When it comes to getting the most family car for your money, van-based MPV models take some beating. With their vast interiors, simple mechanicals and eye-catchingly low price tags, these no-nonsense machines are perfect for growing families on a budget.

Traditionally, this sector has been dominated by French manufacturers, but recently there’s been an influx of utilitarian competition from rival brands. Leading the charge is Mercedes, with its spacious new Citan.

Yet look beyond the desirable three-pointed star and you’ll find that this model is actually a rebadged Renault Kangoo, which was one of the class leaders before the French brand pulled it from UK price lists in 2013.

Another all-new contender is the Ford Tourneo Connect. Based on the Transit Connect van, the vast machine aims to deliver a winning blend of space, sharp driving dynamics and cutting-edge kit.

Completing our trio is the VW Caddy Maxi Life. It’s the old stager here, but its combination of space, quality and grown-up driving dynamics means it’s a tough competitor.

So which one of our robust, roomy and great-value MPVs makes the most sense? 

Head-to-head

Measuring up

When it comes to interior space, there’s very little to separate our trio. The Caddy has the longest side doors, making entry to the rear bench easier, while the Ford’s standard panoramic roof gives the cabin an even more airy feel. All our contenders are comfortable for even the tallest passengers, but the Citan is the only car that’s a strict five-seater – both the Caddy and Tourneo are available as extended seven-seaters.

Running costs

The Citan emits the least C02 here, at 119g/km, plus we recorded 52.0mpg at the pumps. In 113bhp 1.6-litre TDCi guise, the Ford emits 130g/km, while the 94bhp model with stop/start claims 10g/km less. The Caddy emits 152g/km, which drops to 136g/km with the £486 BlueMotion kit.

Commercial roots

You don’t have to look hard to find clues to our contenders’ commercial vehicle origins. For starters, they all look like vans, while their interior finishes favour function over form. Even so, there are some neat touches, such as the huge door mirrors that make parking the Tourneo easy.

Verdict

1st place: Ford Tourneo Connect

In the end, the Tourneo Connect walked this test. The flagship Titanium model hides its van roots fantastically well with generous kit and a level of cabin quality that’s on a par with the Focus hatch. It’s not quite as economical as the Citan, but it more than makes up for this with punchy performance and car-like driving manners – all at a price that undercuts rivals here by £2,000.

2nd place: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life

It’s showing its age, but the long-body Caddy Maxi offers one of the biggest boots you’ll find anywhere, plus a seven-seat layout. It’s just as easy to drive as a VW Golf and feels rock-solid, too, but the hard plastics and functional interior remind you that this is a commercial vehicle. Even with BlueMotion tweaks it’s dirty, and it’s pricey when compared to the Ford.

3rd place: Mercedes Citan Traveliner

You have to wonder who is going to buy the Citan Traveliner. While it’s economical, and the folding seats are a neat touch, the engine feels wheezy and the basic interior means it feels the most van-like here. That would be fine if it felt like a Mercedes inside, but the obvious Renault switchgear means you feel short-changed, especially when you consider the price tag.

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