On DTW, we have touched upon the slow and largely un-mourned death of the MPV recently, but a small footnote in Autocropley caught my eye and leads me to consider how things got so bad for the ‘people carrier’.
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I have owned two MPVs in the last 20 years, both of which served me well – in one case, as I have written before, all too well. Both were purchased to carry my family and their stuff around in their day-to-day lives without taking up too much space on the road or on our driveway.
Interestingly, when it finally came to finding a replacement for our Xsara Picasso, I bit the bullet and bought a considerably longer estate car (Octavia). I did this mainly on the basis that I wanted a larger boot, but, if I am honest, I think a narcissistic piece of me couldn’t put up with the idea of buying a type of vehicle so out of vogue as another MPV. Forgive me Father, for I am weak and vain.
Interestingly (to me at least), I recall that when MPVs were all the rage (hard to imagine now, but true), the argument then was that a decent estate car did the same job and yet enjoyed the benefits of a lower centre of gravity, a less bluff shape and so better fuel efficiency, etc. I read the same points about estates these days as to why they make a more rational alternative to SUVs.
The rise of the SUVs has, of course, been the Darwinian downfall of the MPV and not a resurgence of the estate car. Whereas real men wouldn’t have been seen dead parking up at the office or taking the boys out for a night out in a Toyota Picnic, it’s quite acceptable to be taking clients out in the latest RAV-4. I think this, simplistically, is the nub of the issue: SUVs provide the higher hip-point and, hence, more commanding view of the road which is generally well liked by women (and which most MPVs fulfilled), with an Action Man Jeep-a-like profile, wheel-arches and details which appeal to their more alpha partners in life.
Apologies everyone, that last paragraph probably upset the gender sensitivities of most of the known world these days with its gross generalisations. At least some of it is based on comments made recently by the (male) CEOs of a few, large car manufacturers, so please, don’t shoot the messenger.
The ultimate stimulus for this particular stream of consciousness was a glib description of a car which I have oft been known to defend or even to promote on these pages – the KIA Venga (are those stifled groans, yawns or titters I hear out there?). You see, Autocar (to give it its more formal title) was publishing that occasional edition-stuffer, ‘Our 50 Best Cars’ (Alpine 110, in case you were interested, or even following this), and could not resist adding as a footnote, a throwaway ‘Our 10 Worst Cars’.
I realise that you have already arrived at my intended destination, but, there, in the top 5 was the noble Venga. I don’t have the exact excerpt (it’s possibly still lying in shreds on the newsagent’s floor), but the Venga’s two main sins were deemed to be that it is now an aging model (‘decrepit’, I think) and, holy of holies, an MPV.
Oh, and apparently it looks like a guinea pig. So, nothing actually bad dynamically, or poor about the packaging, or to do with the engineering, emissions, or safety: let’s just leave it at, ‘nothing rational’, shall we? The main crime, really, is being an MPV which (apparently) looks like a chubby rodent.
Thing is, I would place a bet that, on any rational basis, latest infotainment and driving aids aside, the Venga is at least the match of, if not better than, the newer, SUV-lite Stonic. Size-wise, the Venga sits closer to a Fiesta than a Focus, but manages a larger boot than the latter, and as much leg room and better headroom. The rear bench slides to give a choice between more/ less boot-space.
The handling and ride are a decent compromise. The petrol engine is one of those old-fashioned four-pot NA items which we seem to have put up with until very recently …, OK, I’ll stow it now and trust that you get my drift.
However, the point here is not to drive myself into a froth about my pet car (again). No, the broader point is that The Autocar’s cheap jibe seemed to mark the death-toll for the MPV in my mind, and that makes me a little sad.
Part two follows.