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The Future of MPVs – five cool people carriers on the drawing board

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October 12, 2015
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The multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) is seen by most as the antithesis of cool – a blob with an engine, plenty of space and seats, and the preserve of soccer moms and family guys.

But why should people carriers be dull? Why can’t motorists with families and luggage drive something that meets their needs but also has a dash of style?

For far too long car manufacturers have all produced the same basic design – little more than a van with rear windows and back seats. We feel it’s high time the tried and trusted mould was broken, so we took a look at five of the coolest MPV concepts to have hit the drawing board in recent years – with one of them even set for production.

VW Microbus

Rumours of a revived VW Microbus, or camper van, have been around for about 15 years now, but the latest stab at resurrecting the original people carrier is more than just a pipedream; it’s actually going to happen, and soon.

The VW Bulli – a German nickname for the original T1 – was unveiled in 2011 and was a scaled down and updated version of the earlier 2001 camper concept.

The final design for the new vehicle, due to be launched for sale in 2017 in electric, petrol and diesel guises, is not yet known, but the chances are it won’t differ too much from the 2011 concept.

Taking up little more road space than a Polo, the Bulli is aimed at the “heritage appeal” market targeted by the modern Beetle, Mini and Fiat 500, and it almost hits the spot.

The two-tone paintwork is there, with the white arrowing down into that famous V-shaped front bearing a large VW logo, but the interior is hi-tech, with an iPad as a media centre.

A little more squared-off than the original, it’s nothing like as unique or innovative as the Tubik, but it’s still a damn site more cool than a Vauxhall Zafira, inside and out.

We can’t wait.

Citroen Tubik

Citroen has a long history of quirky and innovative design, but the Tubik is something else – a people carrier of tomorrow that would turn more heads than all but the most flashy of supercars.

The Tubik’s design, particularly the protruding snout and deep grille, draws inspiration from the legendary Type H van (dubbed the Tub, hence Tubik) that sold 500,000 units over 34 years from 1947.

But the corrugated panels of that humble delivery truck are here replaced by sleek, curving sides leading to an estate style rear end that bears some similarities with today’s compact C3 Picasso.

Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011, the Tubik seats nine at full capacity, or five with a huge boot, and the interior is designed around a lounge concept, with highly adjustable seating that can fold flat and form a bed for sleepy passengers.

Powered by a diesel-electric hybrid engine, the four-wheel-drive concept car boasted HD TV and surround sound, an enormous passenger door taking up virtually the whole side of the car, and hi-tech touches like fingerprint recognition ignition and an information screen in the middle of the steering wheel.

Citroen says it wants to make “travel itself inspiring again”. Go on then, we’re waiting.

Peugeot HX1

The Peugeot HX1 is a simply astonishing piece of MPV design, with supercar styling more in keeping with an Aston Martin than a French people carrier.

It’s for all those who think driving an MPV is an automotive demonstration of having given up on life, a white knight racing to the rescue of the humble kid-mobile.

You can carry lots of people, and their luggage, *and* be cool!

With proportions not dissimilar to a Lamborghini Aventador, you may look at these pictures and wonder how it can even be called an MPV – it sure doesn’t look like one.

Well here’s the clever bit. In standard mode it has two front seats and two rear – but two more electrically unfolding seats are moulded into the back of the front seats to create a middle row. Now that’s cool.

The half-scissor doors, which open away from each other with no B-pillar, reveal a cabin stuffed with luxury and tech, from touch sensitive screens, brushed metal, inlaid fibre optics and a mini-bar with coffee machine in the back.

A concept unveiled in 2011, this would change the MPV game forever.

Renault R-Space concept

Renault was an early trailblazer in the people carrier market, with the Espace launched way back in 1984.

They remain competent and popular exponents of the genre’s boxy blueprint, but the R-Space concept revealed in 2011 (evidently a good year for MPV concepts) marks a positive step in the right direction.

We’re not sure it quite fits into the super-cool category, but it’s certainly more stylish than the current Scenic, and promises to be more fun to drive.

It’s lower, more sculpted and funkier than any current compact people carrier, and it’s more likely to make production in something like its current form than many concepts – although pictures of the 2015 Scenic appears to be a watered-down version, which is a shame.

Designed to appeal to young families, with youthful parents not yet ready to abandon all pretensions of being alive, it has sporty stance, lower roofline which only slightly affects interior space, and the concept featured a cool cubed rear seating arrangement, which can be configured into two, three or four seats. Somehow.

Honda Concept M

Unleashed in 2013 and aimed initially at the Chinese market, Honda’s Concept M looks more frightening than cool, a massive hulk of a car with a menacing front end and acres of interior space.

With headlights aping those of 2012’s NSX supercar, and deep, slatted front grille, this is an MPV with attitude to spare.

The slanted air intakes add to the aggressive demeanour, but the rear is a little disappointing by contrast – it’s fairly standard Honda but with a dash of style with the large chrome bumper guards and roof spoiler.

As a whole, it looks a little like a CR-V after a massive dose of steroids.

But you’d never be looked down on again by hatchback-driving parents.

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