It can be quite a struggle to find the right car when you have a big family to consider. If there's three, four or five of you to think about, then in relative terms the world's your oyster. You could even get a supermini as small as a Ford Fiesta, a hatch like a VW Golf, or even a larger hatchback like a Ford Mondeo. A sporty five-door coupe such as the Audi A5 Sportback is also on the cards, and so too is a sports car if your back seat passengers don't mind a lack of space. There are many SUVs and crossovers to consider as well – the Peugeot 3008 and Nissan Qashqai are to name but two.
If you need a bit more luggage space, then an estate like the Skoda Superb will give you all the room you need, while the five-seat MPV (cars like the Citroen C4 Picasso and Ford C-MAX) offers plenty of versatility in terms of seating or boot space. Bigger families are catered for by assorted seven-seat MPVs (Ford S-MAX/Citroen Grand C4 Picasso) and SUVs (Kia Sorento/Volvo XC90), too. But what if your family is bigger than that? That's where the van-based people carrier comes in.
In the past, these van-based models have demanded plenty of compromise in terms of driving dynamics and luxury. But today's vans are stepping up with the kind of kit they offer, while the interiors of these vans with seats will be well trimmed, with carpet throughout and plenty of plastic cladding designed to cover up the painted metal inside.
There's still not much in the way of style, although the more expensive executive shuttle-style models can feel pretty plush inside. But with their large, boxy bodies and huge windows, they can still feel spacious when you're driving with a full load of passengers on board. Another great advantage of the van-based people carrier is the seating flexibility on offer.
In most van-based people carriers, the front two chairs will be fixed, but the second and third rows should offer a versatile range of seating layouts, from two rows of three-abreast seats, to facing seats with the rearmost row pushed all the way back. As well as being able to rearrange them, you will also be able to remove them completely to turn the people carrier back into a van, although you will need somewhere to store the seats when they're not in use.
Van-based people carriers can be large, as they're normally based on mid-sized vans. But as they come with sliding side doors, access in tight spots is straightforward, while most will come with either a reversing camera or rear parking sensors, either as standard or on the options list, to help with parking.
So which van-based people carrier is the best?
1. Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle
The popular Volkswagen Transporter Shuttle builds on a successful formula that has made VW the top choice for vehicles with 8 seats or more in recent years. Sharp looks and a classy, well-made interior give it appeal, while higher-spec models can feel pretty luxurious. The Shuttle can be specified in either short or long-wheelbase forms, and the latter adds more boot space behind the rear seats.
The 2.0 TDI diesel is offered in three outputs - 109bhp, 148bhp and 196bhp. The most powerful long-wheelbase version manages 29.1mpg, while the short-wheelbase 109bhp variant is a more economical choice, delivering 37.2mpg. Emissions range from 199g/km to 255g/km.
You get a five-speed manual gearbox as standard for entry-level vehicles, while a six-speed manual 'box is available for the 148bhp long-wheelbase model. All other Transporter Shuttles feature a seven-speed DSG auto transmission.
Available in S and SE trim, the Shuttle is loaded with standard equipment including Bluetooth, ESP and ABS braking and Automatic Post-Collision Braking that aims to prevent a secondary collision after an accident. Buyers wanting even more by way of luxury can splash out on the 6-seater Caravelle model with its business-class interior.
2. Ford Tourneo Custom
The Tourneo Custom is a good-looking spacious vehicle with plenty of equipment and has over 30 possible seat configurations.
Based on the platform of the excellent Transit Custom, it’s one of the best van-based people carriers on the market to drive. With good brakes, sharp steering and a torque vectoring system to help it make best use of its power in corners, it has car-like driving qualities.
The interior design will be familiar to Ford passenger car owners and still looks modern. The base Shuttle Bus specification is available from around £36,000 and gets twin sliding side doors, heated power-foldable door mirrors, LED daytime running lights and front and rear parking sensors. Stepping up to Zetec trim adds 16in alloys, a heated windscreen, air conditioning, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights. The range extends to the popular Titanium equipment level, before topping-out with the Titanium X and Sport versions - both priced at over £44,000.
3. Citroen SpaceTourer
The SpaceTourer is a new addition to the van-based people carrier market, and it's a good one. That boxy body is based on the same platform as the Citroen C4 Picasso, but the larger dimensions mean there's room inside for eight seats and space for luggage, too.
There are corporate-friendly Business and Business Lounge specs, but the Feel and Flair trims emulate the specs offered on Citroen's passenger car range. The SpaceTourer is offered in M and XL body styles, and they offer varying degrees of space.
The 1.5 and 2.0-litre BlueHDi engines deliver decent power and efficiency in the SpaceTourer. On the road, the SpaceTourer handles pretty well for a van, as it's car-based platform delivers good grip and sharp handling. One minor downside is that the car's overall width is down on some of its van-based rivals, so shoulder space in the three-abreast seating can be a bit tight.
4. Peugeot Traveller
The Peugeot Traveller is the sister car to the Citroen Space Tourer, and is largely identical in its layout and configuration. The big difference of course is the Peugeot lion on the nose, and it's arguable that the Traveller isn't quite as handsome as its Citroen sibling.
As with the Citroen, the Peugeot is based on the EMP platform that's also used for the 308 hatch and 3008 crossover. That means this is a van that handles as well as a car, and while it doesn't have quite as interior space as other van-based people carriers from Renault and VW, it makes up for this with a better driving experience that's more car-like in character.
There are two body lengths - Standard and Long. The 1.5 Blue HDi engine in 120 guise, plus the 2.0-litre BlueHDi in 150 and 180 forms are available, along with a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed auto.
The back seats are removable, although the seats are in a 2:1 configuration, and the two seats are quite heavy to remove and put back in place.
5. Toyota Proace Verso
The third part of the Peugeot/Citroen van party is the Proace Verso. Toyota has simply grafted its own pointy nose on the same body as the Traveller and SpaceTourer, while tacking the Verso name on the end of Proace tells you where this van-based people carrier's roots lie.
There are three body lengths available, in combination with the 1.5 (118bhp ) and 2.0-litre (148bhp/178bhp) diesel engines. Toyota includes a variety of trims, with the basic Combi starting the range, the passenger-friendly Shuttle and more upmarket Family, while at the top of the range the VIP is the executive variant with auto gearbox as standard. A Premium Pack is also added to certain Family-spec versions.
Just like its siblings, the Proace Verso has plenty of space, and it handles pretty well for a van-based people carrier.
6. Vauxhall Vivaro Combi
The Vauxhall Vivaro Combi is no longer in production, but is a superb used buy with its flexible seating arrangement. There is a modern interior which is a little too dominated by grey plastics, but it offers loads or storage space and is available in both short and long wheelbases form.
Power comes from a 1.6 CDTi diesel mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, developing 94bhp. It returns 44.8mpg and has CO2 emissions of 164g/km. There is a 123bhp bi-turbo version available for an additional £800. Standard equipment includes six-way adjustable drivers seat, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio and tinted glass.
Vauxhall has since introduced the all-new Vivaro Life, which is based on the PSA group's EMP2 platform and comes with medium and long wheelbases.
7. Renault Trafic Passenger
Developed on the same platform as the Vauxhall Vivaro Combi, the Trafic Passenger is also available with an eight-seat setup in short and long wheelbase formats.
The Trafic Passenger offers three engine variants of the 2.0-litre dCi diesel engine, along with manual and auto transmissions.
There are two trims levels available, Business and Sport. The Business gets a DAB radio, USB socket and AUX input with sliding doors on each side of the vehicle. Sport trim adds automatic headlights and wipers, a 7in touchscreen sat-nav, rear parking sensors and cruise control.
The Renault comes with a 4-year warranty and 4-years roadside assistance. Prices start from over £33k for a dCi 120 Business.
8. Mercedes Vito Tourer
The Vito is a hugely practical vehicle that's a more utilitarian variant of the V-Class. It offers enough room for 8 adults and their luggage, and it forms the basis of Mercedes' private hire-only Vito Taxi. Engines are refined while the van-based people carrier manages to deliver car-like handling. Entry-level models are basic and prices soar as you ascend the range.
There are many configurations available with the Vito, as it comes in three body lengths, has five engines variants and three trim levels. The range starts at around £26,000 and rises to about £43,000.
The pick of the engine range for economy is the 134bhp 2.0-litre 114 Tourer diesel, in short-wheelbase form, which returns 40.4mpg on the combined cycle and has emissions of 184g/km.
Trim levels are Pro, Select and Sport. Pro level has steel wheels, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors, a leather-trimmed steering wheel and rear privacy glass. Select adds 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, headlight assist and armrests for the driver and passengers. Top-of-the-range Sport includes 19-inch alloy wheels, black leatherette upholstery, heated seats and a 7-inch touchscreen with a DAB radio.
9. Hyundai i800
No longer available on Hyundai price lists, the i800 is the old-stager in the van-based people carrier sector, having been on sale for over a decade. It's based on the iLoad van, which is a unique proposition as it's the only commercial vehicle that Hyundai sells in the UK.
While some versions sold overseas can have up to 10 seats, the UK-spec i800 has 8 seats. The van-based roots means there's plenty of space in all seats, although because of the i800's age, standard kit could be better.
Sliding side doors boost access to the back seats, while even in eight-seat mode the i800 has an 842-litre boot.
There's a single engine option, a 2.5-litre CRDi diesel, but like the rest of the car it's pretty old, so not very economical or powerful, with the six-speed manual car coming with 134bhp, or 168bhp for the auto-equipped version.