MPV or SUV? What Car To Buy Depending On Family Size


MPV or SUV? What Car To Buy Depending On Family Size

Space is of the utmost importance for any car buyer. But how to choose between MPV or SUV?

Unless you’re in the market for a sportscar or are fortunate enough to be able to have multiple cars and use them depending on your type of travel and number of passengers then it's all well and good. I know someone that owns a Toyota Vellfire to travel with his family for long journeys, and a Ferrari 430 Spider for weekends or when travelling on his own. In cases like these, then power to you.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Honda Odyssey

However, what if you had to purchase one car that has to do it all, perhaps you have a baby on the way, or your family size is expanding. You would need a car with more seating capacity. Alternatively, perhaps you need to carry a large family on the weekends but need the vehicle to expand its cargo space for your work requirements.

Some people might carry young or infant children, and also ferry elderly folks with limited mobility – these factors can also affect your requirements. Sliding doors are especially good for entry and egress.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Kia Picanto

How big is too small, or too big when you need small?

Get a car that’s too small for your needs, and you face challenges with luggage and cramped seating capacity, get a car that’s unnecessarily big, and you are stuck with a larger car that is typically more expensive to buy, generally costs more to maintain, and slightly harder to drive around and park. So striking the perfect size is key to a good ownership experience.

It pays to plan your purchase based on your needs well beyond the first five years of ownership, and in line with your personal and lifestyle choices.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Carrying Bicycle

For the most part, each of us will get by with just a small hatchback or sedan 90 percent of the time (because Malaysians mostly travel alone or with just one passenger), however, cars still need to accommodate more passengers every once in a while, and what about fitting your bicycle for those weekend rides?

As usual, for context and brevity of the article, we have taken the following into account:

2020 MPV VS SUV - Toyota Alphard

  • In all cases, our aim is to highlight which car suits you best for the least amount of money. This is why you will read little mention about cars like the Toyota Alphard (7-seater) or Mercedes-Benz V-Class (6- or 7-seater) but instead the Toyota Sienta and Maxus G10. 
  • The aim is to better educate the reader on having the right amount of car for your family, work, and lifestyle needs.

Family of three (2 adults + 1 child)

2020 MPV VS SUV - Proton Saga, Perodua Bezza

  • Ideal vehicles types: Small sedan and small hatchback
  • Ideal models: Perodua Bezza, Proton Saga, Perodua Myvi, Proton Iriz, Proton Persona

Speaking from experience, a family with a single child can pretty much make do with a small sedan or hatchback. For the most part, hatchbacks such as the Myvi and Iriz have excellent rear space for a single child seat, and the usual repertoire of luggage, strollers, and essential items. There will be some challenges during the first few years of ferrying your child, especially when you need the aforementioned items and then some, so boot space is the limiting factor rather than cabin space. However, as your child grows, and you need to carry less barang, the space and practicality of a hatchback become useful again. So don’t be too quick to trade in your Myvi for something bigger at this stage.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Proton Persona Bootspace

With the added boot space of a sedan, such as in the Bezza, Saga and Persona – these challenges are made even easier.

Family of four (2 adults + 2 children)

2020 MPV VS SUV - Proton X50, Perodua Alza, Honda City

  • Ideal vehicles types: Small MPV, B-Segment sedan, and hatchback
  • Ideal models: Perodua Alza, Proton Exora, Toyota Sienta, Honda City, Toyota Vios, Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz, Honda HR-V, Proton X50

A colleague of mine was recently blessed with twins, now, aside from the immediate doubling of family members, he laments having too little space in his Proton Saga. So for the most part, he would need to upgrade to a larger B-Segment car at the very least, crucially to accommodate the extra need for space. The entire B-Segment group of cars (SUV or sedan) are practicality designed to accommodate a family of four. Excellent cabin space, larger boot space, more power, and better safety features are typical of upgrading to this group of cars.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Toyota Yaris

At the smaller scale of things are the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz which can accommodate four passengers (inclusive two rear child seats) with ease, however, their smaller boots would make loading luggage a challenge. If you feel this is inadequate, then it’s wise to move up to a small MPV such as the Perodua Alza or Proton Exora, in both cases, these two longstanding models are still relevant given their impressive amounts of interior space and budget prices.

Of course, cars such as Honda and Toyota Vios can carry passengers and impressive amounts of luggage, in spite of their relatively small footprint, and are very adaptable to the changing needs of the customer. These cars can still hold the fort when your family is young, and double up as a second vehicle if you buy a bigger vehicle down the line.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Honda HR-V Bootspace

Move up a notch in prices, and you end up with B-Segment SUVs and MPVs such as the Toyota Sienta, Proton X50, Subaru XV, and Honda HR-V – these offer superb practicality, with a touch of premium style and snazzy looks. Don’t ever doubt how adaptable and practical each of these vehicles can be depending on your needs, and in many cases can flip between carrying passengers to carrying goods and luggage.

Family of five (2 adults + 3 children)

2020 MPV VS SUV - Honda Odyssey, Nissan Serena, Perodua Aruz

  • Ideal vehicles types: C-Segment MPV, C-Segment SUVs, and D-segment sedans
  • Ideal models: Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Honda CR-V, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester, Nissan Serena Hybrid, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Rush, and Perodua Aruz.

Now here’s where we get into the slightly larger vehicles. Of course, most cars as you might surmise – can carry four passengers and some luggage – but in the ethos of keeping things as cheap and cheerful as possible, we highlighted those particular cars in the previous two segments.

Now to qualify this segment, we need to subdivide it even further.

D-Segment sedan

2020 MPV VS SUV - Toyota Camry

Now it’s fair to assume that if you have three children, and they’re not triplets (read below section then), the first two are slightly older and perhaps won’t be needing child seats (which ultimately robs the rear of seat space), then you could do with just a D-Segment sedan like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry. These cars offer superb comfort, safety, and are still sleek to look at and drive around. And if you’re a fan of being closer to the ground, a family sedan will do just fine.

C-Segment SUVs and 5+2 seaters

2020 MPV VS SUV - Toyota Fortuner

The most basic question to ask yourself before buying an MPV or SUV, is how often and in what situations do you intend to use the third-row of seats?

Surveys show that most people who buy MPVs rarely use the third-row seats. For this group of customers, a smaller and more adaptable 5+2 seater SUV or MPV might be a wiser purchase. 

2020 MPV VS SUV - Nissan X-Trail Bootspace

It pays to know that besides your usual repertoire of family SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, and Subaru Forester (and little needs to be said about how good they are) – cars such as the Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Fortuner are what you call 5+2 seaters. These SUVs offer a large boot space with two smaller foldable seats in the third row in case you need to carry an extra passenger.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Perodua Aruz

These seats are good for young children, and for most adults on shorter journeys. Therefore, if you need to carry an extra person for that trip out to a family dinner, these are the best. The Perodua Aruz and Honda BR-V and Toyota Rush are other examples of capable 5+2 seaters.

Now to solve the ultimate riddle of getting a full-sized 7-Seater (or more) MPV

Family of six or above

2020 MPV VS SUV - Kia Grand Carnival

If you frequently travel with five or more passengers for the majority of your travels, require more passenger space compared to luggage space, then its time you step up to one of these large-sized MPVs to accommodate your needs. Though all of them offer decent flexibility with regard to cargo-carrying capacity (you can still fold/flip/slide the third row of seats), you buy these cars to carry passengers.

2020 MPV VS SUV - Kia Grand Carnival

Also, note that MPVs typically have a lower floor making entry and egress easier for elderly occupants, so these are other factors to consider.

However, given their attractive pricing and superb equipment levels, do not rush to buy a large MPV simply because you think you need more seats (that you may never use).

2020 MPV VS SUV - Maxus G10

Also, since you have more than 7 seats in most of these MPVs, you have the flexibility of augmenting the seat configurations to carry luggage and cargo if required. 


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