At a stroke, Volkswagen's Multivan redefines what you can expect to 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.
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.
As with the old Caravelle, you'll only be able to get a Multivan at a Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles dealer. Prices start from around £43,000 - or around £44,500 for the 2.0 TDI diesel variant you'll probably want. Customers have a choice of three trim levels - 'Life', 'Style' and 'Energetic' - 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. Even on the entry-level 'Life model', the specification's pretty generous including 16-inch alloy wheels, seven seats, two sliding doors with power latching, a 'Digital Cockpit' instrument display screen and a 10-inch centre infotainment monitor. Safety-wise, 'Front Assist' autonomous braking and 'Lane Assist' feature, among many other standard items. Mid-range 'Style models', which start at around £58,000 for the SWB 2.0 TSI 204PS model, introduce 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. The special launch edition - 'Energetic' - starts from around £60,000 and is available only with the 1.4 TSI eHybrid 218PS powertrain. Additions include a Harmon Kardon sound system, privacy glass, 18-wheels and a panoramic glass roof.
You won't be expecting an MPV of this size to be particularly cheap to run, but Volkswagen hopes to surprise you mere. 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.