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Moving people from A to B isn’t always glamorous business, but there are vehicles on the market that allow buyers to get the job done in style and luxury – and that list includes the 2016 Volkswagen Multivan.
These passenger-focused Volkswagen variants are derivatives of the T6 Transporter goods van, as has been the case with VW mass-transporters since the iconic first-generation (T1) Kombi and Commercial models went on sale in 1949.
A commercial van with seats in the back hardly sounds like it could be a luxurious experience. But in the Multivan Highline TDI450 version tested here – priced from $76,490 plus on-road costs – there’s definitely some opulence on offer.
That sounds like a lot of money for a van, but there are dearer offerings on the market, including the Mercedes-Benz V250 we tested recently (from $85,900), and the recently axed Chrysler Grand Voyager (top-spec Limited diesel: $77,500).
And there are cheaper and more expensive versions of the Multivan on offer, including the Comfortline base model that kicks off from just $49,990, while there’s a flagship long-wheelbase version known as the Executive, priced at $80,490.
Read the full 2016 Volkswagen Multivan pricing story.
The TDI450 model is powered by a bi-turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 150kW of power at 4000rpm and, as the name suggests, 450Nm of torque from 1400-2400rpm. It’s front-wheel drive, but if you need extra traction for whatever reason, you can get a 4Motion AWD model for an extra $3500.
The engine’s big push of torque is certainly felt when you put your foot down, and it shuffles this big, heavy (2300 kilogram) van along with relative ease. Cruising on the highway and you need to overtake? Push the right pedal a little harder, and you’ll pass whatever was in the way with ease, with help from the seven-speed dual-clutch (DSG) automatic transmission
On the highway and during country back-road touring, the drivetrain was entirely pleasant. The engine builds pace nicely when there’s already a bit of speed on board, and it is refined and quiet on the highway.
Across a range of urban, highway and country road driving – loaded with some passengers at times and just the driver on other occasions – our Multivan returned fuel use of 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres which is significantly more than the claimed 6.5L/100km.
Let’s not beat around the bush, though (geddit? country driving?)… When it comes to urban driving, this thing is hard work.
The gearbox, in short, is a shocker. Other words used by those who spent time in the car included “an abomination” and “diabolical”.
The reason that it frustrated our drivers so much is because the gearbox hesitates, stammers and stutters upon initial throttle application, and then wallops you forward (or backward!) too quickly when you push the pedal a little harder. It can cause the front wheels to spin and even some axle-tramp (where the front axle bobs up and down as the tyre struggles to find traction), and that means it certainly doesn’t offer the luxury passenger experience that the price tag suggests it should.
Other DSG-equipped diesel models we’ve driven in the past haven’t exhibited the level of misbehaviour that our Multivan did. It even stalled in reverse at one point…
It’s a shame, because in many other ways, the Multivan is impressive.
The big van’s highway ride is comfortable and compliant, and it copes with surface changes well in the countryside, too. It steers nicely, with good accuracy and feel to the driver’s hands, the latter because it uses a rack and pinion steering system rather than a newfangled electric steering system.
It’s surprisingly manoeuvrable around town, too, considering it measures 4904 millimetres long, 1904mm wide and 1970mm tall (be sure to check car park height limits!), and the vision from the driver’s seat is exceptional – much better than some narrower vans on the market, and its cabin height means the rear-view mirror isn’t filled by head restraints.
But once again, city driving offers up some disappointing aspects – this time in terms of dynamics. The front axle can shudder over sharp-edged bumps, and the brakes can jolt at low speeds.
So, if you only drive in city areas, a thorough test drive with parking moves, stop-start traffic and hill-starts is recommended. If you do a lot of night driving, though, the LED headlights on the Multivan will suit your needs brilliantly.
All of its positives and negatives considered, there are some outstanding elements to the Multivan TDI450 Highline, and that comes down to the interior of the vehicle.
Being so large, there’s enough space to easily fit seven adults and their luggage inside. The broad cabin even means that those in the third row may not even touch shoulders or thighs, unless the road is winding.
The seat layout is 2+2+3, with the front four “captain’s” chairs all featuring armrests on both sides. The chairs in the second row slide independently of one another – though when it comes to sliding, it is much easier if you’re sitting on the chair, rather than standing alongside it (as you may be when you’re loading kids in and out). Those second-row seats can also be swivelled to be forward- or rearward-facing.
Between those two seats is a removable, sliding table. It may not look like much, but it is a genius addition: it has magazine racks, bottle holders (x2) cup holders (x4), and a pop-up, workable table space for meetings or munchies. There’s only one disappointment – the Multivan doesn’t have USB and power outlets in the second row, though there are single 12-volt plugs between the rear rows and in the boot area.
The third row seat also slides fore and aft, though not using a lift-rail system like the middle two. There’s a tab lever behind the rear seat, which means you can (theoretically) shift the back row forward with ease if you need extra boot space. In practice the lever system is fiddly – try it once and the seat slides easily; try a second time it may not work at all.
That boot is large, with easily enough space for six or seven large suitcases with the seat slid forward. With it back as far as it can go, you would still be able to fit that many overnight bags.
But as any professional driver – as in, mum or dad with kids, or hire car chauffeur – will know, it’s just as important for those in the back to be catered for as it is for those up front.
The Multivan certainly offers good comfort, with electric seat adjustment and memory settings for both front chairs, as well as electric lumbar support.
The layout is sensible, too, with the steering wheel offering reach and rake adjustment, and ahead of it the instrument cluster – with its digital information readout including digital speedometer, fuel economy, sat-nav instructions and more – offering a premium experience.
The new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, as well as a CD slot (increasingly rare, these days), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and the aforementioned map system is a cinch to use, though the 6.3-inch touchscreen is a little small by modern standards, and the angle of the screen means it can be a little hard to read in certain situations.
Safety is important for buyers of these types of vans – fleets need certain gear, families want it – and the Multivan doesn’t disappoint in this specification. That qualifier is important, because the Highline TDI450 model is the short wheelbase version, and the long wheelbase versions of the Multi don’t get the potentially life-saving curtain airbags. SWB models do, as well as dual front and front side ‘bags. A reverse-view camera is standard on all models, with rear sensors fitted to the base model and front+rear sensors on the remainder of the range.
Further, the bus has four ISOFIX points (both second-row seats, plus the outboard third-row spots), and VW has fitted city emergency braking as standard on all models except the base version.
As with all VW models, the Multivan comes with a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, and six years of capped-price servicing. Maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The costs of the first six visits are, at present rates, $466, $512, $562, $1099, $466 and $609. The grand total is $3714 over 72-months or 90,000km.
On the whole, the Volkswagen Multivan TDI450 Highline offers excellent space and practicality, and on the open road it is entirely liveable as a luxurious people mover. It’s just such a massive shame its urban manners leave a lot to be desired.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke.