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Opinion: are MPVs making a comeback?

The MPV is now the preferred choice of travel for the wealthy, which has got us thinking

Published: 22 Apr 2024

Good grief. For a minute there, they had me. I thought the MPV was back. I mean, look at the new one-box silhouettes. The Lexus LM is here, the Volvo EM90 is out in China, and so is the closely related Zeekr 009. The LEVC taxi people will have one soon. But the resurrected one-box isn’t a puke-stained family wagon. It’s luxury transport for the chauffeured. A market that’s been prised wide open by fleets of black painted, tint windowed, polished alloyed Mercedes-Benz V-Classes.

It’s now possible to spend £200,000 on a froufrou’d-up Merc van by Brabus, Clive Sutton or Senzati. These have long since jettisoned the definition of ‘people carriers’, not least because step one in their fitouts is to evict the minibus seats. In their place go fewer bigger recliners, a fridge and glassware, supersized telly, mega sound system and more. High-end ambience is vouchsafed by retrimming the lot in quilted leather, polished wood and carpets as deep and soft as snow.

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Now, the end result might not ride as well as an S-Class, but it’ll certainly have every last one of an S-Class’s passenger amenities. Don’t worry about driving dynamics, because the one paying the ride is never the one at the wheel. Hence the privacy partition between the posh quarters and the hired hand driving.

This glossy one-box is vastly more spacious than a car, and space is the great underestimated luxury. Many of these vehicles serve red carpet duty, and the fact they’re high off the road and have big powered doors means more dignified entry and exit. And then once you’re in and rolling, it just looks like a normal minibus. Discretion assured.

Bit weird isn’t it? Today’s celebs want to travel incognito in a vehicle that looks like a van, yet MPVs died out when families shunned them... because they looked like a van. That’s why I figured the arrival of the Lexus LM and success of these V-Classes might signal that the MPV will soon be on-trend again. The MPV was always a guilty pleasure for me as they were so beguilingly roomy and versatile – hence the name, multi-purpose vehicle.

But truth is expensive cars – and a Lexus LM or one of these fancy V-Classes is pretty darned expensive – have no need to be multi-purpose. The requirement to be versatile goes in inverse proportion to price. If you’re buying a supermini, you probably need to commute, carry your mates at weekends, do the odd motorway trek, and once in a while fold the seat for hunter-gathering some bulky piece of furniture or other. Rich people on the other hand own a different car for each of those duties. Well, except carting furniture because these are not the sort of people to be found in the interminable checkout queue at Ikea.

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In short, the rise in posh vans absolutely doesn’t mean there’s hope for the revival of diverting oddities like the Ford S-Max with the five-cylinder turbo engine, or Lancia Phedra V6 or VW Sharan VR6. I’m prepared to accept I’m the only one who cares.

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