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Movers and Shakers

Sales soared and Toyota went all the way with a chisel-nosed Tarago that was the class act of the field.

Every big brand had some sort of people mover for drivers with more than four in the family. Some called them, unkindly, Catholic vans.

But they were mostly just converted delivery vans with three rows of seats, built to a price and with little concern for safety, comfort or equipment. A head-on crash meant the driver's legs would be first on the scene.

People movers have never really recovered from the backlash against those evil originals, and the rise and rise of four-wheel-drives has also made life tough.

Some people just don't want to be seen in a boring, boxy people mover, even if the newest of the breed are morphing into crossover cars that do more with less.

The latest Mitsubishi Grandis and the Honda Odyssey point to the future. They're shorter and smoother but still pack lots of positions and choices into the cabin.

They could spark a revival, particularly if petrol prices put real pressure on hulking seven-seat four-wheel-drives, but the current sales figures don't suggest that will happen soon.

Kia sold 461 of its class-leading Carnivals in July to take its year-to-date total to 3199, but that was nearly half the total number of people movers, only 8579 going on to Australian roads in the first seven months. In contrast, big sixes totalled 103,677.

People movers still fill a role, particularly if you really need to carry a lot of people for more than a sprint to the shops.

Most carry seven in reasonable comfort. Among the official people movers, only the Volkswagen Kombi is rated as a nine-seater. The pricey Toyota Tarago and VW Caravelle seat eight.

Still, people movers have come a long way on safety, comfort, refinement and equipment, and the benchmark Honda Odyssey is set for a huge sales rise very soon.

A PEOPLE mover is no longer a box on wheels, nor is it an embarrassment to its occupants.

The new Ford Territory is hot, and happily carries seven people if fitted with the rear seat. A Holden Crewman combines work-and-play duties, and the Toyota Kluger is a seven-seat family van disguised as an all-wheel-drive.

Families want a vehicle that sits between traditional passenger car and hulking bush basher, and carmakers are rushing to fill the void.

In coming years we can expect a rush of crossover vehicles that will blur the lines between traditional market segments.

The Territory is already doing the job of an old-fashioned Falcon, albeit one dressed up in a macho body with a high-rider seating position, a classy finish and plenty of equipment and versatility. Luggage space is tight with the third row of seats up, and access to those seats could be easier, but it is a winner with families.

The Crewman, the Cross8 in particular, is aimed at part-time parents who want family wheels with a bit of excitement. The upright back seat isn't all that comfortable, but the person making the buying decision – and using a Crewman for work – will be sitting up front.

1. Honda Odyssey
Lowdown: Attractive body and Honda quality boosted by a top-value price.
Verdict: The smooth new Honda shows how people movers should be done.
Plus: Refined, classy, good looking.
Minus: Not a huge amount of space.
Rating: 18/20

THE newest member of the Honda family is more quality stuff from the company that gave us the pace-setting Accord Euro. It comes with only seven seats, but that's no real handicap because the 2.4-litre engine has 118kW of power and impressive response. Letdowns are suspension that thumps over bumps, child-seat anchor points in the ceiling block the rear view, and loss of the V6. But to cap the action and really rattle its rivals, prices open at $38,790 and the fully loaded luxury model is $45,290.

2. Chrysler Voyager
Lowdown: The incredible hulk of the people-mover class is the one to buy if you have a big family and equally large budget.
Verdict: An American "minivan" that's great for heavyweight hauling.
Plus: Roomy and versatile, with V6 power.
Minus: Costly, and not the best right-hand-drive conversion.
Rating: 17/20

THE American carmaker says this is the Rolls-Royce of people movers. There's space for seven with innovative roll-out rear seats and armrests in the front. The 3.3-litre V6 is punchy, if a little thirsty. Also available in a long-wheelbase model and all-wheel-drive. Prices start at $53,490 (SE model), step up to $59,090 for the long-wheelbase machine and go all the way to $78,590 for the fully loaded four-wheel-drive.

3. Holden Zafira
Lowdown: The innovative Holden was developed in Europe for three-row family work and Opel's original has been smartly tweaked for Australian sales.
Verdict: Not the biggest of the bunch, but a good drive for smaller families.
Plus: A good drive with impressive quality.
Minus: Poor space in the tail, second-row bench has to slide forward for access to back seats.
Rating: 16/20

THE Zafira is close in concept to the now-dead Mitsubishi Nimbus, with a compact body that has Tardis-style third-row seating. It has excellent suspension tuning and good punch from its 2.2-litre four. The price is pretty nice, too, at $32,890, and the TV commercial with a youngster sketching on a baby is one of our favourites.

Rating: 16/20
Price: $43,990
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

SMOOTH lines, nicely built and well equipped, but hit hard when the Odyssey arrived. Definitely worth a look for those dollars.

Rating: 15/20
Price: $50,665
Engine: 3.0-litre V6

THE multi-purpose vehicle has been left behind by the zoom-zoom models in the Mazda family. Quality is impressive and it drives nicely, but few people seem to want a Mazda people mover.

Rating: 15/20
Price: $43,100
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

NICE to drive with good access for kids in back, but minimal luggage space with third row up. Too costly for what it is, and shows Toyota doesn't really care about people movers in 2004.

Rating: 15/20
Price: from $52,460
Engine: 2.4-litre four

THE faded former champion. Still has a great name. Desperately needs a V6 engine to justify prices that go up to $72,620.

Rating: 15/20
Price: From $59,990
Engine: 2.8-litre V6

BOTH Volkswagens are in a run-out situation, with no turbodiesels left. The new turbodiesel T5 could be the pick for long-distance families.

Rating: 15/20
Price: From $32,990
Engine: 2.7-litre V6

ONE of the newer models in the Hyundai family, and punchy with its V6 motivation. The price is good but it shapes as a big-box deal for people who are more worried about practicality than quality.

Rating: 14/20
Price: $39,990
Engine: 2.5-litre four cylinder

THE Kombi has a great name and drives better than you'd expect, with austere but quality finishing. Not as flashy as some.

Rating: 14/20
Price: $29,990
Engine: 2.5-litre V6

THE easy sales leader but doing it on value. Is much like its Hyundai twin but with a little more equipment and a price that makes it a real winner.

Arriving early next year
Price: TBA
Engines: TBA

THE Vito people mover will be available in two models, with the upmarket version getting leather seats and all the fruit. Worth a look.

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