Seven-seater is the answer

28 May 2010
, CarsGuide

Just a brief look into any junior sports club shows fewer people now do more to keep such clubs and teams afloat. That, generally, means more bodies in cars. Roll in the people mover. Whole football teams once rode into battle in a fleet of four or five Toyota Taragos, the people mover which set the trend and continues to stand the test of time. Now, though, that same footy team of 21 players could be delivered on game day in four seven seaters, which range in style from bus-like vans to wagons and SUVs.

There is even room in compact SUVs, like the Mitsubishi Outlander, for up to a quarter of that team, or the starting line-up for a basketball team. Stacking seven seats in the tested 2.4-litre four-cylinder auto Outlander, does not leave much room for luggage. Effective use of the space and smart design, however, ensures room enough for smaller travellers.

The two rear seats, in the rear hatch, fold flat to the floor and leave ample storage room when the vehicle is used as a five-seater. The bench-like absolute rear pair of seats – while not tested by this car reviewer because of his inflexibility and bulk –  cannot be overly comfortable just by their appearance.

Long trips riding over the rear axle likely would not be great fun, either, and could have little passengers reaching for a sick bag. On longer journeys, where comfort and accessibility, even for children, needs to be considered, is where such traditional people movers as the Toyota Tarago, Chrysler Voyager, Kia Carnival and the more prestigious Mercedes-Benz Viano, hold their own.

Such offerings as the Outlander, Ford Territory, Citroen Piccaso, Dodge Journey and Honda Odyssey have found their niche. They are cars which can carry a crowd but are not bus-like in doing so. They still reward the driver with a driving experience –  you sit behind the steering wheel, not peering over it bus-driver-like. And then there's the obvious difference: an engine bay is separating you and the road ahead.

Given the vehicles are focussed on families and the purchase and maintenance of these cars centres around family budgets, cost becomes important. Prices for seven-seaters compared by Carsguide range from the basement offering of the Carnival at $39,390 up to the Viano which comes in at a recommended retail price of $69,215 for the base model. Fuel consumption rates, another big factor to consider in terms of weekly budgeting, ranges from a claimed 5-litres per 100km for the new diesel Citroen C4 Picasso to 11-litres per 100km for the big V6 Kia Carnival.

Style and looks always will be a personal choice and, thankfully, designers have embraced the people mover in recent times to create a wide and varied range of styles. The Honda Odyssey has great appeal, a sense of style and elegance, while the Ford Territory, which even has seats as an option in the TX range of rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and as standard on both options in the TS model, is robust without having to be a full-on SUV.

Many models of medium to large SUVs and four-wheel drives now have seven-seat options. This is where Holden's seven-seat option, the Captiva, can be found  but that is a whole new category of family adventure vehicles best left for a future story.

Mercedes gives a tour vehicle option with the Viano, Tarago always will be a favourite for families, looking for a spacious `A to B' vehicle which can come with plenty of bells and whistles if that's what you wish for and –  are prepared to spend the money.

Kia's Carnival went ahead in leaps and bounds for performance from the first model released here to the latest, which is ageing, as is the Chrysler Grand Voyager with its American styling. Another U.S. player is the Dodge Journey. Its harsher lines and cross-hair grille also seem to be capturing buyers with a different sense of style.

Clever design has ensured the seven-seater segment will grow as fast and bigger than the families and groups using them. A seven-seater sports car with the ability to return mum or dad to their glory days, may be just around the corner.

TOYOTA TARAGO GLi - the original and best known people mover, the Tarago remains a popular choice with 5.8 per cent sales growth this year compared with the same period in 2009.

Price: from $55,730
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 (2.4-litre 4-cylinder also available)
Power: 202kW @ 6200rpm
Torque: 340Nm @ 4700rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Like: Easy passenger access, open layout
Dislike: Deep dashboard.

KIA CARNIVAL - has proved the most popular traditional people mover seven-seater with 1164 vehicles sold this year.

Price: from $35,490
Engine: 2.7-litre V6
Power: 139kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 249Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 5-speed manual (4-speed auto avail)
Like: It goes one better, seating up to 8 people
Dislike: V6 power comes with 11-litres/100km fuel consumption.

HONDA ODYSSEY - the lower profile, smoother-lined Oddysey has had significant sales growth over the past year, 186 sold year-to-date last year compared with 473 for the same period this year.

Price: from $43,990
Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl
Power: 132kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 218Nm @ 4500rpm
Transmission: 5-speed auto
Like: The sleek styling
Dislike: The dashboard - too many hollows.

CHRYSLER GRAND VOYAGER LX - seems to be on the nose with buyers, its sales dropping this year compared with last year.

Price: $57, 990
Engine:3.8-litre V6 (2.8-litre diesel avail)
Power: 142kW @ 5200rpm
Torque: 305Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed auto.
Like: The diesel option.
Dislike: US-influenced features.

CITROEN C4 PICASSO - the latest version of the trendy seven-seater comes with claims of benchmark fuel economy and emissions. Fuel economy is a claimed low 5.0-litres per 100km.

Price: $45,990
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cylinder diesel
Power: 110kW @ 3800rpm
Transmission: 5-speed auto
Like: Touch of class, safety features
Dislike: Stocks are low but new model landing soon.

FORD TERRITORY TX - Ford's proven performer in its own right with seven-seater option able to be taken in rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models of two different specification levels.

Price: from $39,590
Engine: 4-litre, six-cylinder
Power: 190kW @ 5250rpm
Torque: 383Nm @ 2500rpm
Like: versatility and road handling
Dislike: accessibility of rear seats.

MERCEDES VIANO - its levels of luxury, and the price tag, have this people mover more suited to tour operators.

Price: $69,215
Engine: 2.2-litre 4-cylinder diesel
Power: 110kW @ 3800rpm
Transmission: 5-speed auto
Like: Touch of class, safety features
Dislike: More of a bus than a car.