Currently reading: Top 10 best seven-seater cars 2021
Family haulers aren't restricted to MPVs any more. These are 10 of the best
Autocar
News
12 mins read
6 May 2021

The MPV once reigned supreme for big families with lots to carry, but not any more.

Once the car-buying public realised that it was entirely possible to buy a big, seven-seat family car with the space and cabin flexibility to accommodate more than 2.4 children but with looks less like an Antonov cargo transporter than an otherwise pretty normal SUV, the sales decline of the ‘one-box’ multi-purpose vehicle was under way. But for the most successful few, it still continues.

There are now myriad sizes and types of SUV that’ll offer up to seven seats for those who need them. Not all of them will do so while also giving you access to the entire engine range, though - and while others claim full seven-seat practicality, the usability of those rearmost seats is often restricted.

Here, then, are the best seven-seaters outside of the MPV class, according to Autocar, and the reasons we like ’em. All cars here offer up to seven forward-facing seats, although not necessarily as standard. One or two new cars still include rearward-facing child seats in the boot as an option (the Tesla Model S still does, for example; the Mercedes E-Class Estate doesn’t any longer) but we’re not counting those as quite the same kettle of fish.

1. Volvo XC90

Raising your budget and buying a bigger car doesn’t guarantee you a more usable seven-seat option in this class, but even so, few will be surprised to see that our top three options are all big SUVs. And the best of them remains the Volvo XC90. Although most of its direct rivals are newer, none has matched its combination of seven-seat versatility, handsome desirability and upmarket cabin ambience.

The XC90 has seven seats as standard regardless of which engine and trim level you choose. Even the T8 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version gets all seven, unlike in its PHEV opponents from BMW, Mercedes and Land Rover.

Volvo’s recent impressive record on exterior design still makes the car stand out on the road, and the interior looks and feels roomy and light. Volvo offers petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid powertrain options. Although the PHEV has the most convincing blend of performance, refinement and economy, the B5 mild-hybrid diesel makes for a very respectable compromise, while both the mild-hybrid petrol options are quite a lot less economical in real-world use.

The car's second-row seats all slide fore and aft individually, with the middle second-row seat optionally converting into an integrated booster seat. The third-row seats can be furnished with air conditioning vents at extra cost, and although they don’t have Isofix booster seat anchorages, they’re big enough for smaller adults or children to use in reasonable comfort, and access to them is pretty good.

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2. Land Rover Defender

Land Rover's latest big new model ought to have been a candidate for the top of this chart; because, while it's expensive, the car's cleverly configurable interior seems to present the option of as many as eight passenger seats. 

Buy a longer-wheelbase, five-door Land Rover Defender 110 and the firm will offer you a choice of five-, six- or seven passenger seats - the middle-sitting option being possible thanks to a 'jump seat' that slots in between the driver and passenger chairs, where the centre console would otherwise be. Sadly there's no eight-seat option, for legislative reasons that Land Rover has yet to confirm; a fact that probably won't stop some people retrofitting jump seats to secondhand seven-seaters in years to come, of course.

Even without an official eight-seat option, though, this car has impressive versatility. A good percentage of families who currently have not choice but to buy a three-row car and accept the inevitable sacrifice to boot space might well prefer six seats in two rows, with plenty of cargo space left over. The seven-seat Defender has third-row chairs that are a little smaller than those of the related Discovery's, but still perfectly usable by children, teenagers and smaller adults.

This an expensive car, with even the very cheapest five-door passenger-car models pushing £50,000 - but, unlike the old Defender, it drives nearly as well as almost any luxury SUV of its size and type, has a broad range of modern electrified powertrains, and has offroad capability to spare. As a big, desirable family workhorse, you couldn't ask for much better. 

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3. Kia Sorento

The unuttered truth about full-sized seven-seat SUVs, which many of the cars in this chart confirm, is that most of them don’t come for the same price as a full-sized MPV. The Kia Sorento, which has just entered a fourth model generation, used to be a rather glorious exception to that rule. Now that it has taken on a more premium look and feel, however, it's not quite the bargain it once was. However, you can still get into one for a shade under £40,000; and no matter whether you buy a diesel, petrol hybrid or plug-in hybrid, you'll get seven good-sized seats, which makes the buying process nice and simple - and is one of the reasons that we recommend it in such unqualified terms.

Kia's latest redesign for the car has brought an all-new model platform, an eye-catching exterior and a roomy and fairly classy-feeling cabin. The interior benefits from the car's biggish outward size (it's a closer match for a Land Rover Discovery than the Discovery Sport against which it's priced), and the third row would even be usable by adults provided they're not particularly tall (although there are only isofix childseat points in the second row).

For a private buyer with a mixed pattern of use in mind, the 2.2-litre diesel engine remains the one to choose. The cheaper 1.6-litre petrol hybrid returns reasonable economy around town but isn't so frugal on longer trips, and needs to be driven quite hard to maintain a quicker stride. The more powerful plug-in hybrid is a little more effortless, but that will appeal to company car drivers for different reasons. A quiet but slightly brittle-feeling ride, average body control and numb, unenticing steering characterise all versions of the car, but needn't discourage anyone too much.

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4. Audi Q7

Audi’s full-sized SUV, the Q7, is taken to the very edge of the podium of this chart on the basis that it has six good-sized passenger seats, all with proper Isofix child seat points; and it’s the only car here that does. That’s an advantage for which Audi charges plenty, of course, and it’s worth noting that if you opt for either of the tax-saving TFSIe plug-in hybrid models in the range, your car will come with five seats rather than seven in order to make space for the electric drive gubbins, which seems a great shame.

Still, the big Audi does make a very convincing seven-seater if you stick with the conventional powertrains - and there are several. The car’s 3.0-litre TDI diesel engines produce 228bhp or 282bhp, with a 335bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged 55 TFSI petrol option bridging the price gap up to the TFSIe plug-in powertrains. Further above still, there’s also the 4.0-litre 429bhp tri-turbo V8 diesel of the SQ7 for those who want to transport a family of seven at a greater rate of knots - and can afford to.

The Q7’s key strengths, besides those spacious, well-provisioned seats, are its top-notch on-board technology and cabin quality, and its refined, isolated, luxurious drive. Such filtered controls do make a big car feel even bigger at times, but those who aren’t put off by the Q7’s sheer size or price will find a lot to like.

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5. Peugeot 5008

Peugeot’s bigger ‘double-oh’ SUV option deserves special mention here for making the most of the space it affords. It’s the only mid-sized SUV that makes the top half of our rankings, and so while it doesn’t provide as much passenger comfort and space as the bigger options, it does give you more choice than rivals about where to fit in your bigger, bulkier child seats and how to comfortably arrange older passengers around them.

That’s because the 5008 has three separate middle-row seats that all slide and fold individually, all with Isofix anchorages. Sliding the middle one forward by itself might make room to squeeze in three fairly bulky moulded-plastic booster seats side by side although, because the 5008 doesn’t have the widest cabin, this will always be a bit of a squeeze.

The third-row seats are only big enough to be used by children but will just about take a smaller belted child seat and an occupant if you slide the seats in front of it forward to make space.

The engine range starts with 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol and 1.5-litre four-cylinder diesel options of about 130 horsepower, ranging upwards to include more powerful 2.0-litre diesel- and 1.6-litre turbo petrol options. The car handles well, feeling a little smaller and more wieldy, and handling more keenly, than plenty of rival options. It’s pretty good value, too; although fleet drivers may be disappointed to learn that there's no plug-in hybrid version.

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6. Land Rover Discovery

When Land Rover introduced the current Discovery, much fuss was made about the convenience added by its five rearmost motorised seats, which can be raised and lowered electrically - and even remotely via smartphone app. The idea is that, instead of having to wrestle with straps, latches, backrests and removable tonneau covers, you can configure the car for however many passengers you happen to be carrying before you even board.

The feature isn’t standard equipment on lower-trim models, though - and, moreover, isn’t much use if you’ve got cargo in the boot that needs to be either moved or removed before you can convert the seats. But get past the showroom gimmicks and this big, functionality-first Land Rover remains a fine, full-sized seven-seater, with a likable charm and luxury vibe, that we would recommend for any big family with the means to afford it.

That’s a pretty big caveat, of course, because you’ll do very well indeed to escape a Land Rover showroom these days having bought one for less than £55,000. But the good news is that even vehicles in entry-level S specification get seven seats as standard, with Isofix anchorages on four out of five of those back seats. You have to climb all the way to HSE grade to get access to those motorised, app-managed ‘intelligent’ folding seats, though, and even then you must order them as a cost option.

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The Discovery received a facelift earlier in 2021, getting subtly revised suspension, cabin and exterior styling. The engine range now is comprised of four- and six-cylinder petrol options and a couple of six-cylinder diesels, all with varying amounts of mild hybridisation. There will be no plug-in hybrid version, because Land Rover has concluded that buyers wouldn't want to sacrifice the necessary pair of seats for it.

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7. Skoda Kodiaq

Skoda branched out into the seven-seat SUV market in 2016, launching a car that split the difference between full-sized and mid-sized options quite cleverly. The Kodiaq has a big cabin and a generous boot for a car of its price and size, and all versions of it bar the bottom-rung variant get seven seats as standard; even the warm diesel vRS performance version.

The one dimension in which the car is lacking a bit of space is cabin width, and because the middle second-row seat can’t be slid into an offset position relative to both outer ones, it’s tricky to get three child seats installed side by side. Moreover, crash testing body Euro NCAP confirms that the rearmost seats aren’t approved even for belted safety seats (although the Kodiaq isn’t the only seven-seater to which that caveat is applied) and access to them can be a little bit tight when squeezing behind the tilted second-row chairs.

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The Kodiaq’s engine range is pretty broad, offering plenty of choice on both the petrol and diesel sides, and the car is pleasant and easy to drive, if a little bit firm-riding in some trim editions.

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8. Mercedes GLB

Mercedes has adopted an interesting design strategy with its new smallest SUV: to miniaturise much of the visual DNA of its largest (the GLS) and also to squeeze in seven seats as standard into a vehicle small enough that you probably wouldn’t expect to find them. Both factors might just help to sell the car in an increasingly crowded market.

The car comes in bottom-end GLB 200 petrol-, -200d- and -220d diesel-, and range-topping AMG -35 petrol guises. Even the base petrol engine serves up ample performance for what’s a fairly laid-back-feeling car on the road, with ride quality being impressive on adaptive dampers and body control a little soft and permissive but still good.

The middle-row seats slide fore and aft and offer decent space for adults although the rearmost chairs are much smaller and useful for children only. Four out of five rear seats have Isofix child seat points, though.

A tax-saving plug-in hybrid version of the car is expected, but it’s likely to be a strict five-seater.

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9. Land Rover Discovery Sport

The smallest Land Rover of the range (leaving aside Range Rovers for now) gets seven seats as standard so long as you avoid the bottom-rung, front-wheel-drive D150 diesel engine. Few of its mid-sized SUV direct rivals (Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC) offer the same passenger accommodation, which is a selling point for the Land Rover; albeit probably only for families who might make very occasional use of those extra back chairs - and only for those willing to pay for the privilege (even the very cheapest seven-seat Disco Sport is a £40k car before options).

The Discovery Sport’s rearmost seats aren’t as big as some. You can, in principle, make extra leg room for them by sliding the middle row chairs forward as you need to, but there isn’t too much of it to spare in row two. Moreover, there’s little boot space available if you do regularly use the car in seven-seat mode, making this much more of an occasional seven-seater than the bigger Discovery might be.

The driving experience is impressive for its car's comfort, and in 4WD forms, it has more rough-terrain capability than most people will need, although Land Rover’s Ingenium four-cylinder diesel engines don't feel quite as strong as equivalents from Audi, BMW or Mercedes. The range-topping plug-in hybrid P300e version is another strict five-seater.

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10. BMW X5

A BMW showroom isn’t the greatest place to find seven-seat cars. The 2 Series Gran Tourer is one of the more affordable ones (and features in our MPVs class) but you have to scale the X-car SUV range all the way to the X5 before you’ll find a seven-seater option within it. When you do, you might be disappointed to discover that it only comes on a £60,000 car - and even then as a cost option.

If you do opt for them, you get electrically sliding and folding second-row seats that do at least make it easier to get access. Third-row space is just about big enough for adults of average heigh; children will be more comfortable, although there are no Isofix child seat points back here - and there are only two available in the second row.

The X5’s driving experience is a fine advert for the car. It handles keenly and has plenty of performance and great drivability with its pricier engine options. It should be noted, though, that both the 45e plug-in hybrid- and the M50i performance petrol versions are five-seat only, and so is the £110k X5 M.

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