Things were different in the ’70s when I first got my licence. Back then you drove a Ford Falcon or a Holden Kingswood, maybe a Valiant if you wanted something unusual. European cars were for rich people and Japanese cars were cheap and nasty according to drivers of proper Aussie made cars, myself included. It didn’t matter that the cars built in Australia weren’t really that efficient or that they handled like boats – they were best because your Dad had always had one and they won at Bathurst.
My own choice of car in the late ’70s was a Falcon panel van that the previous owner had “worked on”. It had a big V8 with a massive carburettor, lumpy cams, huge wheels, a mattress in the back and things called “tramp bars” which supposedly kept the leaf spring rear suspension under control when you made use of the unbelievable grunt of the big “donk”. The reality was that the output of that massive fuel guzzling engine was about the same as a modern two-litre and that leaf springs were only really good at keeping the wheels from rubbing on the body. The roads were a lot worse too with the major highways consisting of narrow winding tracks that were nearly completely devoid of overtaking lanes or any other safety considerations. Dual lane highways? Not in my country thank you very much.
My memories of Volkswagen vans in that era weren’t positive ones. Getting stuck behind a Kombi at the bottom of one of the many climbs on any of our highways filled me with dread. You just knew that the process of utilising 40 or so kilowatts to propel a van full of surfers up any sort of incline was going to be a long one and you could easily lose the will to live before the summit.
Which probably makes my own purchase of a modern “kombi” a little strange. Believe it or not I actually love driving and the choice of a people mover is not something you would normally associate with a die-hard petrol head. Life gets in the way of your ideals sometimes and my life involves a bit of cycling, occasional camping, the odd bit of beach driving, a trip to the snow every other year, staff to transport, space for work gear and most importantly the need to accommodate my children and grandchildren on holidays. None of this will work will work with a Mustang or even a Porsche Macan and in fact the range of suitable cars is pretty narrow. A Discovery perhaps or maybe a Land Cruiser. Nothing else has AWD and seven real adult seats.
Which brings me to the car itself. Most CarAdvice readers will want to know about performance and handling so first things first. 450Nm of torque is actually pretty good in this car in the real world. You never really feel like you are missing out especially on the highway. The gearbox is perfect too. I was very apprehensive about the idea of owning a DSG after all the horror stories that infamously follow this monster but it has proven to be seamless and ‘invisible’. I turn the stop/start off as soon as I start the car because I just don’t like them so I don’t have the initial start up then accelleration to worry about and I think that helps.
I recently did a 1250-kilometre each way trip on freeways with the cruise set to 120km/h most of the way (until I got to Victoria of course) and the car averaged 7.7L. With 80 litres on board your bladder will fill long before your tank empties. Another 50 or 100Nm would be even better but that would just highlight the handling deficiencies. Asking if a Multivan goes around corners is like asking if an Airbus A380 will do aerobatics. I guess it is possible but it isn’t what the machine was designed for and the people in the cheap seats up the back are going to vomit. The car will hustle around the bends if you push it but you will always be aware that you are driving a large, top heavy car with small wheels.
Fortunately the van is capable of being fun in other ways. It really is an outstanding long distance cruising machine. You sit high with no visible bonnet and a really large windscreen giving you an excellent view of the road ahead and the country you are travelling through. The ride quality is very good even on choppy roads. It is hard to quantify in objective terms but it is a car that makes you feel like going a long way and taking your time doing it. I can’t think of a better way to transport a family on a driving holiday. The space, comfort, quietness and quality just work in this situation. You can configure the seats in numerous ways. We usually use the mega boot mode on longer trips which is removing the two rear captain’s chairs and table, slide the bench forward so the passengers have about 600mm of leg room leaving a massive boot. A larger than average cargo area is still available with all seven seats fitted.
The interior is very family friendly. My grand-daughter particularly loves the “magic” electric side doors and the many lights that she can turn on and off in the roof lining. There is plenty of ventilation and the screens on the rear windows provide hours of entertainment especially when you get someone else to put them up and down. Importantly, back seat passengers have really big windows for excellent vision so I Spy and farm animal spotting is greatly enhanced. The bench is seat also a perfect place for the changing of nappies with plenty of wriggle room and space for mum or dad to undertake this critical work. Based on personal experience I can also say that nothing gets rid of that annoying new car smell more effectively, too.
There are a few minor negatives. The front suspension is slightly less good than the rear though the ride quality is improving. The A and B pillars are huge and present a real impediment to side vision at intersections.
And then there is the price. I look at this in two ways. The Multivan in the spec I bought can be seen as either a really expensive Transporter with flash trim or a relatively inexpensive large luxury SUV. I’m sort of stuck in the middle on this. After 7000km I am actually completely satisfied with the car in terms of it exceeding my expectations. I didn’t expect it to handle like a Porsche and it doesn’t but living with it as an everyday family/bike transport/staff/work vehicle is a lot better than I thought it would be. I would like it even more if it was a little less expensive.