Vehicle Comparisons

Fiat Qubo

Fiat Qubo

No doubt about it: functional budget-minded family motoring is best served by one of those van-based mini-MPVs. For many though, something like this is too square and boring to run as an only car. So what if someone made it smaller and cheaper so you could run one as a second or third car alongside something nicer. And what if they made it trendier too? That's what Fiat's improved little Qubo sets out to deliver.

You don't tend to approach a drive in any MPV, let alone one related to a van, with much enthusiasm and on paper, such pessimism seems justified here. Hopes of even moderately nippy performance from the Qubo will be immediately dashed as soon as you learn that neither the 80bhp 1.3-litre diesel or the other option, a 77bhp 1.4-litre petrol, can break the 16-second barrier for the 'sprint' from 0-62mph. Get out on the road however, and the story is a little different - at least if you opt for the diesel. With 190Nm of torque, there's plenty of pulling power to waft you about without having to row the car along with the gearlever on the kind of urban trips you're likely to want this Fiat to perform. Quite simply, it's as fast as it needs to be. If you do want to go faster, there's a 95bhp diesel variant at the top of the range.

True, there's a distinctly van-like driving position - but that also means you sit quite high and get a good view of the road. You feel comfortable too thanks to a wheel that adjusts in and out as well as up and down, plus a height-adjustable seat on this plush version. On the move, the unyielding van suspension has been softened for passenger use, though not enough to exacerbate the kind of bodyroll that all high-ish sided cars suffer from to some extent. This one compensates with mild, relaxing road manners, plenty of grip and reasonable refinement. All round visibility is brilliant, so it's easy to park with a tight turning circle and accurate steering.

This revised Qubo gets a smarter front grille and a chunkier front bumper. The tailgate is also revised, with the large circular recess giving way to a straight, flat panel with a more elegant location for the FIAT badge. Inside, there's a new steering wheel design, smarter instruments, nicer seat upholstery and fresh infotainment options.

Otherwise, things are much as before. You wouldn't be embarrassed to drop the kids off in one of these, though your offspring might be irritated to find that they can't fully open the rear windows. At under four meters from nose to tail, this Fiat may be no bigger than a Fiesta supermini but there's lots of space inside. More headroom, for example, than you could possibly find a use for, plus legroom is ample for four adult-sized passengers. There are a reasonable number of internal storage areas, including a large glovebox, and the hose-clean flooring is sensible on a car like this. Access to the rear is helped by the wide-opening sliding doors on each side of the car and in contrast to many of today's compact supermini-based MPV offerings, the large, square boot is very generous at 650 litres with all the seats in place - or 330-litres under the sturdy parcelshelf. That's the kind of space you'd expect from something much larger.

The rear seats split-fold down 60:40 but if you want to get maximum cargo on board, you'll need to remove them completely. This procedure converts the Qubo back into something approaching van form with a huge 2,500-litre capacity, accessible via a low, flat loading lip and full-width tailgate. As an alternative to this, an optional pair of vertically-split, side-opening back doors might better suit those looking for, say, a wheelchair conversion. For the transport of big, long items like, say, an adult bike, the designers have even thought of a front passenger seat that folds into the foot well.

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Hyundai ix20

Hyundai ix20

The Hyundai ix20 builds on the usual supermini-MPV theme, offering sliding rear seats for added versatility and additional storage solutions inside. It's smartly finished, comes with a five-star Euro NCAP crash test and a five-year warranty. No wonder it's been such a big success across Europe.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Yes, the underpinnings of the Hyundai ix20 are shared with its Kia Venga sister vehicle and, to be entirely honest, not a whole lot has changed. The chassis engineers have had another look at the car's suspension and have tuned the damping to suit British road conditions a bit better, so the ix20 isn't quite as firm-riding as before, but you'd probably need to drive both cars back to back to really notice that much of a difference.

Hyundai has engineered a much broader array of engines for this revised model. There's a 90PS 1.4-litre petrol engine that's offered with a five-speed manual transmission, a 125PS 1.6-litre petrol unit that comes with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Should you prefer a diesel engine, you get the choice of either 77 or 90PS power outputs if you go for the 1.4-litre unit, with a six-speed manual and there's a 1.6-litre diesel range-topper which delivers 115PS or 128PS, again with six-speed manual gearboxes.

In the relatively unlikely event of you being overly familiar with the original version of this car, the most significant change you'll notice will be to the ix20's front end where the slightly fussy front grille structure with its overlapping elements has been replaced by something a bit straightforward. Bigger too, with horizontal chromed elements. The light units have also been updated, with bi-function projector lamps and LED units at the back. There are also revised 16- and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, the cabin may be simple in design and layout, but the materials used are clearly quality and made to last, now standing comparison with anything Japanese, with the interior being offered with either black or two-tone beige interior colour schemes. The ix20 is flexible and spacious inside and despite its 'compact' tag, adults in the back have all the space they need thanks to the sliding rear seating. With just driver and passenger aboard, fold down the rear seats and you get a healthy 1486-litres of space and that sort of carrying capacity puts it on a par with some medium-sized estate cars. Otherwise there's 440-litres under the parcel shelf with the rear seats slid forward.

The Hyundai ix20 might initially seem an answer to a question nobody is asking. After all, modern superminis are so good these days, do people really need one with MPV attributes? In most cases, the answer is no, but in the case of the ix20, it genuinely does offer something over the standard i20 supermini that's sold alongside it.

The latest updates don't change the script too radically and nor do they particularly need to. The ix20 sells very well and appeals to buyers who have done their homework and figured out that this unassuming Korean car offers a winning blend of practicality, safety, affordability and reliability. No, it's still not the most exciting thing you can buy but don't let that stop you. What was very good before just got a little bit better.

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Ford B-MAX

Ford B-MAX

Is there any point in a People Carrier if it's a really small one? It's a fair question that supermini-MPV models in the Nissan Note, Citroen C3 Picasso and Vauxhall Meriva segment have often struggled to answer. With Ford's B-MAX, we have at last a credible response to that query, its unique design and unrivalled versatility offering more ways to use a car of just 4m in length than you might ever have thought possible.

Ford models are generally great to drive and most of the reason why is found in one thing: chassis stiffness. You might think that the lack of a B-pillar would see this B-MAX falling down here. Not a bit of it. It's not that there isn't one: it's just that you can't see it. Clever design has integrated the central pillar structure into the leading edges of the front and rear doors where they come together. When they're shut, they clamp themselves to the body very tightly and become part of the stiffness of the car. So much so in fact that this B-MAX can actually boast a stiffer structure than that of the Fiesta supermini upon which it's based.

And a stiffer ride too? Well actually no. In fact, the ride quality is one of the very best things about this car. There's a suppleness to the suspension which strikes a better balance here than in almost anything else Ford makes, soaking up terrible town tarmac, yet firm enough to keep body roll well controlled through twisty roads you'll enjoy yourself on thanks to the standard torque vectoring system that helps corner turn-in and accurate, well-weighted electric power steering.

And under the bonnet? Well, if you can get beyond the 90PS 1.4 and auto-only 105PS 1.6-litre petrol units at the foot of the range, there's plenty to admire, most notably with the innovative three cylinder 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol powerplants, as before offered in either 100 or 120PS guises and now also available in a pokier 140PS form. If you want a diesel, there's a choice of a rather slow 1.5 TDCi unit in 75 or 95PS guises.

Most important here of course is the issue that dominates discussion every time talk turns to this car: the doors. The front ones open normally but the back ones slide aside on cleverly concealed runners, so parents need have no more worries about their offspring re-sculpting the side of adjacent parked cars in tight supermarket spaces.

And with the side doors open, you're ready to admire this car's party piece: the absence of the kind of centre B-pillar that almost every other car in the world has to have for structural rigidity. Here, that same stiffness is provided by the edges of the doors themselves when they shut tightly together, clamping themselves against the body. What this ingenuity creates is a car that's incredibly easy for anyone of any age to get in and out of. And get things in and out of. With both side doors open, there's a 1.5m-wide aperture, into which you can slide items of up to 2.34m in length if you've taken up the option of folding flat the front passenger seat. Of course, most of the time, you'll still be loading stuff like that in through the 318-litre boot, extendable to 1386-litres if you flatten the rear bench.

It's a tad ironic given the name that Ford's B-MAX is missing very little - apart from its B-pillar. Were it not for that, this would be a smart, carefully thought out but generally unremarkable contender in the supermini-MPV segment. As it is, this one stroke of design genius has set this model apart and established it as a class leader.

Of course, we've had cars designed around doors before: few of them had much else to offer. Here though, it's different. Strong safety, the SYNC connectivity system's cleverness and three cylinder EcoBoost engine technology that delivers petrol power with diesel returns: all these things make this model one of the benchmark choices in its segment. Other rivals might be slightly bigger or more affordable but if you can afford one, in this Ford, you've what for us is the perfect growing family's second car. And finally, a small people carrier that makes perfect sense.

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