected there isn’t any room for other luggage, with a tiny 100 litre boot capacity. There also isn’t room for 3 car seats next to each other in the second row. But, while the third row of seating is somewhat cramped, it is suitable for adults and teens on short journeys. On the plus side, it’s more compact size might be preferred by city families, since it’s easier to park in tight city centre spaces.

The Caren achieved a five star rating in the Euro NCAP test and Kia has also placed 7th in the 2013 and 2014 Driver Power car owner satisfaction survey. There are no significant reports of recurring problems from owners evidencing the Carens as a highly safe and reliable car.

This MPV also comes with Kia’s class-leading 7 year and 100,000 mileage warranty. This is fully transferable to any subsequent owners, meaning it can offer used car buyers real value.

7. Hyundai Santa Fe 7dr

The Hyundai Santa Fe is a capable and practical SUV but lacks some of the fun and comfort of other models to make our list.

It’s both spacious and flexible. The second and third rows of seating fold completely flat to reveal a huge (1615 ltr) boot space that can accommodate most types of luggage. The second row can be slid forwards and backwards to provide more legroom for tall teens and adults, or more boot space, when needed. There’s also tons of storage areas, including a large cubbyhole between the front seats that can come in handy for storing toys or bottles needed on a journey.

The powerful 2.2ltr diesel engines means these cars have lots of pulling power for families with caravans, trailers or boats. It also offers a reasonable 46.3mpg fuel economy costing 180 to tax for a year.

All Santa Fe’s come well equipped with air conditioning, rear parking sensors and all-wheel drive. Models sold in the UK have also been specifically designed with suspension for handling harsh British roads, improving balance on twisty lanes and gravel or mountainous roads.

However, the Santa Fe is quite pricey - Starting at £31,245 new, it’s Hyundai’s most expensive model! Although, the Sante Fe achieved five star performance in Euro NCAP crash testing and benefits from Hyundai’s strong reputation for reliability. It also comes with Hyundai’s generous 5 year unlimited mileage warranty and 20,0000 mile service intervals to protect against any problems, making it a sensible choice large families.