Call them MPVs, minivans or monovolumes. They are those cars which, together with the equally practical vans often derived from commercial vehicles, have had mixed fortunes in Europe, but which in recent years seemed to have disappeared from the market.
Even the Renault Espace, the parent model of the more car-oriented MPVs, has changed its appearance to become a seven-seat SUV. Only Mercedes V-Class, Volkswagen Multivan and ID. Buzz, Hyundai Staria and a few other passenger 'vans' remain.
However, the trend towards the extinction of MPVs seems to have been reversed recently, with many new luxury MPVs that have debuted in China and are preparing to land in Europe. We discover together the phenomenon of the new 'MPV boom' that seems to be following the famous Silk Road.
One of the first new-generation MPVs designed for China and destined for our roads as well is the Lexus LM, a luxurious 4- or 7-seater car that is 5.10 metres long and powered by the 2.5 full hybrid engine with 250 bhp.
The top level trim typical of Lexus is combined on the LM with individual, reclining seats and a huge 48" display for rear passengers. The price in Italy has already been set at €135,000 (approx. £117,000) for the 7-seater Lexus LM and €155,000 (£134,000) for the 4-seater.
Maxus Mifa 9
Already sold in Italy with a base price of €88,000 (£76,200) is the Maxus Mifa 9, a 5.27 metre long Chinese electric MPV with seven seats and the ever-present sliding rear doors, as well as high level interior finishes.
This SAIC group MPV is imported by Koelliker, has a 90 kWh battery, a single 245 bhp electric motor, front-wheel drive and about 400 km (249 mile) range.
What we know of the Volvo EM90 for the moment is its name and the large electric MPV shape with which the Swedish brand owned by China's Geely intends to revive the trend in Europe too, starting, however, with marketing in China.
Volvo EM90, the teaser
Already the 90 in the name tells us that it will be a large and luxurious MPV, as well as electric, just like the EX90 SUV is. The new Volvo EM90, which will be unveiled in November, is based on Geely's SEA electric platform that is already used by the Zeekr 009.
Forthing U-Tour V9
The Forthing U-Tour V9 made its world premiere at the last Monaco Motor Show as a seven-seater MPV with sliding doors, the now ubiquitous large front grille and 1.5-litre 190 bhp turbo petrol or plug-in hybrid engines.
It is not yet known whether the U-Tour 9 will come to Europe, but the Bavarian presentation suggests that the large Dongfeng group behind the Forthing brand also wants to explore this possibility.
Also on show at the Munich Motor Show was the Denza D9, the new MPV from the brand born of a joint venture between BYD and Mercedes, available in China with one or two electric motors (312 or 374 bhp), or as a plug-in hybrid version with a large electric range and power from 300 to 407 bhp.
The length of this impressive Chinese MPV is 5.25 metres and the trim is that of a true luxury car, in both 7-seater and 4-seater configurations. Perhaps only the electric version will arrive in Europe, while in China it is already sold with a base price equivalent to around €44,000 (£38,100) .
Another Chinese classic of new MPVs is the Voyah Dreamer, a car from the Dongfeng brand that already sells the Free in Europe. The Dreamer is longer than its competitors at 5.31 metres and is offered domestically in both a 7-seater and a 4-seater VIP version with reclining rear seats.
The electric version of the Voyah Dreamer has two motors for a total of 435 bhp, up to 605 km (375 mi) range and a 0-100 km/h sprint in 5.5 seconds. The plug-in hybrid is a range extender with 389 bhp. The Dreamer's Chinese price list starts at around €48,000 (£42,000).
With the Roewe iMax8, we enter the heart of the Chinese MPV market, a 5.01 metre long car from SAIC with seven seats and the choice between a 234 bhp petrol engine or a 245 bhp electric motor and 570 km (354 mi) range.
In China, the Roewe iMax8 has a starting price of around €33,000 (£28,500) in the case of the electric.
GAC is perhaps the Chinese group with the most momentum in the MPV segment, with no less than three MPVs in production and two coming soon under the Trumpchi brand. The most popular and best-selling model is the Trumpchi M8, which measures 5.21 metres in length and has petrol, full hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric engines.
Power ratings range from 190 bhp in the full hybrid to 369 bhp in the case of the plug-in hybrid called Trumpchi E9. Again, 7-seater versions or the more luxurious 4-seater configurations with rear recliners are available. Chinese prices start at around €23,000 (£20,000).
A real outsider in the challenge of Chinese MPVs is the Hycan V09, an electric novelty from GAC that is 5.21 metres long, has 7 seats and costs the equivalent of €41,000 (£35,500) in China, and relies heavily on automated driving systems.
The front-mounted electric motor has an output of 275 bhp and the battery in 92, 95 or 114 kW ratings allows the Hycan V09 to travel up to 762 km (473 mi) on a full tank of electrons.
In this group, however, the most squared-off and imposing style is the Zeekr 009, Geely's 5.20-metre electric MPV related to the future Volvo EM90, which is also the most technological and advanced of Chinese luxury MPVs.
The two electric motors offer a combined power output of 544 bhp, all-wheel drive and 0-100 km/h acceleration in just 4.5 seconds, making it the world's fastest MPV. The largest battery is the 140 kWh battery, which promises a range of 822 km (511 mi). In China it costs at least €65,000 (£56,300).