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Renault Scénic, the first car to be marketed as a compact MPV

Opel Zafira, a seven-seater compact MPV

A compact MPV is a car classification used in Europe to describe multi-purpose vehicle versions of small family cars (sometimes also referred to as "compact cars"), fitting between the mini MPV and large MPV sub-segments. In Japan, the term "space wagon" is sometimes used to refer to this type of vehicle.

The first vehicle to be described by that term was the Renault Scénic, which was voted European Car of the Year on its launch in 1996. Some later models include the Opel/Vauxhall Zafira, Citroën Xsara Picasso, Ford Focus C-MAX, SEAT Altea, Volkswagen Touran, Citroen C4 Picasso, Peugeot 5008 and Fiat Multipla. From 2010 the first six-seater electric MPV, the Optimal Energy Joule, will be available.

Most compact MPVs have better "flexibility" than other body styles: for example, seats may be individually folded or even removed. Due to the multi-purpose architecture, the bonnet is shorter and the passengers sit more upright than in regular cars, providing for a roomier interior. Parking, can however be a lot harder than with any two- or three-box car because the driver cannot see the end of the bonnet.

Compact MPVs remain predominantly a European phenomenon, although they are also built and sold in many Latin American and Asian markets. Some compact MPVs are currently available in the United States and Canada, including the Mazda5, Chrysler PT Cruiser, and Kia Rondo.

Number of seats

Compact MPVs can be classified by their number of seats. Some compact MPVs referred to as six-seaters have three seats both in the front and rear row — examples are the Fiat Multipla and the Honda FR-V. Five and seven-seaters have a more traditional configuration — the first and (if present) third rows with two seats and the middle row with three. The two rear seats are usually smaller than the others, enough for children or for short distances. In some cars, these seats can only carry a limited weight (less than an adult's weight).

Some manufacturers offer the third row seating as an option, and a few offer two distinct models, one of them strictly five-seater, and the other with either fixed or removable additional sixth and seventh seat — examples include the Volkswagen Golf Plus / Touran and the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso.

Mixtures between compact MPVs and other car types

There are also models which are a mix of a compact MPV and a station wagon or estate, such as the Peugeot 307 SW, Fiat Stilo MultiWagon and Toyota Fielder. These models are about as long as seven-seater compact MPVs or estate versions of small family cars (4420 mm and 4570 mm, 4515 mm and 4410 mm respectively), but their height is within a grey area: 1545 mm, 1570 mm, 1570 mm and 1520 mm, when estates are under 1500 mm and compact MPVs above 1600 mm tall. It is usually a different shape based on the original car model, just as estate cars are generally developed a from sedan car with the same body style.

There is a classification of Mid-Size MPV which fits between Compact MPV and Large MPV or Minivan. However the terms were not generally used and it is usually referred to as MPV. Among the cars falling into this category are the Honda Odyssey, Hyundai Trajet, Kia Sedona, Mazda Premacy, Mitsubishi Grandis, Toyota Ipsum, Honda Freed, Proton Exora, Toyota Wish and Chery Eastar.

Many automakers are releasing modified compact MPVs with off-road accessories, either as a trim level or under a new nameplate. Examples of the first are the Renault Scénic Conquest and Seat Altea Freetrack, and of the latter the Volkswagen CrossGolf and CrossTouran. In some cases, a compact SUV is released with shared platform and structural and mechanical elements with a compact MPV: the Volkswagen Tiguan is such a case.

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