First published in the October 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.
The Volkswagen Multivan is the leader of the space race, if not quite the final frontier.
Can’t wait to see the final score? Jump to the verdict now.
Volkswagen invented the MPV. Fact. It happened way back in the 1950s when the nice people at Wolfsburg bolted some extra seats into a Volkswagen Kombi van and created the Microbus. Even the name was clever. And when you look at this latest variation on the theme, it’s quite plain to see that VW’s ’50s mind-set remains. If it ain’t broke, etc…
Trouble is, the rest of the players have embraced newer design elements, leaving VW’s people-mover at risk of becoming an anachronism, purely on the basis of it being so closely related to a commercial vehicle.
Happily, one of the things that stamps it as a parcel van is the very same thing that makes it work as an MPV: it’s a huge box on wheels. Oh sure, you can see, hear and feel that it could still be delivering whitegoods, but all that stretching room inside makes for arguably the most accommodating vehicle here. It’s also the most flexible with removable second-row seats, a walk-through capability and a two-two-three seating layout.
The second-row chairs feature armrests and can swivel through 180-degrees to turn the rear of the Multivan into a boardroom. Both rear rows can be removed, too, forming the van that VW would rather you not think about in this context.
Seats up, there’s decent luggage space, but fold the rear row and you’re looking at a cavern of stashing possibilities. Even the opening at the rear is huge; a vast, gaping, square maw measuring 1280mm by 1280mm and with the second-lowest loading height (560mm versus the Honda Odyssey’s 530mm) of this bunch. The flip-side is that the tailgate itself is also tilt-a-door-sized and requires a decent wedge of clear real estate behind to open it.
The windows are huge and the VW has the most adult-friendly third-row seating, fore-aft adjustment, air vents, cup-holders and a sliding door on each side is a nice touch. If your kids are big or you plan to use the third row all the time, then the Multivan really comes into its own.
The driving experience is a bit less friendly, with a slightly grumpy feel and sound from the modestly powered 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine. Despite all that interior space, the flat steering wheel positions the driver over the top of the pedals, making for a slightly cramped driving position, and the ride can be a bit lively on pimply surfaces. But the seven-speed DSG gearbox works well, and once past its on-centre vacancy, the VW steers progressively and has a natural, flowing feel on a country road. It also rides much better with a load on board.
Given that you can spend better than $80,000 by shopping at the high end of the VW Multivan range, the $49,990 being asked for this model seems reasonable. Especially when it also includes forward collision warning, city emergency braking and a rear-view camera.
Volkswagen’s MPV might seem old fashioned in some ways (which it is), including the notion that it won’t be traded in three years when the novated lease is up. And that makes sense to us because it will manage to accommodate the kids until they finally leave home (in about 40 years, based on current trends). It’s the original and in that sense, potentially for some, the best.
But up against the sophistication of 2016’s finest, the Volkswagen T6 Multivan is incapable of escaping its 2004 origins and its commercial-vehicle upbrining.
Working for its class
Despite the clever touches in the Multivan’s layout and specification, there’s no getting away from the distinct feeling that this is a van converted to civilian duties. So what are the giveaways? Well, let’s start with the look of the thing. It’s boxy, but it’s good, we guess. Then there’s the sliding side doors (which we actually approve of) and the second-row windows that don’t roll down conventionally, but slide also.
Look beyond that, however, and the clever touches like the bottle storage under the dashboard and enough power outlets in the third row for everybody and you can see that plenty of thought has gone into the Multivan, regardless of its origins.
Price as tested: $51,580* *includes metallic paint ($1590)
Engine: 1968cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD
Power: 103kW @ 3500rpm
Torque: 340Nm @ 1750-2500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Cargo capacity: n/a
Tyres: Goodyear Marathon 215/60R16C 106T
Test fuel cons: 9.7L/100km
0-400m: 19.0sec @ 119.0km/h
3yr resale: 60%
Plus: Hugely roomy and capable; superb vision; ruggedness
Minus: Engine refinement and performance; old-fashioned