One of Volkswagen’s greatest hits now even better with the addition of car-like dynamics and features. We test-drive the new top-rung model overseas.
This, if you like, is peak Volkswagen: a sharp but sensible people mover with subtle stylistic nods to its predecessors, a boatload of standard equipment and an array of variants to cater cost-effectively to wildly different demographics.
On moving from generation six (T6) to seven (T7), the Volkswagen Caravelle becomes the Volkswagen Multivan, arriving just as VW prepares to welcome the similarly positioned but all-electric ID Buzz into showrooms and the new Ford E-Transit Custom looks to provide the innards of the next generation of the more commercially minded Transporter.
Unlike them, the Multivan uses a much more familiar platform: the faithful MQB architecture, which over the past decade has proved its worth as a refined and well-rounded basis for everything from the Audi A3 to the Skoda Superb and Cupra Formentor. What this gives the Multivan is an easy one-up over rivals such as the Citroen Spacetourer and Mercedes V-Class, which soldier on with van-based platforms and all the refinement implications that brings.
While the ID Buzz remains a long way off from Australia, the Multivan is on the cards for a 2023 launch, although Volkswagen Australia is yet to make any confirmation on the model locally. Hence why we’ve tested this 2.0-litre turbo model in the UK.
The most radical change on paper, meanwhile, is the addition of a new plug-in hybrid variant which pairs a 110kW turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine with a 85kW electric motor on the front axle for a combined output of 160kW, and gets an EV range of around 50km. More convention powetrain options include a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 110kW, a 1.5-litre petrol with 100kW and the range-topping 2.0-litre petrol turbo driven here.
There is also a choice of two body shells (standard and long, the latter with a 200mm extended rear overhang) and two trims (overseas, at least): entry-level Life and range-topping Style, the latter of which is the subject of today’s review.
Plumping for a van-shaped MPV as your seven-seat, family-hauling weapon of choice over a more overtly prestigious SUV – in the form of the Volvo XC90, Land Rover Discovery or Audi Q7 – is a choice no doubt driven by a preference for modularity, flexibility and practicality over all else. And while those school run stalwarts claim early victories in the kerb appeal, performance and off-roading stakes, the Multivan’s fitness for purpose really is a force to be reckoned with.
Rails running the length of the cavernous rear cabin mean it can be reconfigured at will, with the option of removing, swivelling or rearranging the five (or optionally four) seats, and sliding the centre console back and folding it out to form a workspace-cum-dining room. Whichever way they end up facing, each Multivan passenger is hosted in comfort with a luxuriously cushioned seat and plenty of leg and head room.
It’s good news for the driver, too, as the wholly expected but still remarkable result of moving onto slicker car-derived mechanicals is that this, a 2850kg family bus with a 3124mm wheelbase, drives pretty categorically like a car, and that could not be further from faint praise here.
There is absolutely minimal mental adjustment required on taking the wheel, save for getting acquainted with the undeniably van-like straight-backed seating position and the cab-forward proportions. The driving position is commanding and visibility all round comprehensive, which means you can see the farthest reaches of the body and confidently judge overtaking and parking manoeuvres. The seats are comfortable, the suspension is nicely tuned to mitigate lurching and roll during cornering (push it and it will tip a bit, obviously), and the steering is quick and smooth, albeit firmly on the lighter and unfeelsome side, which we’ll forgive.
It’s not particularly cumbersome or slow, either. The 150kW 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine – familiar from the Volkswagen Golf, Volkswagen Tiguan and even the hot Volkswagen Polo GTI – does a decent job of lugging the Multivan up to speed without fuss before fading into the background, and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox shifts with the best of ’em (you still need to allow for that characteristic DSG hesitation when trying to nip onto a roundabout). All of which, combined with the 7.85L/100km we saw on a 160km motorway journey, belies its heft and stature.
It helps, too, that the infotainment and driver aids are a straight match for those offered on the Golf and ID EVs, with functionality and clarity a world away from what you would have expected from anything van-shaped just a few years ago.
There’s a ‘for better or worse’ caveat here, though: yes, this is an advanced and comprehensively equipped interface that more than befits the Multivan’s heavy-usage billing, but here, as in all other new VW cars, the infotainment is hamstrung by an overt lack of focus on ergonomics. Too hot at night and you will have to adjust the temperature in increments as you pass under street lights, as the control sliders remain unlit, and a lack of haptic response from the touch-sensitive buttons means you are never immediately sure if the lights, stereo or climate systems are doing what you have asked.
It’s also worth mentioning that with quasi-big-sedan refinement, tech and power can come quasi-big-sedan pricing – this top-rung Multivan Style here is priced a whisker over £60,000 in the UK, or about $105,000 locally.