This utilitarian segment is divided into mini, compact and full-size models
ST-Torque Best Buys of 2014 - MPV/Wagon Toyota Wish 1.8 ($140,888, above). -- PHOTO: AZFAR HASHIM

This utilitarian segment is divided into mini, compact and full-size models. The Toyota Wish 1.8 ($140,888), though long in the tooth, still reigns supreme in the compact group. It has a pleasant design which also maximises interior space. The third row will accommodate two adults easily. Even though it is an oldish model, its second and third row of seats can be folded to release a large, flat cargo area. Most crucially, the car is frugal and dependable.

The Opel Zafira Tourer 1.4 Turbo ($149,000) matches the Wish in efficiency, but is a bit more cramped inside. It is a good-looking and well-equipped compact MPV that drives fairly well, powered by a 1.4-litre turbo paired with a six-speed autobox. So it enjoys lower road tax than the Toyota.

The Ford S-Max 2.0 Ecoboost ($159,000) offers something most MPVs lack - performance. Its 2-litre turbo engine makes 240bhp and 340Nm. The output goes to the front wheels via a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Zero to hundred is accomplished in 7.9 seconds and its top speed is 235kmh. Like the Wish, it is old, with a new model expected next year. But if you need a car that is swift and spacious, the current model is still suitable.

If you want a full-size seven-seater that offers space and pace, the Volkswagen Sharan 2.0TSI ($218,300) fits the bill. It has lots of user-friendly features, including pressure-sensitive sliding doors on both sides, so there is no danger of trapped fingers. It is solid like a German car, yet not slabsided or starchy. Its seats slide, tilt and collapse effortlessly, for instance. Its tailgate is also motorised, and there is an array of compartmentalising tools to make the cargo area organised and pet-safe. With a 2-litre turbo engine giving you access to 200bhp and 280Nm, it goes from standstill to 100kmh in 8.3 seconds.

If you do not need seven seats but want a car with the form and versatility of an MPV, the Suzuki Solio ($111,900) will suit you. The boxy 1.2-litre will not win any races, but it has an extraordinary amount of interior space for something with such a small footprint. It measures 3,710mm front to back, 1,425mm side to side, but is exceptionally tall at 1,765mm. Its high ceiling gives the impression of space, with the car's boxy design contributing as well. Passengers have easy access to the second row via motorised sliding doors on both sides. The driver gets good visibility through an expansive windscreen. For a budget car, it is pretty well-equipped, with goodies such as climate control and keyless access and ignition.

The only station wagon that qualifies as a "best buy" is the Hyundai i40 Wagon ($142,999). While buyers often associate the genre with Volvo or Audi, the i40 proves that qualities of a premium wagon do not have to come with premium pricing. Except for a turbocharged engine, it has everything that its European counterparts have, including an elegant silhouette.