If there were ever to be a modern-day take on the classic Volkswagen Kombi, this would be it – the new Volkswagen Multivan Generation Six.
Sure, it’s not a split-window Microbus. Nor does it have 23 windows like the iconic Samba. And there’s no sign of an overtly large VW badge on the bonnet, either... well, it's kind of big, but not huge.
What the new T6 Multivan Generation Six model is, according to Volkswagen, is an “emotional analogy to the forefathers”. The two-tone paintwork, for instance, is a strong cue to the ‘splitty’ van of yesteryear, as are those eye-catching 18-inch chrome-centred rims.
But whatever you do, don’t call it a retro car ... well, at least not in the presence of Pavol Sajtak, head of colour and trim for Commercial Vehicles at Volkswagen AG, who was one of the team behind the new Generation Six model.
“The important thing is we don’t want to play retro,” he said at the launch of the new model in Sweden last week.
“It’s not a play on words – it’s heritage,” he said of the Generation Six model. “To keep the brand values that customers appreciate with the vehicle; to keep the flexibility of the exterior and the interior; and offering this heritage look – this connection to the past – that was the challenge for us. That’s what we want to communicate with this vehicle: that there is a new car on the market, there is a new vehicle which is carrying all the features which are requested, but still there is a link to the heritage.
“We are 65 years on the market – we made the Transporter in the 1950s, and this is a new interpretation of that.”
And what an eye-catching interpretation it is.
The “special edition” model is based on the Multivan Comfortline, which, in current-generation T5 guise in Australia, costs from $49,990 plus on-road costs for the entry level TDI340 front-drive variant up to $60,990 plus costs for the top-end TDI400 4Matic. The Volkswagen Multivan Generation Six isn’t officially confirmed for Australia – the company says it is “looking at it” - and if were to come, we'd expect it to be in the $60K-$75K range.
There are plenty of changes over the standard Multivan, including tinted windows, LED headlights and tail lights, fog lights with cornering lights, and an exterior chrome pack. That two-tone paint is officially an option for the Generation Six, and there are four colour pairings to choose from, and two different 18-inch wheel options in two different colour patterns.
The changes filter into the cabin, too, with two-tone Alcantara and leather seats, contrasting stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, and fabric floor mats with coloured piping. Buyers can choose to have either a colour-matched interior finish or a high-gloss black, too.
There are numerous storage options including a covered dash-top bin, another covered caddy above the glovebox, a smartphone-sized (yes, even iPhone 6 Plus) holster with USB input just below the media screen (and there’s an additional USB plug and auxiliary plug for an extra device).
The pop-out cupholders that spring from just near the gear shifter – watch your knee if you’re the passenger, though, as it’s a bit tight. That gear-shifter surround also eats into the driver’s legroom, but we’d suspect this issue is more pronounced for left-hand drive models.
The media system is all-new, and features up-to-date inclusions such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It means you can run the system using the regular VW interface, but when you plug in your smartphone via the USB, the interface changes to mimic what you’re comfortable with.
The system worked brilliantly for our test drive, and we also used the Bluetooth audio streaming which was faultless.
The controls are all logically positioned, and the new steering wheel (which is shared with the Golf, among others) is a treat to handle. The standard climate control air-conditioning and heated front seats are guaranteed to keep those up front happy, too. There are no soft-touch plastics, though – including on the door cards, which could do with a fabric-lined elbow rest.
The back is almost as important – if not more so – than the front, because it’s all about moving people, and the Generation Six makes use of the standard Multivan’s seven-seat layout which consists of a pair of captain’s chairs in the second row, and a third row with three seats.
The rear seats are comfortable, supportive and because of the clever rail sliding system, they are also very adjustable.
You can have the captain’s chairs facing forwards or rearwards, with lots of leg room or a little less, and while the bench always faces forwards, it can also be slid fore and aft to allow better boot space or lots of luxurious leg room. That back row seat can also be folded into a nearly-flat bed, and European buyers will get the option of a mattress-like insert that measures 1.4 metres wide and 2.0m long.
The third row also has a nifty flip-down armrest, while the individual chairs have a table that also slides and can be removed if required. There’s good storage for all and sundry, with a bottle-holder each.
Suffice to say, this is a very flexible space, just like the T5 that came before it, and as with that car, there is a separate climate control zone for the back-seat passengers with vents for all, coming down from the roof, as well as lights at two separate junctions. The controls are still a little fiddly, but the airflow is good.
There’s a lot of standard safety kit fitted to the Generation Six models, including front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking, and “Side Assist” blind-spot monitoring.
That said, the car is built on the existing underpinnings, and despite adopting front-side airbags and full-length curtain airbags for protection of the rear seat passengers, there are no seatbelt warning chimes for those in the rear – which could make for a less-than-stellar crash rating because of the updated five-star criteria.
Under the bonnet of our Generation Six Multivan test vehicle is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel engine that is new to the Transporter range. It produces 150kW of power (at 4000rpm) and a thumping 450Nm of torque from 1400rpm to 2400rpm. It also means this is the first diesel Transporter with the ability to better 200km/h – and you can use the standard adaptive cruise control system up to 210km/h. Well, at least in places where that sort of behaviour is legal.
It’s a cracker of an engine, with plenty of push from low in the rev range, a nice linear power progression on the move and it’s also impressively hushed whether you’re cruising at highway speed or motoring around town.
We tested seven-speed dual-clutch automatic version which exhibits a touch of low-speed lag when you’re taking off from intersections and the like, but above crawling speeds it shifts smoothly and cleverly, allowing the driver to make the most of the torque available while also keeping consumption under control. VW claims this drivetrain will use an average of just 6.3 litres per 100km – the current Highline DSG model uses 8.1L/100km.
Volkswagen is also making some claims about the way the new model drives, despite admitting that nothing has been dramatically changed in terms of the chassis design. According to the brand it is “completely differently”, with the engineers having “tapped a lot of potential”.
A large part of that potential can be found in the use of the Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive damper system, which has three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. If that seems a bit silly to you, you’re not alone – it seems the damper settings could have been better thought out with Normal, Empty and Full.
As you’d expect, there’s a better level of comfort in that particular mode, with bumps on the road dealt with in a cushioning way – though at the expense of body control, as the van will lean more in corners in this mode.
Sport firms the dampers up considerably, with notably better cornering stability but a much harsher ride which is exacerbated for those in the back row as they sit essentially on top of the rear axle.
Normal found the best balance between comfort and control, with still notable body roll (particularly in the back) but with good compliance over rough surfaces.
The steering has been modified, too – an electric system replaces the old hydraulic unit, and there’s a big change to the way it feels to drive. The existing model had quite direct steering when you’d start to turn the wheel from straight-ahead, where the new electric system requires a bit more arm-twirling initially. It is light in its action, but it just feels a bit slow to react.
We had the chance to ride in the back of a T5 Multivan after the T6, and it’s clear there’s more space (both in head room and leg room), no real surprise given the new model is longer (5006 millimetres against the current version, at 4892mm) but while the new version is slightly shorter (1950mm versus 1970mm) it sits lower (distance from the road to the floor pan: 551mm versus 572mm).
Also worth noting was that the cabin is quieter in the back of the T6 than it was in the T5, but there’s still some resonance that can boom through the cabin – particularly on the larger wheel/lower profile tyre packages.
We’d be shocked if the German maker’s local arm didn’t have this variant as part of the line-up when it launches locally in November 2015.