As part of the broader T6.1 updates, Volkswagen has updated its Multivan people-mover for 2021 with new engines, spec levels, safety and technology.
While there is plenty of new stuff to talk about, this is definitely more nip-and-tuck than all-new model. Based on the Transporter commercial vehicle platform, the T6 (which debuted in 2016) carried over the same platform that traces back to the T5 in 2003.
And of course, look all the way back to the beginning, and you’ll find one of the most iconic and globally loved models of all time: the Type 2 (otherwise known as the Kombi).
And in many respects, the new Carnival is a superior vehicle.
However, the appeal of the Multivan is both real and different. Instead of attempting to be as car-like and SUV-eqsue as possible, the Multivan is 100 per cent van. Unashamed, and unapologetic: All of the seating positions are high, the floor is flat with seats mounted on a tracking system, and the roof refuses to rake downwards until the boot, where it makes a 90-degree turn to the ground.
|2021 Volkswagen Multivan|
|Engine||Four-cylinder turbocharged diesel|
|Displacement||2.0 litres (1968 cc)|
|Power||110kW @ 3500rpm -145kW @ 4000rpm|
|Torque||340Nm @ 1750-2500rpm - 450Nm @ 1500-2000rpm|
|Drive||Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle, claimed)||6.6L-7.9L/100km|
|Fuel consumption (on test)||N/A|
|Fuel tank size||80L|
|Price range (before on-road costs)||$58,990 - $87,990|
And being so true to form, the Multivan is thoroughly charming. Kind of like old-fashioned manners, a firm handshake back when that kind of thing was allowed. Because of it's van-ness, it looks, feels and behaves differently to other new cars.
The 2021 Multivan range starts from $61,990 for the Multivan Comfortline Premium TDI340, and stretches all the way up to $87,990 for the Multivan Comfortline Exec LWB TDI450 or Multivan Highline TDI450 4Motion.
A nine-seat Caravelle Trendline LWB offers good bang-for-buck undercutting the Multivan range with a $58,990 asking price, while the $73,990 Multivan Cruise Edition TDI340 will appeal to those with a bigger budget who want plenty of fruit.
With old, commercial-grade bones underneath the lightly refreshed styling, the Multivan doesn’t offer the same kind of ride compliance and comfort that other more dedicated passenger vehicle platforms offer. It’s not uncomfortable, but lacks that extra edge of refinement and absorption over things like speed bumps and rough surfaces.
Steering, now electro-mechanically assisted, is noticeably lighter than the outgoing hydraulic steering setup, at low and high speeds alike. Combine that with a new design leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the Multivan does enough inside to feel fresh.
The 6.5-inch infotainment display, while dimensionally modest in some respects, presents and operates well. Real buttons, with volume and control dials help tactile usability on the move, instead of those often feckless faux-buttons many modern systems feature.
If you want more pixel real-estate, there is also a 9.2-inch infotainment display, available as an option or in higher grades. This also brings digital radio and native satellite navigation, and you can go the whole hog with a configurable 10.25-inch digital driver’s display, if you are so inclined.
The electric steering assistance also allows for more advanced safety and convenience equipment to come into play: Lane-keep assist, lane departure warning and park assist are now available. There’s also autonomous emergency braking (up to 30km/h), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Resembling a big tissue box on wheels, one big advantage of the Multivan is that there is stacks of room inside for passengers, regardless of their size. Three adults can fit comfortably in the third row, with two each in the first and second rows making room on board for seven people.
If you need to seat more than this, Volkswagen also offers the nine-seat Caravelle, which squeezes another seat up front, and a multitude of choices to fit in another six kids or adults.
Although, the mechanical sliding doors for the second row could feel a bit low-rent for some at the asking price.
This brings up another key feature of the Multivan: Because the interior space is a box-shaped at the outside, a tracking system in the floor for seats allows them to slide, tilt, rotate and be removed completely, allowing the Multivan to transform from people mover into a full-blown van.
And even though there is now a California pop-top campervan in the 2021 Multivan range, a normal Multivan can do a good job of converting into a mobile bedroom, with the third row able to fold flat into a bed.
The main weakness of the Mutivan’s packaging, especially when compared to a Kia Carnival, is the boot space. Even with the third row slid forward some, the boot isn’t particularly huge. It could perhaps be forgiven if there was a full-size spare wheel hiding underneath, but it’s not the case. You’ve got a goo kit instead.
Under that snub-nosed bonnet lives a choice of two different turbo-diesel engines, both of which run through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox to either the front or all four wheels. TDI340 denotes a single turbo 2.0-litre engine, which makes 110kW at 3500rom and 340 between 1750-2500rpm.
If you’re looking for maximum motivation, then the bi-turbocharged TD450 offering 146kW at 4000rpm and 450Nm between1500-2000rpm will be what you’re looking for. And while that extra power and torque is a nice thing, especially when pushing more than 2200 kilograms (unladen) of big box through the air, the less powerful engine option doesn’t feel underdone.
The seven speed dual-clutch is a good companion, proving to offer both smooth and sharp gearshifts, and allowing the Multivan to be easy to wrangle about town. The big, near-vertical windscreen, accompanied by plenty of glass right around, offers great visibility for town driving, and the turning circle (11.9 metres or 13.2 metres, depending on your wheelbase) is also good.
The driving experience is more van than car or SUV, but I don’t mind that. Because it is a van after all, and aside from the less than stellar ride, there aren't any bad connotations that come with the experience.
Tilt and rake adjustment through the steering column combines well with seat adjustment, allowing plenty of driver comfort. And sharing a dashboard design with the Transporter, the Multivan has plenty of storage available for your bits and bobs.
Although the updated 2021 Multivan remains to be outgunned by other people movers in terms of refinement, technology and safety, Volkswagen’s modern-day Kombi still has a unique appeal that others can’t match. Those commercial vehicle bones don’t exhibit the same advances of others, both in this segment and more broadly, but the Multivan’s own van-ness is something to be celebrated... in its own special way.