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MPVs are back, baby!
SUVs and pick-ups might be hogging all the headlines lately, but the humble multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) – or people mover to most Aussies – has enjoyed a sales revival after spending decades in the doldrums, increasing at nearly twice the rate of the overall new-vehicle market’s growth this year.
King of the people movers, of course, is the Kia Carnival. Now in its 22nd year in Australia, the one-time humdrum seven or eight-seater cheapo has morphed into the striking, almost space-age fourth-generation version, to rightly dominate the booming segment. Elegant design, exceptional packaging, refined powertrains, excellent aftersales – what’s not to like!
Are others manufacturers just going to sit back and let Kia cream in the sales – and profits?
Not likely. Since the 2019 demise of that doyen of MPVs – the venerable Toyota Tarago that reigned since the early 1980s – the people-mover class is now wide open. With the latter’s “replacement” – the unpopular Granvia – representing the polar opposite of what buyers want, the old regime has been deposed.
Factor in the new wave of fresh, promising MPVs looming, and it’s a perfect storm for a people-mover coup.
Here are a few of the more interesting contenders coming or under consideration.
Due in Australia later this year, the progressive one-box people mover joins the Carnival in being SUV-derived, and thus is related to popular crossovers like Hyundai’s Santa Fe and the Kia Sorento. This also means independent rear suspension, eight airbags and a bevy of driver-assist safety systems.
Available with up to eight seats, the Staria will include a top-line Premium grade, catering to more luxury-orientated travel. Five-star hotel and resort chains operators should start saving up now.
Two engines will be available – a 130kW 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel and a 200kW 3.5-litre V6 petrol, driving the front wheels via an eight-speed torque-converter auto. This is in stark contrast to the crude van-based rear-drive iMax that Staria replaces. Hybrid alternatives are also in the pipeline.
Note there’s also a Staria Load version (usurping the previous iLoad), in either two or five-seater configurations.
With more than a whiff of earlier-gen Toyota Tarago in its slick futurism, the Staria is calling all-out war against the Kia. The Carnival might be over.
Commercial vehicle specialists LDV – a subsidiary of SAIC Motor and known as Maxus elsewhere in the world – previewed an all-new electric people mover at the Shanghai show in April, and it’s quite the eye-opener.
Dubbed the MIFA Concept, it showcases SAIC’s ‘Maxus Intelligent Flexible Architecture’ (MIFA) engineering, but the big news is that this van is essentially what will head into production by year’s end. Sure, the wheels might be smaller, the wing cameras may vanish and the interior will come over less sci-fi outlandish, but the basic look will continue with what Maxus calls “a space capsule with oriental charm”.
More importantly, the Maxus’ EV powertrain is destined for the MIFA MPV; how close it gets to the concept's claimed 500kW/900Nm twin-motor spec offering a 0-100km/h sprint-time of under four seconds and 600km of range isn’t as-yet known.
Yep, we could be looking at the Tesla of MPVs. Or not. Time will tell.
Back in reality, Toyota must be fuming that its trusty old Tarago is out of production and the gawky Granvia has priced itself completely out of the market.
With strong ties to the new Kluger – both share the same Indiana, USA factory as well as TNGA-K platform first seen in the current Camry – it does not seem too far of a stretch to conclude that it would make a natural successor to the iconic Tarago.
We reckon Toyota Australia is missing a trick, especially considering that this is a hybrid-only MPV, employing a variation of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric engine just launched in the Kluger hybrid. Here it delivers 181kW of power combined, or 7.1L/100km – an impressively parsimonious result.
Stylish, spacious and dynamic, this is just the post-Tarago tonic Toyota Oz needs right now.
The long-anticipated VW Multivan redesign has just debuted, with completely different everything to match the fresh styling, giving the German people’s car maker a leg-up in people movers.
Migrating from the current van-derived platform to a variation of the MQB modular transverse architecture underpinning most front/AWD VWs including the Golf, the T7 Multivan should enjoy massive steps forward in drivability, refinement, comfort, safety and technology. And its interior will be more car-like than ever.
Another interesting development is a shift to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version, thanks to the new eHybrid system that allows for sustained EV motoring until a downsized turbo petrol engine kicks in to boost range.
We’re talking over 70 years of continual people-mover evolution here. And the MPV pioneers aren’t about to be left out of the game.
Judging by the hordes of Nissan Elgrand, Toyota Alphard and Mitsubishi Delica used grey imports ploughing Australia’s streetscape, it must surely be only a matter of time before one of the Japanese brands bites the bullet and imports these delightfully OTT MPVs as new models.
One we’d love to see is the promising, next-generation Nissan Elgrand – a full-sized, van-shaped but car-based people mover with distinct, upright styling that maximises interior space, comfort and luxury.
Fitted with the company’s muscular 3.5-litre V6, the current, ageing E52 series offers lots of effortlessly strong performance. It’s easy to understand why so many have ended up as reliable second-hand imports on the used market.
One of the advances mooted for the next-gen Elgrand is its adoption of Nissan’s latest e-Power EV with petrol range-extender technology, to help bridge the gap between conventional hybrids and full electrification.
So, c’mon, Nissan Australia: we’re ready and waiting. If you don’t, maybe the conceptually-similar, big-in-Japan Toyota Alphard might be the Japanese MPV that breaks through locally instead.