Look at this and tell me what do you see? A van is the obvious answer, but not necessarily the right one. Allow me to explain. This is the new Volkswagen Multivan, which is the replacement for the old Caravelle. But unlike the Caravelle, which was very clearly a poshed-up Transporter with windows, the Multivan isn’t a van. Yes, I know it says van in the name and it has seven spacious seats, but it’s actually an MQB-based offering that has more in common with the current Golf than anything from Volkswagen’s commercial arm.
This gives it some potential advantages over the old Caravelle. For a start, being more of a car underneath means the ride, handling and NVH should be less rugged, and because it’s running the latest MQB fundamentals underneath, it can run all the latest software, too. Actually, thinking about it, is that a positive? I’ve never met anyone who would describe Volkswagen’s latest software as advantageous. Anyway, more on that later.
What I can tell you is that people seem to love it. I’ve been using the MV over the bank holiday weekend, ferrying kids and adults around. It’s been used on-road and it’s even travelled across farm fields, to deliver people to a picnic spot out in the farthest reaches of the farm, which gives the ‘multi’ part of its name a certain legitimacy. And the universal opinion was “this is cool”. I expected that from the kids, because it’s different and kids love anything that’s different, but the adults seemed equally impressed as well.
Let’s begin with its practicality. Up front, there are masses of space for the driver and passenger, and it’s comfortable, too. The front seats are jolly supportive and, in the Style trim we had on test, quite sporty, with biggish side bolsters and Recaro-like extendable seat squabs. There are also armrests sprouting from the sides of the seats, while the top of the door trims make a great ledge for an elbow – if you want something higher to lean on. It’s got more pockets and recesses than a hiker’s backpack, too. The more I looked, the more trays and cubbyholes I discovered for oddments – to the point that I think you might genuinely run the risk of forgetting where you've put stuff. At my age, that's happening more and more.
The driving position is van-like but works perfectly. You sit up high, with a commanding view of the road. The pedals are well positioned and the steering wheel is adjustable to the point you’ll be able to stick it where you want it. And in front of that sits the latest VW digital instrument screen, which you can set up in a multitude of ways to show what you want and where you want it, using the buttons on the steering wheel. If you’ve used any recent VW car, you’ll know how it works because it’s broadly the same. The good news is the buttons are proper ones, not the stupid touch-buttons you get in an ID.Something or the latest Golf, so it’s actually easier to use.
That brings me onto the infotainment system. The dreaded Volkswagen infotainment system. You can still buy a Transporter with many seats – more seats than the Multivan because the Transporter Shuttle has up to nine – and it is pegged to VW’s old-school infotainment system. The archaic one that actually works well and responds immediately when you ask it to do something. Because the Multivan is Golf-based, it has the latest infotainment hardware and software, which is still rubbish. It continues to be a job to find what you want in the menus, it still doesn’t respond quickly enough and I still scratch my head wondering how on earth anyone signed it off without questioning the lack of night-time illumination for the touch-sensitive temperature and volume controls. And why they need to be touch-sensitive at all, which just makes them a faff to use. For some reason, though, I didn't find the whole shebang as annoying here as it has been in the other VW products I’ve used. The thing that irked me most was the time it takes the car to boot up when you turn on the ignition. This isn’t just a Multivan issue, it’s the same with a lot of the latest VW hybrid models – you have to wait a relative while before it’ll allow you to select a gear and get going.
It's not as plush inside as the most lavishly trimmed V-Classes, but very homely. It helps that this version has part-suede seats that feel luxurious and the interior isn’t a sea of dreary black. Being light beige adds to the car’s airiness. And for some reason, I really fell for the fake wood covering on the glovebox and door tops. I think that’s just my predilection to 70s yanks breaking through, though. In truth, the materials aren’t very swish – there are hard and scratchy plastic mouldings everywhere – but because they’re nicely textured it doesn’t feel cheap inside.
I guess these cars are all about the rear space, though. While this is certainly an MPV it doesn’t feel like one for a family. It would work for a family but feels more suited to moving suited business types slickly between airports and conference venues. A Ford Galaxy or Volkswagen Touran has many seats, but this has many seats that can do things to pander to the needs of the businessman or woman. You can add swivelling seats in the second row if you want, so those important executives seated there can face the other important executives in the third row and have a meeting.
And while they’re in their meeting, doing some serious blue-sky thinking (while looking at an actual blue sky if they wish, through the optional full-length glass roof), they can slide the front centre console back and use it as a workstation. In it, they’ll find cup holders and more cubbies, and they can raise up the top section and use the fold-out tray tables to rest a laptop on and show each other spreadsheets. There are more folding trays, too. The ones attached to the rear of each front seat, and the middle seat in the third-row folds down to create yet another flat surface, for doing a breakout meeting right at the back. Also, if you have a penchant for a USB-C socket, you’ll be happy. I counted six dotted around the place. Basically, it’s all very configurable and this means it genuinely works well when transporting a group of people.
The only issue is the boot, which isn’t massive when all the seats are set for maximum legroom. There’s claimed to be 461 litres of boot space in that state, which is a reasonable amount but it’s set up like a very tall but shallow cupboard. You won’t get anything large and box-shaped in there. There is a divider halfway up that creates a shelf to stack things on, but it’s still quite an awkward space. On the plus side, you can shove all the seats forward on their runners as well as fold their backrests down, turning the Multivan into a very practical actual van when required.
How does it drive? Well, very good for a large, tall thing. It’s definitely more car-like than anything Transporter-based, or Mercedes Vito-based for that matter. The steering is a pleasure to use. It’s accurate and well weighted, so there is no issue guiding this big old bus along a snaking country road, or through town for that matter. It feels very intuitive. There’s also plenty of grip and, yes, it leans over if you launch it at an apex, but who’s ever going to do that? If you do, with all those business types on board, you'll look in the rear-view mirror and it’ll be like a game of pinstriped Twister, or some sort of team-building orgy. And who wants to see that? All a car like this needs to feel is safe and planted at everyday speeds. And it does, so: tick.
The ride is calm on motorways and less abrupt over patchy surfaces than the Transporter’s. By and large, it’s a relaxing place to enjoy the miles fly by, but it isn’t perfect. Potholes – the really deep and vicious ones – can cause a tremor through the long body, and when the road surface gets grainy, oh boy does it get boomy. It is a cavernous, open cabin after all, so that’s quite a hard thing to defeat from an engineering point of view, one would imagine. Otherwise, wind and road noise are not too bad, even at speed.
A neat trick, which is quite a rare offering in this area of the market, is the Multivan’s plug-in hybrid powertrain. This means low company car tax along with delivering a whisker under 30 miles of WLTP electric range – so around 20-miles (ish) in actuality. Not a massive amount, then, but a useful amount nonetheless. Plus it feels poky up to 40mph running on just the electric motor and will keep running on to 70mph before the petrol engine cuts in.
On the combustion side, there’s the same 1.4-litre turbo petrol motor that you’ll find in any other MQB-based PHEV, and if you’re thinking that’s going to be a bit puny for a large car like this, it’s not. The combined power is 218hp, and that’s plenty. Officially, the 0-62mph time is nine seconds flat, but it feels faster than that initially thanks to the hit of instant electrical shove. After about 50mph the performance wanes a bit but it’s never lacking. The engine's a bit scratchy sounding in its upper reaches but suitably quiet the rest of the time, and with the lift-and-coast feature it’s silent when you back off, even if the battery’s juice has been emptied. And this isn’t a hybrid with dodgy brakes. There’s regen involved when you hit the brake pedal, but it doesn’t markedly interfere with your ability to pull up smoothly.
So with all that in mind, I rather like the new Volkswagen Multivan. It’s appealing to a specific market, sure, and it’s jolly expensive – this one is basically £60,000 as a well-equipped hybrid model, although the range starts at just under £44,000 – but it is appealing. It’s a good product, for a start, if you’re after a multi-seater. And more than that, it’s a cheery sort of car. It has a lambent and cheeky character that sits deeper than its smart-looking, two-tone orange and silver paint. Volkswagen’s taken a bit of a bashing recently, and quite rightly so for its underwhelming efforts, but this shows that it can still build vehicles that are fit for purpose. And with a sense of fun. Let’s hope it starts building more like this, then.
Specification | Volkswagen Multivan Style 1.4 TSI eHybrid 218PS
Engine: 1,395cc, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Transmission: 6-speed dual-clutch automatic, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 218 @ 5,000-6,000rpm (electric motor 116hp)
Torque (lb ft): 184 @ 1,550-3,500rpm
0-62mph: 9.0 seconds
Top speed: 119mph
Weight: 2,243kg (DIN)
MPG: 156.9 (WLTP)
CO2: 41g/km (WLTP)
Electric range: 29.8 miles
Price: £59,035 incl. VAT (£66,011 as tested)
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