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Looking for space and versatility from your towing vehicle? James Batchelor sizes up an MPV from the Volkswagen stable that could be just what you need
There was a time when multi-purpose vehicles (or MPVs) were everywhere – at the school gates, crammed into supermarket parking spaces or at campsites. However, poor refinement, questionable fuel economy and changing fashions soon led many owners to jump ship to SUVs. For those who still need the space and versatility an MPV provides, the current market offers pretty slim pickings.
This isn’t the case at Volkswagen, though, which offers a wide array of them to suit different budgets. One of its most recent and interesting models is the Multivan, which romped off with the ‘Large Family Car’ gong at the Club’s Towcar of the Year Awards 2023. Here we take a closer look.
Name an archetypal van and Volkswagen’s T-series is sure to get a mention. With its latest T7 generation range, VW is offering buyers a choice of three different models for three very different purposes. There is still the regular, well-loved commercial van (and one that’ll be the result of a joint venture between VW and Ford), but there’s also the pure-electric and retro-designed ID. Buzz as well as the Caravelle-replacing Multivan. In fact, the Multivan also takes over the mantle of the old Sharan, which disappeared from sale some time ago.
There’s no frumpy Sharan styling here, though, and as van-like square boxes go the Multivan is a stylish-looking thing. There’s a nicely-rounded front-end topped off by a pair of sleek LED headlights that, on the top-of-the-range model, is joined by a slim LED strip across the nose.
The smooth styling inevitably gets more angular the farther back you go, but that squareness – as we shall see – equates to plenty of space inside. A metal strip that runs along the waistline adds a touch of upmarket appeal.
In fact, the styling is quite clever as, depending on which of the extensive body colours you go for, you can have a smart, business-like Multivan that wouldn’t look out of place on The Apprentice, or a more fun, beach-holiday look (such as our test vehicle). If you want to acknowledge the Multivan’s lineage, which stretches back to the classic split screen T2 van of the 1950s, there are a few two-tone colour options.
You can choose from two different types of Multivan – the short wheelbase and the long wheelbase. At 4.97m long, 1.94m wide and 1.90m tall, the smaller of the two is still pretty sizeable; the extra £1,350-£1,710 for the other model increases the length to 5.17m – which manifests itself in the form of 200mm of rear overhang; the wheelbases on both models are the same. Here we’re testing the longer of the two.
The extra space of the long wheelbase is most obvious in the boot – the passenger area is pretty much identical in each model.
In the cabin, plastics used on the lower halves of the surfaces have a van-like feel, but there’s a good slab of squidgy material across the upper part of the dash and door tops. The general fit and finish, though – even with the dubious-looking wood effect – is good, as is the roster of technology, headed by VW’s infotainment system. This is frustrating to operate at night as the volume and heater controls aren’t illuminated, but the digital display for the dials (standard on the flagship model) is clear and easy to use.
There is a pair of very comfortable seats up front, each sporting armrests, while it’s easy for the driver to find the ideal position thanks to lots of adjustment. In fact, the seating position is very car-like in this regard – you feel you are sitting behind the wheel instead of on top of it as you might in a van. Visibility is outstanding and, thanks to a dash-mounted gear selector, it’s possible to walk through to the rear between the front seats once parked up – as long as the clever centre console is pushed back, of course. Running on a set of rails, the console – which hides some cubbies and a pair of tables – can move from front to rear. In the middle are two chairs that can slide, recline or spin around conference-style, while at the back you can choose from a rear bench or another pair of individual seats.
All individual seats can tumble or be removed altogether to create useful luggage space and a boot divider is handy at the rear.
Trim choice is straightforward with just two options: ‘Life’ gets the 10in infotainment system, adaptive cruise control and rear-view camera while, for a near £12,000 premium, the ‘Style’ adds electric sliding doors, hands-free electric tailgate, digital dials, plus heated front seats and windscreen.
The Multivan employs the same engines you’ll find in a host of Volkswagen family cars – 1.5- and 2.0-litre turbo petrols, a 2.0-litre diesel and a 1.4-litre petrol plug-in hybrid, the latter offering up to 29 miles of pure electric range. All engines drive the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic gearbox.
The engine in the model that took the ‘Large Family Car’ prize at the Towcar of the Year Awards 2023 – and on test here – is the 2.0-litre petrol. While it might be assumed that the 2.0-litre TDI would be the natural choice for towing, the petrol offers around 50bhp extra and is more refined, though at the cost of fuel consumption. Still, following 500 miles of testing, we recorded 28mpg overall and 18mpg when towing.
The reason the Multivan can come with petrol-hybrid power is what’s underneath. It doesn’t use van underpinnings like you might expect, but it pinches the MQB platform from the Golf hatchback. That means it drives far better than you’d imagine, with tidy body control, neat handling and well-judged suspension. It’s also very quiet when cruising.
It would be reasonable to expect the tall-sided Multivan to be a bit unwieldy when towing, but that’s not the case. We hitched up to a suitable twin-axle caravan with an MTPLM of 1,738kg and the big VW exhibited exceptional confidence – even on a windy dual carriageway on our test route, the outfit tracked straight.
I expected the Multivan to feel a little unsettled at the rear, but the suspension coped extremely well with the additional weight – a feeling that was shared by our Towcar of the Year judges during tests last July. The 2.0-litre petrol engine provides more than enough power for overtaking and progress up steep hills; the gearbox perhaps holds onto gears slightly too long, but it’s a minor gripe. Towing mirrors are easy to fit and excellent rear visibility (thanks to all that glass) are bonuses.
SUVs might be the more popular choice these days, but sometimes you can’t beat an MPV. The Multivan is an exceptionally practical, plush and pleasant vehicle to tour with – so pleasant you might never look at an SUV again.