New Volkswagen Multivan: a purpose-built people-carrier to replace the Caravelle

  • Caravelle replacement is standalone model, no longer based on the Transporter van
  • Space for seven in individual seats – five of which can be removed (and are now lighter, too)
  • Plug-in hybrid power means up to 218hp; DSG automatic fitted as standard, lots of tech

The demand for SUVs has almost killed-off the traditional people-carrier or MPV segment. Leaving those looking for a large vehicle suitable transporting lots of passengers in comfort mostly faced with a choice of van-based models – of which the Volkswagen Caravelle was among the very best. The Caravelle is now dead, replaced by this brand-new Volkswagen Multivan, which despite the name isn’t based on a van at all.

It is van-sized, though. And it plays heavily on the Caravelle’s Volkswagen Transporter heritage to the extent that it even has a T7 code-name and has been revealed in this retro-tastic two-tone colour scheme.

It’s been developed and built by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles rather than the car division, too – but the Multivan uses car components through and through, and promises to be much nicer to drive as a result.

It’s also available with no less than 34 driver assistance systems, boosting safety as well as making life easier for the person behind the wheel.

Other innovations include a plug-in hybrid drivetrain, called eHybrid  and a first for a VWCV product – and seven fully individual seats, which are lighter and simpler to remove, making for an interior that’s more flexible than ever. All versions are fitted with a DSG automatic transmission as standard.

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So, VW’s built a van that’s not a van?

Pretty much. The Multivan is based on the Volkswagen Group’s MQB platform – the one that underpins everything from the Golf to the Skoda Kodiaq SUV, but isn’t used for any vans bigger than the latest Caddy Cargo.

And while you can remove all of the rear seats, leaving you with a completely flat floor and as much as 4,053 litres of cargo space in the longer version (3,672 litres in the shorter model), the Multivan will only ever be a passenger vehicle at heart, and won’t be sold without all those windows.

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, front side view, silver and orange

As such, the current VW Transporter van (code-name T6.1) will be sold alongside it until a dedicated replacement van arrives in 2023 – built on the same platform as the next Ford Transit Custom.

Just to add to the potential confusion, VW is also working on an all-electric van that’s almost the same size. Set to go on sale in 2022 as a production version of the ID.Buzz concept – probably renamed the ID.7 – this will be sold as both a passenger carrier and a commercial vehicle.

>> Find out why we think the best family car might actually be a van

Back to the Multivan – why would I buy one of these instead of a seven-seater SUV?

Simple: space.

You may or may not care that the design is supposed to hark-back to older T-model Volkswagens (for instance, the body-coloured grilles are supposed to make you think of the original rear-engined layout – but suffice to say, the Multivan is very much a regular front-engined, front-wheel drive machine). But if you want to shift seven people in comfort and style, VW is hoping you’ll consider this new Caravelle replacement.

At 1,914mm wide, 1,903mm tall and 4,973mm or 5,173mm long, the Multivan has tigher dimensions than the Caravelle, including a 7cm lower roofline. But it is still not a small vehicle. And thanks to some cunning design tricks, it's more spacious inside, too, so that even with seven people on-board there’s still a substantial amount of room for luggage.

The ‘base version’ has a 469-litre boot with all three rows of seats in place; take the rear-most row out and this increases to 1,844 litres.

>> Our list of the best seven-seaters already on sale

How flexible is the interior?

You’ve always been able to remove the seats from the Caravelle, but they’ve always been so heavy that this usually results in bleeding knuckles and bad backs – especially when it came to the final row bench seat.

For the Multivan, VW has not only ditched the rear bench for individual seats, improving flexibility of removal as well as making it easier, the seats are also 25% lighter than before.

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, rear seats, interior, table

They all slide on tracks, so you can balance boot space against legroom, and as previously, the second row can be spun round to face the back of the van, creating a lounge-like space that’s also good for mobile meetings. Unlike some rivals, this rotation can be done without taking the seats out, too.

On top of this, there’s a ‘multi-function table’. Mounted on a central rail, for the first time this can even slide right forward between the front seats. It’s adjustable for height, has three cupholders and a storage bin.

A large panoramic roof option, complete with ‘LowE’ laminated safety glass that reduces heat soak by 44%, not only lightens the interior but also increases ultimate cargo volume.

What’s it like in the front seats?

The dashboard is packed with screens, which are all mounted high-up to minimise the amount of time you have to look away from the road. But it still looks rather van-like – which should be good news for practicality if not outright style.

Notably, there’s no traditional gearlever. By fitting only the DSG transmission (there’s no manual gearbox option), VW has been able to switch to ‘shift-by-wire’, so you select Drive and Reverse with buttons. Similarly, the parking brake is electronic, both features creating more space in the front.

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, front seats, dashboard, steering wheel, screens

The standard infotainment system is called ‘Ready 2 Discover’, which comes with a built-in eSIM for connectivity functions, including VW's 'We Connect' software and apps. The standard version of We Connect is free for life, but the fancier We Connect Plus will require a subscription after the first three years.

The more familiar Discover Media and Discover Pro navigation systems are also available. These typically look slick but can be rather difficult to work compared with older VW systems, especially with so many functions now integrated into the touchscreen itself.

There are dedicated buttons for some key controls, but these are also touch-sensitive rather than old-fashioned press-type switches, and our experience of them in other recent VWs has generally been frustrating.

Still, the Multivan does have the option of a bespoke Harmon Kardon sound-systems, with 14 speakers, 840 watts of power and four sound settings.

What engines are available?

There are three engines initially, with a fourth – the only diesel – set to join the range in 2022.

The headline focus is on the Multivan eHybrid, a plug-in hybrid that combines a 150hp 1.4-litre TSI turbo petrol with an 85kW (115hp) electric motor for a total system output of 218hp.

>> What is a plug-in hybrid? Find out from Parkers

A 13kWh lithium ion battery gives this Multivan variant zero-emissions driving capability for ‘short, urban trips’ – Volkswagen is yet to say how exactly far it will go on the battery – and it’s fitted with a specially adapted six-speed DSG automatic as standard.

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, rear side view, silver and orange

The other two launch engines are a 136hp 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol and a 204hp 2.0-litre TSI petrol; no fuel economy figures have been given yet, but you can expect these to be quite thirsty.

The diesel arriving in 2022 will have 150hp, and is likely to be one of the new, ultra-clean ‘twin-dosing’ 2.0-litre TDI units, adding a double-shot of AdBlue into the exhaust to clean-up emissions.

Each of the non-hybrid models comes with a seven-speed DSG transmission. Maximum towing capacity is 2,000kg (2.0 tonnes).

Lots of safety equipment

The Multivan sure isn’t short of safety kit. There are 34 ‘driver assistance’ systems available in total, going way beyond the usual autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping tech.

The safety features that grab our attention are the ‘Car2X’ system and the IQ.DRIVE Travel Assist.

Car2X communicates with other vehicles and the road infrastructure in order to deliver early warnings about up-coming hazards. This is technology that’s been talked about for years and is finally making its way into production vehicles.

IQ.DRIVE Travel Assist is a ‘semi-autonomous’ driving system that combines the adaptive cruise control and the lane-keep assistance. VW hasn’t said much more at this stage, but claims it makes ‘long distance journeys safer and easier’. Don’t expect the Multivan to drive itself from A to B, but this is likely to mean you can take your hands off the wheel for extended periods on the motorway.

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, interior, steering wheel, infotainment and digital dials close up

Other technology highlights in the new Multivan include the first head-up display in a Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles product, a 10.25-inch ‘Digital Cockpit’ virtual instrument display (which lines up alongside the 10.0-inch central touchscreen), Area View exterior camera system, and full LED headlights on every model.

These can be upgraded to IQ.LIGHT matrix LED headlights with a permanent adaptive main beam function that maximises visibility without dazzling other motorists. This includes an illuminated LED bar in the grille as an addition to the regular daytime running light signature.

Electrically operated sliding side doors and rear tailgate hatch are also available, with gesture control opening to save you fumbling with the keyfob.

How much does the new VW Multivan cost and when does it go on sale?

Volkswagen UK isn’t spilling the beans about this yet, except to say the Multivan will be on sale in 2021 and sold in three trim levels: Multivan, Life and Style.

We’ll bring you more info on the new Mutlivan's price as soon as we have it.

What this means for you

Looking to buy a large, van-type people carrier right now such as the Mercedes V-Class or Peugeot Traveller? Then stop – we reckon the new Multivan will be very much worth waiting for.

Being based on a wholly car platform it should be refined and good to drive, offers a vast amount of technology and an interior that's even cleverer than the outgoing Caravelle’s – which already sets the standard in this sector.

While it’s true the latest VW infotainment systems are rather annoying, and that the Multivan is likely to be on the expensive side, this is already shaping up to be a very classy product.

Parkers will be among the first to bring you a Volkswagen Multivan review.

Further reading:

>> Our latest Volkswagen Caravelle review

>> Our latest Volkswagen Transporter review

>> Why the best family car is actually a van

VW Multivan - 2021 Caravelle replacement, dead-on front view, silver and orange