The 8 coolest MPVs ever

19th April 2024
Ethan Jupp

As a general rule, the fewer seats there are in a car the ‘cooler’ it tends to be. Three-seaters like the McLaren F1 and GMA T.50 are notable exceptions, but why do you think almost all sports and supercars are two-seaters? There are a couple of abject bucks to the trend though; multi-seater people carriers that are just cool, either by virtue of surprising high performance incongruity or just sheer madness. Let’s take a look at a few.


Ford S-Max 2.5

We open at the restrained end of the spectrum, with a legitimately awesome people carrier you can actually own. Launched at the mad peak of mid-2000s over-engineering (note, not over-engineering) the Ford S-Max was a smaller, sportier-looking MPV than its longer-serving Galaxy sibling, that was available with the 2.5-litre turbocharged five-cylinder engine from the Focus ST. This effervescent warbler of a mill is entirely out of sorts for an MPV today and has ten times more character than most engines in current hot hatches. But yes, back then, you could haul your sizable litter with the progenitor of the engine in the Focus ST. Oh what a beautiful place pre-recession Britain was.


Renault Espace F1

All the way at the other end of the spectrum is of course, this. The Renault Espace F1 is as described: a bit of Espace and a bit of F1. And no, it’s not an F1 car with an Espace engine. Quite the opposite. Sat in the middle of the puffed-out Espace body (between two carbon bucket seats) is the 3.5-litre 800PS V10 engine normally seen in a 1993 Williams FW15-C. This was of course a one-off concept/show car built for the sheer fun of it to celebrate 10 years of the Espace’s production. Famous drivers include Alain Prost and Damon Hill. Famous passengers include a certain Sir Frank Williams.


Mercedes R63 AMG

What a strange blot in Mercedes-Benz’s copybook the R-Class is but, being a child of its era, it’s as much a vessel for a ridiculous engine as it is in its totality, an amorphous stab at simultaneously creating and filling a niche. So yes, while it was a strange, luxury MPV, it was also a Mercedes from the late-2000s, so naturally it was available with a 6.2-litre V8 engine. Because your 4.2 children simply must be raised on a diet of rolling burnouts, billowing tyre smoke and outrageous oversteer.


Peugeot 806 Spa 24

Like Renault, Peugeot in the 1990s found itself tempted to marinate its big family people-mover in rich motorsport sauce. The result wasn’t a flight of F1-powered fantasy like the Espace, it was a legit race car. The 806 partook in the Spa 24 Hours in 1995, qualifying 12th on the grid. Unfortunately the Group A Belgian ProCar-spec racer suffered mechanical issues during the race itself.


Bertone Genesis

Don’t worry, it’s not all boring and legitimate from here. Enjoy this, the Bertone Genesis, a Lamborghini-engined Sci-Fi barge from a proposed future. Other supercar-esque bits include the gullwing doors, though decidedly un-exotic is the three-speed GM transmission through which the 455PS 5.2-litre V12 sent its power to the rear wheels. For what was always destined to remain a crazy showcar, Bertone put a lot of effort in, with some 30,000 man hours going into the futuristic design alone.


Sbarro Xsara Picasso

Another race-inspired monster is the Citroen Xsara Picasso Cup, an MPV with WRC DNA. Designed to conform with the rallying ‘kit car’ regulations, this puffed-out Picasso still has seating for five and features a 237PS screaming 2.0-litre engine, 19-inch wheels covering 370mm brakes and gullwing doors, taking the place of the standard car’s four. The normal Picasso was always a bit of a mopey thing. This by contrast is a proper weapon, albeit one not issued to buyers in dealerships.


Zafira VXR

What you could buy, like the Mercedes and the Ford mentioned above, was this. The Vauxhall Zafira VXR. And while it doesn’t have gullwing doors and isn’t a race car, it does have a proper amount of power: 240PS courtesy of the Astra VXR’s 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. It was a bit stiffer, had wider tyres and bigger brakes but otherwise, this is just a Zafira with a body kit. So while mad, it’s not exactly a track athlete. Those engines liked to pop, too, so there aren’t many left.


Stout Scarab

We end with this, a relic from another age. From America, almost a century ago, is the Stout Scarab. This strange little machine could be a prop in the new Fallout series but it’s the real deal. The product of an aviation engineer, it’s thought by some to be the world’s first production people carrier. It’s also the world’s first car to use a fibreglass body – TVR, meet your grandaddy – and indeed, the first to use air suspension. Just nine of these weird and wonderful things were made, following a single concept. Even though the Stout Motor Car Company died a death in 1946, it’s really rather incredible that Mr Stout himself used one of these strange cars to cover some 250,000 miles driving around the US. An art-deco delight very much ahead of its time.

  • List

  • Ford

  • Vauxhall

  • Sbarro

  • Bertone

  • Peugeot

  • Mercedes-AMG

  • Renault

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