Jonathan Lord and his family, which includes three children under the age of 10, have a Volkswagen Sharan which is a little too bulky. That's a problem when they use it for business (transporting wine). Jonathan's history of back pain is an issue, but he finds that high seating positions have helped in the past. Fuel economy is a priority. He likes the idea of a Subaru Forester, but realises that there is no diesel version. So some business style and true family/business practicality are the priorities for the Lords.

Jonathan Lord and his family, which includes three children under the age of 10, have a Volkswagen Sharan which is a little too bulky. That's a problem when they use it for business (transporting wine). Jonathan's history of back pain is an issue, but he finds that high seating positions have helped in the past. Fuel economy is a priority. He likes the idea of a Subaru Forester, but realises that there is no diesel version. So some business style and true family/business practicality are the priorities for the Lords.

The really good news for Jonathan is that he can think outside the usual people-carrier box. The problem is that these vehicles can be just too big.

What the Lords need is just five good seats, and the Lords' business requires some flexibility when it comes to organising the available space. Jonathan has more decisions to make when deciding on the type of vehicle: he can either go for a compact people carrier or a good old-fashioned estate car.

Indeed the estate is far from outdated and has learnt a lot of lessons from the people-carrying breed, but manages to package clever folding seats in a more handy size. Whereas manufacturers charge a premium for a people carrier, the estate is still sold as a business tool and will only be marginally more expensive than the standard hatchback version. I get the impression that Jonathan wants to make an impression with his vehicle and most estates will do this, whereas people carriers always look like some sort of compromise. When it comes to seats, Jonathan has to make the final decision on that, although it is possible to pick both Saab and Volvo models as having particularly comfy seats.

A car for the head

Usually the word Tourer means some sort of lifestyle-type compromise, but with the Toyota Avensis Tourer this is simply not the case. The rear seats actually fold flat to create an absolutely massive area.

It is nicely styled; not as distinctive as a Subaru Forester, but certainly solid and businesslike. There are some very efficient petrol and diesel engines, which for the company car driver put it in a low tax band. The 2.0 D4-D will return an impressive 47.1 mpg and in comprehensive T3 trim will cost £17,845, although brokers will be able to knock at least £1,000 off that price.

Buyers also get a lot of standard equipment, and the overall package is very well put together with good-quality materials and construction. This means that the refinement levels are excellent, with quiet engines and only the lowest level of road noise sneaking into the cabin.

That interior is one of the largest around, with plenty of cubby holes and storage options. It easily takes four to five adults without any of them feeling the pinch. The Avensis will look after them too, thanks to the excellent crash-test performance and a large number of standard safety features. Drivers have a comfortable seat and easily adjustable position.

A car for the heart

I am tempted to point Jonathan in the direction of the Toyota Corolla Verso, which is very compact and, like the Avensis, has five rear seats that fold flat to the floor to create a cavernous van-like and wine-case-holding area.

I also think he should think about the Fiat Multipla. It cannot be confused with any other vehicle, being short yet wide, which is inspired lateral thinking. A recent restyle also means it is less scary to look at.

Also, instead of seating just five, the Multipla goes one better and fits six in just two rows. Three in the front and three in the back. Even better, the rear seats are aluminium, making them easy to remove and rearrange, especially as they slide backwards and forwards.

The boot is nice and wide, so getting decent loads in there when all the seats are occupied is not a problem. That huge glass area takes some getting used to, but creates a pleasantly airy environment for all the passengers.

The ride is very good and overall the Multipla is supremely comfortable. The JTD diesel engine is fairly responsive, although you do have to accelerate hard and change gear often if you plan on overtaking.

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