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One of Wolfsburg’s greatest hits now even better with the addition of car-like dynamics and features

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 Citroën Spacetourer and Mercedes V-Class, which soldier on with van-based platforms and all the refinement implications that brings. 

The most radical change on paper, meanwhile, is the addition of a new plug-in hybrid variant which pairs a 148bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine with a 114bhp electric motor on the front axle for a combined output of 215bhp, and gets an EV range of around 31 miles. More convention powetrain options include a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 148bhp, a 1.5-litre petrol with 134bhp and the range-topping 2.0-litre petrol driven here.

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Buyers also get a choice of two body shells (standard and long, the latter with a 200mm extended rear overhang) and two trims: entry-level Life and range-topping Style, the latter of which is the subject of today's review.

What's it like?

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.

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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 201bhp 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 36.0mpg we saw on a 100-mile motorway journey, belies its heft and stature. 

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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 and chunky list price, 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. 

Should I buy one?

It’s also worth mentioning that with quasi-big-saloon refinement, tech and power comes quasi-big-saloon pricing, and the top-rung Multivan Style here – without hybrid power but with a few option boxes ticked – asks a whisker over £60,000, and there are some prestigious seven-seaters out there for that money. They don’t all have sliding, folding dining tables and removable seats, though.

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Volkswagen Multivan First drives