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New car review

Volkswagen Multivan test drive

It may look like a van, but it's built on the same platform as the Volkswagen Golf and Audi A3. So is the Multivan a van or a car?

Volkswagen Multivan? It might not be a name that is familiar to many of you, unless you happen to be a VW Caravelle follower. But this name from the past adorns an all-new model.

Multivan is a name that Volkswagen has used from time to time in the past for particular versions of its van-based people carriers. There was a Multivan variant of the T4 Caravelle in the 1990s equipped with face-to-face rear seating and folding table between, which would convert into a double bed when needed. It even came complete with stud-fastened curtains.

From early next year, however, the Multivan name will return with this new vehicle, which becomes a model in its own right. It effectively replaces both the current Transporter-based Caravelle and the Sharan MPV, which has not been on sale in the UK for a while. It also marks an important departure for Volkswagen.

What’s new about the Volkswagen Multivan?

While previous Multivans have been passenger versions of the familar Volkswagen Transporter van, this all-new model is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB architecture that underpins a large number of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda and SEAT passenger cars.

To further confuse matters, despite the fact that it’s based on a car platform and will only be available as a passenger model, it will be sold in the UK by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles rather than the passenger car side of the business.

That may be because Volkswagen has relatively modest expectations of how many will be sold here. Alice Axtell, the product marketing manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles in the UK told The Car Expert that in a good year, they expect to exceed the 800 Caravelle sales that they have been used to previously.

To maximise flexibility, Volkswagen is not offering a three-seater bench for the third-row seats, there are three individual seats instead. The outer rails can carry electrical connections too, meaning that the outer seats can be heated. The seats are also said to weigh between 23kg and 29kg – up to 25% lighter than before.

How does it look?

Externally, the overall outline also carries echoes of the Caravelle. At the same time, features like the front quarter window link it to car models such as the ID.3.

The front end is more steeply-raked and smooth, echoing Volkswagen’s latest passenger car models. Meanwhile, the sides and back end retain the very square sort of shape you’d expect if the Multivan was actually still a van. In fact, it’s probably a very good guide to what the T7 Transporter van will look like when it launches next year.

What’s the spec like?

Volkswagen is offering two lengths for the Multivan, both on the same wheelbase, which is 12cm longer than the current Caravelle. The longer version is 20cm longer, gained by lengthening the rear overhang.

Looking ahead, Multivan is scheduled to gain a 4×4 model in 2024, using an e-axle to provide all-wheel-drive. A Euro-7 compliant performance diesel variant is also planned but is still several years away.

Three trim levels will be available in the UK: the entry-level spec, simply called ‘Multivan’; the mid-range ‘Life’ and the top-spec ‘Style’.

What’s the Volkswagen Multivan like inside?

Anyone buying a Multivan is likely to be focussed on what the model offers inside. Like its predecessor, there are up to seven seats which can be arranged in three rows. Volkswagen has opted for a rail system for the seats to offer greater flexibility. It’s a system first seen on the 1996 Renault Espace. By mounting the seats on rails that run front-to-back in the passenger area behind the front seats, owners can position the five rear seats as they like, while a centre console which converts into a table can be mounted on the middle rails and positioned where needed.

Despite the more steeply raked windscreen, the Multivan carries over the feel of the Caravelle when climbing aboard. The high driving position and dashboard design retain enough similarities with the Caravelle to convey the link.

The interior design is very clean with an uncluttered dashboard, aided by the lack of both handbrake and gear lever. All Multivans will have electrically operated handbrakes and automatic transmissions, providing fairly unobstructed cross-cab access.

It is more car-like than its predecessor, but it is still principally a vehicle for moving passengers around in comfort. Features such as electrically operated sliding doors and a panoramic glass sunroof will go down well with passengers.

What’s under the bonnet?

Where most Caravelle models are diesel-powered, that’s not expected to be the case with the Multivan. Volkswagen will offer petrol, plug-in hybrid petrol (PHEV) and diesel. Both the petrol and PHEV variants will go on sale first.

There won’t be a manual option. That follows the lead set by the Caravelle 6.1 in 2019, when the manual gearbox was dropped from the range.

Right-hand-drive production is scheduled to begin at the end of January and the first models are expected to arrive in the UK in March. Diesel power is not expected to arrive until the summer. There will not be a fully electric version, as the new electric-only ID.Buzz will be lined up to handle that when it also arrives in 2022.

We drove left-hand-drive variants in Germany and had a choice of  1.5-litre 134hp petrol engine, 2.0-litre 201hp turbocharged petrol engines and the plug-in hybrid, which combines a 1.4-litre petrol engine with an electric drive system for a combined output of 215hp. The e-Hybrid can provide a 31-mile electric drive range.

What’s the Volkswagen Multivan like to drive?

Volkswagen says that the Multivan has been produced in response to customers asking for a more car-like driving experience, so the question is, does it provide it?

The 134hp 1.5-litre petrol version will be the entry-level model and with a kerb weight approaching two tonnes, the engine has a fair bit of work to do. Our drive was with two adults on board and performance seemed sprightly enough, although it might be less willing with a full load on board, which could push the weight up to around 2.7-tonnes.

Inevitably, the larger capacity 201hp 2.0-litre petrol engine felt more lively but outright performance is not likely to be the most important factor for Multivan customers.

The plug-in hybrid model offers the most powerful option with combined power output of 215hp from the 148hp 1.4-litre petrol engine, combined with 114hp from the electric drive motor. For short-distance commuting, the 31-mile range should be enough to ensure that the petrol engine isn’t used much, while providing long-range travel without range anxiety. As we have come to expect, Volkswagen’s DSG automatic transmission offers extremely quick and smooth gear changes.

Previous Caravelle models have handled well despite their size and weight, and the Multivan continues that tradition. It is a satisfying vehicle to drive and good all-round visibility makes it easy to place on the road. Drivers will be able to take advantage of more than 20 driver assist systems.

Verdict

Prices will start from around £45,000, which is less than the outgoing Caravelle. “That’s part of the strategy of trying broaden the appeal of the vehicle”, says Alice Axtell.

“We’ve got our existing customer base that is predominately fleet, and we’ve also got a high proportion of wheelchair access customers. So Caravelle has been very popular for customers who are looking for that kind of vehicle. We absolutely want to continue to appeal to those, but this vehicle is about broadening that appeal also.”

That means more private and family customers. “Customers that are interested in SUV, because you’ve got that higher up seating position, so it’s a similar kind of driving experience but you’ve got the versatility of a seven-seat vehicle.

“There are of course seven seat SUVs on the market, so it’s not to say that it’s giving something that those don’t, but it’s a different alternative, a different space concept inside. For example, greater headroom in the rear and more space in the rear, so if it’s a family that have maybe slightly older children that need those rear seats to be suitable for all kinds of occupants, it works really well for them.”

Similar vehicles

Citroën Grand C4 SpaceTourer | Citroën SpaceTourer | Fiat Ulysee | Ford Galaxy | Ford Tourneo Custom | Mercedes-Benz V-Class | Peugeot Traveller | Renault Trafic Passenger | Toyota Proace Verso | Vauxhall Vivaro Life

Key specifications

1.5-litre petrol

  • Seven-speed automatic transmission
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Power: 134hp
  • Torque: 220Nm
  • Top speed: 113mph
  • Fuel consumption: TBA
  • CO2 emisions: TBA

2.0-litre petrol

  • Seven-speed automatic transmission
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Power: 201hp
  • Torque: 320Nm
  • Top speed: 124mph
  • Fuel consumption: TBA
  • CO2 emissions: TBA

Plug-in hybrid

  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • Front-wheel drive
  • Power: 148hp
  • Torque: 350Nm
  • Top speed: 118mph
  • Fuel consumption: TBA
  • CO2 emissions: TBA
  • Battery range: 31 miles
John Kendall
John Kendall
Began working for a motor industry consultancy in 1988 before moving into automotive journalism in 1990. Freelance since 2001. Chairman of the UK-based Guild of Motoring Writers in 2006-7.
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