For a big family road trip, is there a better vehicle than VW’s Multivan?
Both my children are in tears. I’ve just informed them that the big orange Multivan is rejoining the Top Gear fleet after a month in my care, and the waterworks have begun.
“But it’s got MAGIC DOORS!” sobs my eldest. Once you’ve sampled doors that Star-Trek open at the push of a button, how can you be expected to go back to regular hinges?
They’ve never cried this much any time I’ve left them for a work trip. It would appear my kids like the Multivan more than they like their own father.
Can’t blame them, really. Because after a few weeks on the road in the snowy(ish) Alps, I’m a bit teary about handing back the Multivan keys.
Because it’s just magnificent. Glorious. Vantastic. If you’re off on a big European road trip with a load of family, and a load of road-trip-stuff, I just can’t imagine a better vehicle, unless your budget stretches to a private jet, but in fairness they’re a pig to park at the supermarche.
Logistics. Before departing, we removed the Multivan’s centremost rear seat, leaving us with three rows of two. For the journey out and back, we folded down the backmost pair of seats – still leaving masses of room for bags, boxes and kids’ bikes in the boot area – and slid the middle two chairs as far rearwards as they’d go, providing proper business-class space in the second row.
Stretch your legs, my tiny tycoons! Savour the view! Most modern cars’ high beltlines mean small kids in the back get a view of little but door and sky, but in the big-windowed Multivan, under that vast (optional) panoramic roof, they’re kings of the road. Seemed to help prevent car-sickness, too.
That central sliding, pop-out tray table is a touch of utter genius, lending massive flexibility to the Multivan’s interior and giving the kids with the ideal surface for writing/drawing/firing-pull-back-toy-cars at each other.
Nice thing to drive, too. I mean, it’s a big cuboid bus, not a two-seater roadster, but as big cuboid buses go, it’s a good’un. The structure feels far more rigid than Caravelles of old, presumably thanks to the Multivan’s car-derived MQB platform. The visibility’s great, obviously. The controls are smooth and light and car-esque.
Even the economy’s not bad. The autoroute yielded a steady 36mpg, actually slightly better than I expected from the petrol-electric set-up: plug-in hybrids rarely do their best economy work on fast motorways.
Though the petrol tank holds a mere 45 litres, we managed to get from Calais to the Italian border with just a single fill-up halfway across France. Did have a couple of jerry cans as emergency back-up, mind.
Once out in the Alps, we popped the third row of seats back up, giving seating for six, still with masses of room down the central channel for skis, poles, rucksacks and the rest. Who needs roof-racks or boxes when you can just chuck literally everything you own straight into the van?
Manufacturers spend a lot of time trying to convince us true luxury is soft-touch leather and knurled switchgear and open-grain wood trim, but I’m increasingly convinced genuine automotive luxury is ‘having enough space on board to transport an actual Shetland pony, should you so desire’.
Issues? The three sets of rails – on which the seats and tray table slide back and forth – turn out to the perfect size to swallow dropped pens and pencils (there were many dropped pens and pencils). The touchscreen climate stuff is, as several million commentators have already pointed out, utter nonsense. But at least Android Auto worked a treat throughout.
And then there’s the hybrid powertrain. Gliding through the various Eurotunnel queues on e-power alone, that’s quite nice. And you do notice the additional torque boost from the e-motor when you need a quick(ish) burst of acceleration.
But unless you’re planning on using your Multivan for super-short urban trips alone – and if so, exactly why are you buying a Multivan? – and can plug in at home, I’m not sure the (very limited) electric range adds a great deal. For me, I’d stick with the regular petrol or diesel.
And I would be very happy indeed. Always a sign of a good car when you find yourself on the online configurator, trying desperately to conjure a justifiable monthly finance figure.
I failed. That 42 grand starting price looked, I thought, not utterly insane – at least not in a world where you can’t get a new Audi A4 Avant for less than £38k – but the Multivan options are plentiful and pricey: the panoramic roof is £2400 alone. Spec all the stuff you want, you’ll be past £50k in a heartbeat. Sixty is easily achievable.
So my poor, deprived children will have to live without electric sliding doors. Let the tears recommence…