Volkswagen has re-imagined what a super-large People Carrier can be. Jonathan Crouch drives the Multivan.
Ten Second Review
At a stroke, Volkswagen's Multivan redefines what you can expect a really large People Carrier to be. This seven-seat Caravelle replacement sheds its predecessor's commercial vehicle roots and is the only model in the segment not to be based on a van. Yet it's supremely spacious and flexible for families.
For a long time now, really big People Carriers have really had to be based on mid-sized vans. But here's one, Volkswagen's Multivan, that isn't. Yes, even though it's called a 'Multivan'. If you're not confused yet, you might be by the time you take on board the fact that Volkswagen has three models filling this space in the market. Apart from this one, an MPV version of the Transporter T6 van is still available, the Transporter Shuttle, for those wanting a basic old school minibus. Those of a more futuristic mind set meanwhile, can ask their dealer about the all-electric I.D Buzz, which is also roughly the same size.
But we're here to talk about the Multivan, which is the replacement for the long-running Caravelle, the change of name designating both the reinvention of this model and the fact that it no longer shares its engineering with the Transporter van. Instead, this seven-seat model gets the extended version of Volkswagen's familiar MQB platform, as used by larger group SUVs like the Volkswagen Tiguan and the Skoda Kodiaq.
All of Volkswagen's popular engines feature here. We might think twice about ordering a vehicle of this size with a 136PS 1.5-litre petrol engine - that's what you get at the bottom of the range. And the alternative conventional petrol unit, the 204PS 2.0-litre TSI, isn't going to be cheap to run. With that in mind, we'd want either the 2.0-litre 150PS 2.0-litre diesel. Or the 218PS eHybrid plug-in petrol model, which has 31 mile battery range - enough of many school run a shopping trip. An extra 100kg of weight means this PHEV variant isn't especially quick, but 62mph in 11.6 seconds will be fast enough for most.
Around town and on narrow country roads, the Multivan feels the prodigious size that it is, but as advertised, it's much more car-like than the old Caravelle. Potholes and speed humps no longer send tremors through the body structure because that chassis is now so much stiffer. Plus the suspension set-up's been optimised and is available with extra cost Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damping if you want it. Roll through the bends has been reduced by about 25% and the steering is far more direct, though doesn't have much feedback. Should you be running late for the school run, you can actually even drive with a bit of enthusiasm and you sit a little further back than in the old Caravelle, in a driving position that's less upright.
Design and Build
You might think that the switch to a car rather than a van platform would make Volkswagen's largest MPV a little smaller. In fact, the opposite is true. It's wider and longer than the old Caravelle (and sits lower). To be specific, it's 1,941mm wide and 1,903mm tall and, in standard-shape SWB form, 4,973mm long. There's an even bigger extended wheelbase LWB version that's 5,173mm long. Style-wise, the Multivan looks, well, much less like a converted van, helped by its smart full-width grille and sharp LED headlights. Plus you can have the split two-tone paint finishes that typified so many previous Caravelles.
But what Volkswagen thinks will really sell larger families this model is its more flexible interior with its new modular seating system. All the seats are now individual chairs which sit on three rails running the length of the cabin. The seats are now 25% lighter, making them easier to remove and reposition (especially compared to the old 90kg rear bench). Unfortunately, the middle seats no longer swivel on their bases, so if you want to turn them to face those at the very rear, you'll have to unclip them, lift and turn them round.
Up front, because Volkswagen has removed the conventional handbrake and gear lever, there's no centre console, but if you miss that, the passenger cabin sliding table can be pushed right up to the front to function as one. There's a smarter multi-function steering wheel through which you view a 10.25-inch digital instrument display. Infotainment is taken care of by a 10-inch centre screen. With all the seats in place, boot capacity is 469-litres on the SWB model and 763-litres with the LWB version. Maximum load space with all seats folded on models without a sunroof is rated at 3,672-litres for the SWB model and 4,005-litres for the LWB version.
Market and Model
As with the old Caravelle, you'll only be able to get a Multivan at a Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles dealer. Certain Volkswagen car dealerships can place the order for you though: to find your nearest one - or locate your nearest Volkswagen Vans stockist - you'll need to go to the Volkswagen-vans.co.uk website. Customers have a choice of two trim levels - 'Life' and 'Style' - plus two vehicle lengths and four powertrains - that 2.0 TDI 150PS diesel, plus three petrol powerplants, a base 1.5 TSI 136PS unit, a 2.0 TSI 204PS powertrain and the 1.4 TSI 218PS eHybrid PHEV. Prices start from around £44,000 - or around £45,000 for the 2.0 TDI diesel variant you'll probably want. Think around £49,000 for the eHybrid. Those are figures for the standard body length; it's £1,350 more if you want the 'Long' version. Seven seats are standard, but there's the no-cost option of a '2-2-2' six-seater layout.
Even on the entry-level 'Life model', the specification's pretty generous including 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inchers on the eHybrid), seven seats, two sliding doors, a 'Digital Cockpit' instrument display screen and a 10-inch centre infotainment monitor. 'Style models', which start at around £55,000 for the SWB 2.0 TDI model, include the brand's piercing 'IQ.LIGHT' LED matrix headlights, plus customers also get the 'Discover Media' navigation system, Park Assist, electric sliding doors and a tailgate with an easy open feature, plus 17-inch alloy wheels.
Safety-wise, 'Front Assist' autonomous braking and 'Lane Assist' feature, among many other standard items. 'Style'-spec also gets Volkswagen's 'Travel Assist' set-up, which facilitates Level 2 automated driving, the system capable of taking over the steering, braking and acceleration of your Multivan at speeds up to 130mph. The driver activates the system by pressing a separate Travel Assist button on the multifunction steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
You won't be expecting an MPV of this size to be particularly cheap to run, but Volkswagen hopes to surprise you here. The base 1.5 TSI petrol unit manages up to 35.3mpg on the combined cycle and up to 180g/km of CO2. The 2.0 TDI diesel improves that to 43.5mpg and 170g/km which, in combination with the 58-litre fuel tank, facilitates a range of around 620 miles without refuelling. For the 2.0 TSI petrol model, the figures are rather different - bests of 31.4mpg and 203g/km. The Plug-in eHybrid petrol version's worth a look; it offers up to 156.9mpg on the combined cycle if you take account of the all-electric driving range - and a tax-busting 41g/km of CO2.
Finally, there's the warranty. Volkswagens of any kind are limited to three years of cover, but with a Volkswagen Commercial Vehicle (which is what the Multivan is classed as), the mileage limit in this period is raised from 60,000 to 100,000 miles. There's also three years of pan-European Roadside Assistance also included with no mileage restriction. The paintwork warranty lasts for three years and the Multivan is protected by a 12-year anti-corrosion body warranty.
This Volkswagen's name is perhaps unfortunate given the switch away from commercial roots, but this Multivan nevertheless resets the segment standard for what a really large People Carrier can be. Expect ride and handling on a different level from this model's LCV-based rivals - and far more car-like cabin too.
You'd still consider a Mercedes V-Class in this sector if luxury was everything, but the Multivan could save you so much over one of those that you might be able to justify having it with the Plug-in Hybrid powertrain that no other MPV in this segment can offer. It'll all be a different world for customers graduating on from a Caravelle - and not before time. It's long overdue for cars in this class to significantly raise their game - and that's just what's happened here.