Before Crossovers were in vogue, the term ‘Multi Purpose Vehicle’ was banded around in the media, I think, a little too carelessly. The first car to be branded as such was Renault’s Espace, which sparked the trend of other car makers building big, van-like cars with more seats than most living rooms but with the driving dynamics of a suet pudding. That was, of course, until Vauxhall came to the rescue with the Zafira VXR, which gave hope to family men everywhere.
Setting aside bonkers follies like the Zafira VXR, the name ‘Multi Purpose Vehicle’ is a massive, massive let down. When in ‘cooking’ form, the MPV’s primary purpose is to move a lot of people from one place to another. That’s it. Yes, you can fold the seats down or remove them – full stop. However, if you want to take a piano to the tip, a decent estate will swallow most other large items whole. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking MPVs are cheap to run, because they’re not.
You can’t take a Renault Espace round the Nurburgring. You can’t take a Vauxhall Zafira off road. You can’t use a Vauxhall Sintra as a limousine. Well, you probably can do all those things with an MPV, but here’s the key word here, not well.
A Jaguar X300 is a multi purpose vehicle. You can take one for a spirited B-road drive and, when you’ve had enough, cruise on the motorway in perfect comfort. Then, when you get home attack it with AutoGlym and a pressure washer, stick some ribbons on it and rent it as a perfectly acceptable wedding car.
However, for me, the most multi-talented, useful and flexible car I’ve ever known came as a bit of a surprise – it was a Land Rover Discovery. If you’re thinking about a people carrier, I urge you to seek out a Discovery 2 and spend some quality time with it. It can do all the things an MPV can do and just as well as an MPV can do them – with class.
My on/off relationship with an excellent, 2002 specimen of the breed started, like so many torrid affairs do, on holiday. Many start a package holiday in Spain, but this one began in Wales. A friend borrowed it to use as wheels for our jollies and brought it round to show me the evening before we were due to vanish for two weeks to complain about the rain.
From the start I was smitten. He showed me around and, just like a Renault Espace, it had seven seats. That’s already the people moving part covered. Excited, I clambered abroad to get acquainted. Despite being more than 10 years old, the interior still smelt new. It looked new too. Even the switchgear looked crisp and factory fresh. It was light and airy, like a four wheeled lean-to conservatory. It felt expensive and posh.
New Discoveries give the impression of sitting inside a Bang and Olsen stereo, but the Discovery 2 was more like sitting inside a big Barbour jacket. I felt like the door pockets should have been made out of quilted green fabric and contain shotgun residue from shooting a few clays after the Sunday roast.
The next day, it completed the drive from Hampshire to the outer extremities of Wales without any mishaps and, perhaps more impressively, with no complaints from any passengers. It was quiet on the motorway and well mannered around the many towns we drove through. In fact, it was a thoroughly relaxing place to be. In Wales itself, the Disco’ shone. It’s air suspension floated around the country roads like a Jaguar and the loadspace took cameras, camp beds, boots and other outdoorsy junk like a van. If you closed your eyes, you’d never guess you were in something farmers love so much.
After the holiday, I didn’t miss the mountains, streams or valleys. I did, though, miss the Land Rover, with its burbling TD5 engine and Babour jacket interior.
Some time later, I helped the same friend build something, which required the Discovery again. It was loaded with tools, bags of cement and a wheelbarrow. At the end of the day mud got walked inside her, much to my chagrin. Then, after having to use the low ratio box in a muddy field, the outside got the same treatment. Worse was to come, though…
My friend got me a hot, buttery bacon sandwich dripping with fat and sauce after he filled up with diesel. Starving, too polite to save it for later, and with no breakfast inside me, I had no choice and broke a long standing rule of mine that forbids eating in nice cars (Or worse, somebody else’s nice car). By the end of the week somebody smoked inside it (by this time I felt like crying) and a can of Red Bull did an impression of Basil Fawlty’s fire extinguisher and soaked the dashboard. By the time the job was finished, I had a feeling that the once factory-fresh Discovery would never be the same again. The interior smelt like an inner city train station.
Before it went back to its owner, it was cleaned within an inch of it’s life inside and out. Once we were finished, it was as if it had never been used for work. The crisp switchgear was still crisp, surviving muddy or greasy hands, cigarette ash and Red Bull. Weirdly, the new car smell came back.
That evening, it was taken out for a drive to a posh pub, where it didn’t look at all out of place with the new and newish Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes – not bad for something you can use as a work vehicle.
There you have it, then – a truly multi-purpose car. Mile muncher, tough workhorse and a posh waftmobile… Just don’t ask about the fuel consumption.