Mid-size MPVs are the ideal choice for buyers searching for a practical, spacious family car with the potential to seat seven people. The Volkswagen Touran, the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and the Kia Carens are some of the very best on offer, but which is best? Mat Watson, our tame car expert, tests all three to bring you his verdict.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – prices
If purchase price is what matters most to you, the Kia gets off to a great start. Entry-level models cost from £18,195 – £2,000 less than the entry-level Grand C4 Picasso and more than £4,000 cheaper than the Touran.
Go for similarly powered 1.6-litre diesels in the Citroen and Volkswagen, and the price gap narrows slightly to around £1,700. The Volkswagen is claimed to return 64.2mpg – better than the diesel Kia’s 60.4mpg but some way short of the Citroen’s claimed 74.3mpg.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – styling
To us, it seems like Volkswagen failed to push the boat out when designing the latest Touran. It’s by no means a bad looking car, but it’s a bit bland, particularly when parked beside the sharply styled Citroen. It has the familiar creases and angular dimensions that feature across other VW cars but, overall, fails to excite on any level.
The Grand C4 Picasso must be one of the few MPVs on the market that punters might want to actually buy based on the way it looks. Its quirky face, complete with LED daytime running lights and distinctive Citroen chevron grille, looks more concept car than minicab, and the 3D-effect taillights help the rear to look just as distinctive.
The Carens’ exterior falls somewhere between the pair in the style stakes. It’s easy on the eye and the ‘tiger nose’ grille is a unique Kia touch, but it doesn’t stand out in the same way the Citroen does. Elsewhere the body is somewhat forgettable but, for some buyers, flying under the radar will be exactly what they want from this type of car.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – interior
The Touran unquestionably feels the highest quality inside. There’s plenty of soft-touch plastics fitted around the top of the dash and all the logically laid-out switchgear feels suitably solid. Much like the outside, it’s hardly thrilling to look at though. The touchscreen infotainment system still lags behind Audi and BMW systems that use a physical control knob but is arguably the most straightforward setup of the three here.
Once again, the spaceship-like Picasso looks the most interesting inside. The experience from the driver’s seat is enhanced by a huge panoramic windscreen extending behind the driver’s head, giving the front an airy atmosphere. The quest to declutter the dash from buttons may help the looks, but it means some features are more complicated than they need to be. Adjusting the cabin temperature via the touchscreen infotainment display is a pain, especially when the same is achieved in the Touran and the Carens via a simple twirl of a dial.
The Kia’s dashboard is a massive leap forward over the Korean brand’s attempts of old, but still falls behind the Citroen in terms of style and the Volkswagen in terms of quality. Everything feels sturdy enough and the layout is fairly intuitive meaning it’s easy to control the car’s functions but it misses out on the last level of desirability offered by the other two.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – practicality
The Touran fares the best of our three for practicality, with plenty of space on the inside in all three rows. The seating position is high, while a large glass area makes the cabin feel airy – even in the back. Of the three cars here, access to the sixth and seventh seats is easiest in the Touran, and the folding seats are by far the simplest to use.
The Citroen’s folding seat design is a bit of a faff compared to the VW’s – lots of fiddly levers and awkward manoeuvring is needed to achieve a process that takes seconds in the Touran. The Picasso counters that with arguably the best middle row here. Even the middle seat passenger benefits from a full-width seat, and legroom is great. Headroom is a little tight in the third row, however.
By contrast, the Carens is only really an occasional seven-seater, with the rearmost seats a little cramped both for head and legroom. In order to allow anyone to fit back there, you’ll need to slide the middle row forward, too, so five of the seven occupants will suffer reduced space.
Thanks to the inclusion of isofix mounting brackets for five seats in the VW, three in the Citroen and two in the Kia, child seat installation is straightforward across all three.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – driving
On the road, the Toruan which feels the most car-like and grown-up to drive. It rides on a modified version of the platform used by the Golf and, as a result, it steers, stops and grips very similarly. It’s fairly comfortable over the bumps, too.
The Citroen feels perfectly pleasant in isolation but, next to the Touran, it becomes obvious that the ride is fractionally more bumpy, and more wind and road noise enters the cabin. The 1.6-litre diesel engine is sweeter than the Touran’s, though.
The Kia feels reasonably comfortable – if unremarkable – to drive. There’s a little too much body roll around corners, which will only be magnified with a full compliment of people and luggage. It also suffers from a diesel engine that sounds rather gruff compared to the other two.
Volkswagen Touran vs Citroen Grand C4 Picasso vs Kia Carens – verdict
By most sensible measures, the Volkswagen Touran wins this test. It’s the best car to drive of the three, offers the most refinement and – most importantly for a car of this type – is the most spacious and practical car here. You will, however, pay a hefty premium simply for the German badge on the nose.
The Citroen Grand C4 Picasso represents better value for money, isn’t far behind the VW out on the road, and it’s much more stylish, both inside and out. However, negatives such as the fiddly air con controls an even more fiddly seats means it doesn’t quite seem as easy to live with every day. Whether its more stylish look and more useful second row seats swing it will be up to you.
That leaves the Kia in third place. It isn’t a bad car by any means and, if you’re on a budget, it’s well worth considering. In reality though, the VW and the Citroen manage to do almost everything very slightly better making them easier to recommend.