Car Showroom often visits our friends at Volkswagen’s Head Office in Germany. It’s a long flight from Australia to Hanover, but it’s comforting to know a chauffeur-driven, leather-equipped, air-conditioned Volkswagen Multivan is always waiting for us at the airport.
And while it took Volkswagen in Australia some time to muster the courage to import the range-topping people mover, sales success to local families and corporate fleets (particularly limousine operators) has – in boxing terms – ‘planted’ one solidly on the chins of the previously market-dominating Toyota Tarago and Mercedes-Benz Viano.
Volkswagen Multivan Overview
Volkswagen Multivan starts at $49,990 for the eight-seat, four-cylinder, single turbocharged diesel Comfortline model, but Car Showroom tested the luxurious $73,990 seven-seat Highline version with a four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel engine and seven-speed DSG automatic transmission.
With all the luxury trimmings you associate with a prestige limousine – such as three-zone climate control air, satellite navigation, lots of leather and refinement – combined with the extra space and versatility of a van (plus the nice touch of individual second row seats that swivel through 180 degrees, slide back and forth and have twin armrests and their own individual storage drawers)…well it’s no wonder the Volkswagen Multivan Highline model we enjoyed for a week is becoming popular for airport limousine transfers, luxury hotels and even families.
There is even a rack in the cargo area where suits can be hung full-length and a fold-out center desk – no sedan can offer that convenience for corporate executives.
Volkswagen Multivan Engine
We tested the Volkswagen Multivan Highline with the four-cylinder twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel engine – the latest upgrade which debuted in March this year.
It’s Volkswagen’s latest high-performance turbo-diesel van, the likes of which are becoming immensely popular in Europe. Maximum power is 132kW at 4,000rpm and there’s a massive 400Nm of torque available from as low as 1,500rpm.
By any measure Volkswagen Group would be comfortably ranked in the world’s top three when it comes to diesel engine technology, so not surprisingly this latest twin-turbo unit has common rail, high pressure direct injection, a Diesel Particle Filter and complies with Euro 5 regulations.
Emissions are rated as low as 214g/km and average fuel consumption is as low as 8.1l/100kms. Volkswagen Multivan comes with an 80-litre fuel tank so the range between refills is impressive.
Drive is to the front wheels via Volkswagen’s superb seven-speed DSG twin-clutch automatic transmission. For an extra $4,000 you can add to your Volkswagen Multivan Highline, the all-weather grip of Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system.
Volkswagen Multivan The Interior
This is where the Volkswagen Multivan Highline starts challenging the accepted norm. Think of a prestige luxury sedan (for example the Volkswagen Passat Highline or Passat CC) and morph those luxury features, luxury leather, luxury smells, luxury tactile elements and luxury looks into a people mover van and you’re starting to get the picture.
Climb into the Volkswagen Multivan Highline and the driver scores a height-adjustable, contoured, supportive leather seat (with aircraft-style twin arm-rests) plus a thick, three-spoke leather-wrapped sports steering wheel and instrument cluster virtually identical to the Passat. The wheel adjusts for rake and reach and combines with the high seating position to provide a commanding view.
The front row passenger gets an identical seat and between is the center console which houses controls for the three-zone climate control air-conditioning and eight-speaker CD audio system with satellite navigation and 30GB hard-drive.
Second row passengers have those two ‘captain’s chairs which swivel, recline and slide longitudinally for varying load/legroom configurations. The third row three-seat bench seat has a central arm-rest for use as a two-seater and it also reclines and slides on rails to fold away when not in use.
In theory all of these seats fold/slide in an almost unlimited way for various load and passengers combinations (including a flat bed). Unfortunately the seats fitted to our test car got a bit stuck on their rails and took some thumping and pushing to maneuver.
Volkswagen Multivan Exterior & Styling
In its latest guise, Volkswagen’s stylists have softened the edges of the T5 van range and in our eyes they’re the sweetest lookers so far.
In fact, the new looks disguise the gargantuan size of the Volkswagen Multivan (it’s 4,892mm long, 1,904mm wide and 1,970mm high). That height does get a bit marginal in the car parks of some CBD office complexes and shopping malls (our local Centra mall offers only 2.0-metres of height in its underground car park) – so you need to be constantly aware.
The Volkswagen Multivan Highline model is distinguished externally by some extra chrome around the front grille, fog lights and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Both sliding side doors have remote electronic operation via the key – a very handy feature.
Volkswagen Multivan On the Road
As well as our usual test procedures, we submitted the Volkswagen Multivan to a ‘real-world’ test – a long weekend family trip down Victoria’s Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Lorne. First things first – for that weekend, the Multivan easily coped with the four of us, our clothes, supplies and golf clubs…no prestige sedan could make that claim.
Prior to that, we’d encountered our tight CBD car park and the Volkswagen Multivan – despite a 11.9-mtere turning circle – had trouble accommodating its 3,000mm wheelbase around some of the corners. Come to think of it, we must find a newer, bigger car park!
On the freeway – like the Autobahns from Hanover to Wolfsburg and Berlin where we’ve chalked-up hours driving these vans – the Volkswagen Multivan was a delight. Combine the brilliant, refined performance of the 2.0-litre, twin-turbocharged diesel, the smart technology of the seven-speed DSG and the result is spirited performance which had drivers of prestige sedans looking bewildered.
Over our high-speed mountain roads loop and along the Great Ocean Road, the Volkswagen Multivan with its McPherson strut front end and trailing arm independent rear end was refined and absorbed the bumps with aplomb. Sure it’s a van and at the very limit, the weight over the front wheels means the Volkswagen Multivan isn’t a Golf GTI.
Volkswagen Multivan Challenges
Maybe it was just the Volkswagen Multivan Highline provided by Volkswagen to motoring media hadn’t been serviced for a while, but during its week in the Car Showroom garage, the sliding seats and center table constantly jammed in their tracks – requiring a wrestling match to move them.
Volkswagen Multivan Verdict
Until this week Car Showroom had done more kilometers driving Volkswagen multivans in Germany than we had in Australia. Same result though – the team in Hanover know their vans and they know what van customers demand…this big beast is a beauty.
Oh and those five-star hotels and airport limousine operators who’ve always bought luxury sedans – check-out the Volkswagen Multivan Highline and ask yourself these questions: “Would my drivers and customers prefer this space and luxury over a conventional limousine?” and “Would this van configuration and versatility ease the luggage problems when going to/from the airport?”
Volkswagen Multivan The Competition
In this league (premium luxury van-based people movers), it’s a small field – Volkswagen Multivan takes on Mercedes-Benz Viano, Toyota Tarago GLX/Ultima and the Chrysler Grand Voyager. To be brutally honest, the Tarago pulls up a bit short for luxury feel and driving dynamics.
Of the rest it’s down to your real-world needs and tastes. We personally love the ‘Stars & Stripes’ chutzpah and luxury of the Grand Voyager; but on the other hand the German duo have more interior space; against which you have to remember their sheer size makes them less maneuverable than the Chrysler in city laneways and car parks.