4 out of 5 4.0
Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

All-new large MPV with a super-flexible interior and lots of tech

Volkswagen Multivan MPV (22 on) - rated 4 out of 5
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PROS

  • No longer based on a van
  • Better to drive as a result
  • Very flexible seven-seater interior
  • Plug-in hybrid power
  • DSG auto as standard

CONS

  • Vast size could be a problem
  • No diesel engine at launch
  • Petrols all seem a compromise
  • Expect high running costs
  • Pricey (but worth it)

Volkswagen Multivan MPV rivals

Written by CJ Hubbard on

The Volkswagen Multivan is a new large people carrier that replaces the Volkswagen Caravelle. On sale in the UK from January 2022, we’ve already had the chance to test it, and if you need plenty of space for up to seven people and their luggage this is a much more sensible option than a SUV or an estate car. It’s also a substantial step forward from the Caravelle, for reasons we’ll shortly explain.

Rival vehicles include the Mercedes-Benz V-Class, Peugeot Traveller and Vauxhall Vivaro Life, as well as big SUVs ranging from the Skoda Kodiaq to the BMW X7.

Is the Volkswagen Multivan any good?

Despite the way it looks – and its name – the Multivan isn’t based on a van at all. Instead, it’s a bespoke MPV built on the same MQB platform structure as almost every other Volkswagen Group car.

This is a significant change compared with the Caravelle, which is based on the VW Transporter van. It might also seem like an odd strategy – given the boxy appearance and van-like dimensions – but Volkswagen wanted to create a vehicle with all the space of advantages of a van-based MPV while placing an even stronger focus on the people inside.

>> Why the best family car might be a van

To this end, the Multivan offers an improved driving experience, all the latest VW infotainment kit and safety aids, as well as even smarter interior design features. And this is in comparison to the Caravelle, which was hardly shabby in most of these areas.

Like the Caravelle, the Multivan comes in two lengths – labelled L1 and L2. The extra bodywork is added behind the rear wheel of the longer L2 version.

Engine choice at launch is restricted to petrol only, culminating with the range-topping 218hp petrol-electric plug-in hybrid – though a diesel engine will follow later in 2022. Every Multivan comes with a DSG automatic transmission as standard; there is no manual gearbox alternative.

Perhaps most significantly of all, both the increased interior flexibility and the revised exterior dimensions make the Multivan easier to use.

A lower roof means more car parks are accessible, while the rear seats now not only slide on full-length rails, they’re all individual. Ditching the previous bench seat at the back is better for comfort and offers more interior layout options, while the seats themselves are up to 25% lighter, making them easier to remove altogether, if required. And that’s just a couple of the new tricks.

Volkswagen is hoping this will be enough to attract families as well as business customers who are looking for a large, spacious, people-focused vehicle that now feels less like a cleverly converted van yet still has all those plus points.

Our experience with the Multivan so far suggests the firm is right on target.

>> The best MPVs - on Parkers

How does it look in real life?

The interior is very much the centre of attraction here, but there are some exterior details worth noting first.

Compared with the Caravelle, the Multivan has a much more pronounced bonnet – partly the result of pedestrian impact safety, partly a consequence of using the MQB platform. As such, the driving position is further back and the windscreen less upright.

That might seem a small thing, but it should also make the screen less susceptible to chipping and cracking (an issue many Caravelle drivers have experienced). The windscreen pillars are split and have additional windows in them, too – although this doesn’t prevent some visibility issues, inevitable with such a large, angled pillar, it’s better than nothing.

The exterior generally is smart and modern for a vehicle of this type, with a wide choice of colours, including some two-tone options paying homage to the Multivan’s heritage. You can also have a chrome-look beltline, which adds to the effect.

Up front you’ll find LED lights on all models, with Volkswagen’s clever IQ.Light matrix system available at extra cost. Using 24 individual LEDs, this gives you the maximum possible lighting in all situations without dazzling other motorists.

What’s it like inside?

The interior of the Multivan is accessed via two conventional doors at the front plus two sliding side doors behind, one on either side. You get into the boot area via a giant tailgate, hinged at the top. The sliding doors open manually just fine, but you can have electric activation if you want, with an additional upgrade to open them with a wave of your foot; same for that massive tailgate.

The floor is completely flat from the front right through to the rear. You can easily move between seat rows as a result, though accessing the rear-most row may still involve pulling on straps and levers to slide the middle row into a convenient position.

Despite the Multivan being 43mm lower overall compared with the Caravelle, VW says headroom hasn’t been reduced – in fact, if you option the giant 1.8-metre square panoramic glass roof, passengers in the back get an extra 20mm above them. However, the height of the floor and the chunky seats can still make it a bit of a scramble to get onboard.

Three sets of floor rails run the length of the cabin, and any of the rear seats can fit on any of the rails. Moving the seats arounds requires more activity with straps and levers, but at 23-29kg depending on spec they are unquestionably lighter than before – though they also no-longer swivel in place, meaning you have to physically pick them up and turn them round if you want to set the rear compartment up like a lounge. Probably a fair trade-off for the weight reduction.

The middle rail goes right through to the front of the cabin, between the front seats. A folding table fitted to this rail can therefore function as a centre console for the driver and front passenger if required, as well as a workstation for those in the back.

More impressive still, VW has now ‘energised’ the two outer seat rails, allowing outer rear passengers to have heated seats – a first for this type of vehicle.

Take all the seats out, and you’re left with a vast empty space (over 4,000 litres) and room for all kinds of lifestyle accessories. Capability that goes way beyond anything an SUV or estate car can offer.

>> The best SUVs - on Parkers

Is the longer version of the Multivan worth it?

The L2 model is 200mm longer than the L1 model – making it nearly 5.2m long in total – and the extra length is all behind the rear wheels. This gives you more luggage space, but also more seat adjustability, as the internal rails are extended as well.

If you regularly carry multiple adult passengers, the longer Multivan is worth considering, especially if you intend to make use of face-to-face seating in the rear. You may find legs getting tangled otherwise.

It’s also worth noting that while the Multivan is lower than the Caravelle, it is also wider – keep this in mind if local road width restrictors are more of a concern for you than the height of nearby car parks.

>> What is a long-wheelbase van?

What’s the Multivan like to drive?

The Multivan might be on a car platform but it still feels big to drive – there’s no escaping the sheer size of these machines. However, you do quickly come to realise that the driving experience is far more polished than before.

This starts with the driving position, which is less upright and more car-like than in the Caravelle, and complemented by a digital instrument cluster and central infotainment screen that’s 10.0 inches in diameter even on entry-level models. Then there’s the steering – which is more direct, requiring less twirling of the wheel to get the same turning result. This makes the Multivan less tiring to handle on twistier roads, and around town.

There’s not a great deal of feedback through the steering, but the Multivan is much keener in the corners than the Caravelle ever was. This is helped by improvements to the suspension and the centre of gravity, which have the net effect of achieving a 25% reduction in the amount the Multivan leans when tackling those corners. It is much more confidence-inspiring to drive.

It’s also more comfortable. Volkswagen has done a lot of work on technical aspects of the suspension, but also made the Multivan’s entire structure much stiffer – which reduces rattles and shimmies while also allowing the springs and shock absorbers to work better.

That suspension can even be upgraded to an adaptive setup called Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) that enables you to choose how soft or firm the Multivan feels. Since the standard non-dynamic kit works just fine we’d save the money this costs for something else.

Problems? Well, regardless of the improvements, the Multivan is no match for a conventional car when it comes to driving fun. Hardly a surprise, given its size. We also experienced some unpleasant resonance within the cabin when travelling over bumpy urban surfaces – and curiously this seems to be worse when the DCC is fitted.

What are the engines like?

At launch there are three engines to choose from:

  • 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol with 136hp and 220Nm
  • 2.0-litre TSI turbo petrol with 204hp and 320Nm
  • 1.4-litre eHybrid turbo petrol plug-in hybrid with 218hp and 350Nm

Each is fitted with a DSG automatic transmission as standard – the regular petrol models getting a seven-speed version, the petrol-electric eHybrid a six-speed that houses the electric motor.

The 1.5-litre TSI is fine around town, but starts to feel out of its depth on faster roads. Probably not the best choice if you will regularly be carrying a full load of passengers. It’s the nicest sounding engine of the three, however, and the seven-speed DSG transmission does its best to compensate.

The 2.0-litre petrol is more convincing, backing up its extra muscle with a 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds – some 4.1 seconds faster than the smaller petrol. But it sounds a little reedy when worked hard, and though there are no official UK mpg figures yet you can be certain it will drink a fair amount more fuel.

The eHybrid should be the best of the bunch. It has enough battery capacity for a claimed maximum electric driving range of 31 miles – plenty for popping to the shops or the school run, in most cases – as well as the greatest on-paper power and torque. But it’s also the heaviest Multivan, meaning it takes 11.6 seconds to go 0-62mph and feels far from light on its feet, while the straining 1.4-litre petrol engine can be unpleasant to listen to.

As such, though the eHybrid is probably the most rational choice – if also the most expensive – what the Multivans we’ve driven so far really feel like they’re missing is a solid TDI turbodiesel option. Both the low-down torque and the long-distance fuel economy that diesel is capable of would seem perfectly suited to the nature of this vehicle.

So although it’s not the most politically correct solution right now, we’re sure that plenty of potential Multivan buyers will be pleased to know that a diesel model is on the way in 2022. Volkswagen UK fully expects this to be the bestseller for the time being, too.

What different models and trims are there?

Volkswagen is yet to announce the trim levels for the UK, but you can expect a choice of at least two, plus a highly specified launch edition for the eHybrid badged Energetic.

As we’ve already covered, the Multivan is available in two lengths, and a choice of vibrant colours.

What else should I know?

The Multivan is available with lots of technology – including 25 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). Highlight examples of these being:

  • Turn-off assist – actively prevents you from turning into a junction if this might result in a collision
  • Exit warning – to stop you opening the doors into the path of on-coming cyclists
  • Travel assist – active lane keeping and safe distance monitor, a (very) mild form of self-driving technology
  • Car2x – gets info from other cars and some road furniture (such as traffic lights) in order to give earlier warning of up-coming hazards

On top of this, you can also have a head-up display to help keep the driver’s eyes more focused on the road ahead, and alloy wheels up to 19 inches in diameter.

The aerodynamics are best-in-class, helping to save fuel, the Multivan is built from aluminium and steel to save weight, and useful storage solutions include cubby holes hidden under the seat bases.

Towing capacity is 1,600-2,000kg.

Finally, note that despite now being classified as a car, the Multivan is still built and sold by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. You’ll need to seek out a VWCV showroom to buy one, rather than the local passenger car dealership.

Click through to our full verdict on the Volkswagen Multivan

>> Why the best family car might be a van

>> The best MPVs - on Parkers

>> The best SUVs - on Parkers

Volkswagen Multivan MPV rivals