Alex Shinder is looking for an estate or people-mover and needs to move six or seven around, mainly young kids. He is thinking of the Volvo XC90, and wonders what is the best way to buy such a car economically, for example DIY importing or using a good-value, reputable middle-man.

The Volvo XC90 is the multi-purpose vehicle de jour. Less arrogant than a BMW X5 or Mercedes M-Class, here you have the acceptable face of full-size 4X-4dom which comes with seven seats as standard. Consequently there is a considerable wait for a new one and little chance of a discount.

Alex is right to consider this model, especially the D5S diesel, which has a great image, quality, style and safety. Only an obsessively keen driver would consider the less-practical BMW X5 because it is a sharper drive.

However, a brief search through the classifieds for a bargain-priced XC90 did not turn up very much except Volvo dealers with very costly, nearly new examples, car traders advertising to buy any unwanted model and private sellers hoping to make a nice premium of around £3,000 over the list price.

So the chances of getting a cheap Volvo are almost non-existent at the moment. Alex could be patient and pay the full asking price and feel satisfied that he has the most desirable family car which is unlikely to depreciate much in the next few years. Then again, he could buy a more conventional vehicle and save a packet.

A car for the head

I accept that Alex wants style, but with six on board he needs lots of seats at the best possible price. Whatever vehicle he buys is going to lead a tough life, especially as his family grows. Long-term, the Volvo may not be able to cope with seven bodies plus luggage.

Alex should buy standard-issue people-movers, not least because there are lots to choose from and prices could not be more reasonable. The latest Peugeot 807 is a clever update of the old 806. It may not be a pretty sight, but the 807 is large and practical. The rear seats fold and are now much easier to remove and replace. The twin sliding doors are very useful, although with all the seats occupied, luggage space is tight.

Ideally Alex should go for the economical diesel engine and will only have to pay a relatively small amount. We found some UK models, the 2.0 HDI LX with seven seats, that had been pre-registered at car supermarket at £16,995 which represented a saving of £2,625.

Citroën's near-identical C8, a 2.0Hdi, at new car broker, with Exclusive specification and automatic gearbox, was £18,727, a stunning saving of £6,367.

A car for the heart

OK, so Alex wants style. Trouble is, the off-roaders that seat seven are not the best family vehicles. The extra seats are only good for small children and the refinement levels are minimal, which is not recommended for stress-free long journeys.

So a Mitsubishi Shogun and Land Rover Discovery may look the chunky part but they are quite limited and uncomfortable and operate much better as five-seaters.

No, Alex needs a proper family on-roader and, currently, only one people-carrier has the style, image and ability to avoid comparison with all the other boxes on wheels and that's the Renault Espace.

In just about every area the Espace excels. It has seven individual seats and the five right at the back either tumble or can removed, although they are heavy. The outer seats of the middle row can slide backwards and forward for maximum flexibility and there is the option of the larger Grand Espace if Alex needs more luggage space.

A 2.2 Dci Privilege would be a good buy and at we found a new one at £21,843 which represented a saving of £3,547 on the usual dealer price of £25,390.

* Please write to Which Car, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle you are interested in.

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