Volkswagen’s Multivan people mover (or MPV if you like) used to be simply a Transporter light commercial with seats. A van.
But no more. In the move from the T6.1 generation to the new T7, it’s become a bespoke model based on the German maker’s MQB platform, like the Golf or Skoda Octavia; that’s right, it’s basically a big car now.
VW’s medium-sized van range will ultimately split into three separate pillars. The standard Transporter/Caravelle 6.1 continues for now but will eventually be replaced by a new van on a platform shared with the Ford Transit (part of a light-commercial tieup that also includes the next-generation Ranger and Amarok utes).
But the new T7 Multivan is very much VW’s own thing and is being pitched as an alternative to premium SUVs, given it now has much of the quality, refinement and equipment of posh passenger cars – and a whole lot more space and versatility (you know, like a van). It also now has a PHEV powertrain and there’s a version under $80k, meaning buyers can take advantage of the government’s $5750 Clean Car Discount.
And the third pillar? You’ve probably guessed what that is. But more in a minute.
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Back to Multivan. Having it on the MQB platform means it can draw on VW Group’s latest technology and architecture. That’s where the PHEV powertrain comes in: it matches a 1.4-litre turbo-petrol engine with a 13kWh plug-in battery to give 50km pure-electric range and peak power/torque of 160kW/350Nm. It’s basically the same setup we’ve just tested in the Skoda Octavia iV. All in the family, right?
Actually, Family is the name of the entry-level Multivan. VW NZ has worked hard to join the Clean Car Conversation by getting this model under $80k (just, at $78,800). It’s pretty well specified too, with Type 2-to-Type 2 and portable home charging cables included, Digital Cockpit Pro, a 10-inch infotainment screen, power side doors and keyless entry (the first VW commercial to have it).
But it’s also clear a few costly items have been left out, to meet that crucial price target. There’s no adaptive cruise, which is an eyebrow-raiser on an $80k “car”. It has Park Distance radar but not Park Assist, Lane Assist but not the full Side Assist package. There’s no power operation for that huge tailgate. And you can’t have the swish two-tone factory paintjob you see on our test car.
That’s because the Multivan pictured here is the limited-edition $106,000 Energetic (just 30 units heading our way). It includes all of the above and more besides, including Easy Open for the side doors and tailgate (kick under the sill to activate), AGR ErgoComfort seats and swish lighting.
There’s a mid-range Life-specification to come, as well a diesel engine option in early-2023.
No matter which you choose, the seating and cargo options are staggering. Every rear chair is individual and individually mounted, meaning you can mix and match passengers and stuff as much as you like. They’re all on rails too, so you can shuffle the seating back and forth to suit.
Some of the Multivan’s cabin architecture is clearly destined for other VW commercials, including (we guess) the T7 Transporter; while the design is fantastic and the back-end electronics bang up-to-date, many of the dashboard and door-trim plastics are pretty rigid. More workaday van than $80k SUV.
There might be some compensation in knowing that many of the plastics you don’t see or touch are recycled: underbody, wheel arch liners and some noise insulation material. The plastic tailgate shell and cabin floor coverings too.
We’ve had a very quick drive of the Multivan in both Family and Energetic guises. If you’re at all familiar with the previous Transporter, the great leap forward in ride and refinement will blow you away. That’s partly also thanks to the PHEV tech; there’s a soothing hush in pure-electric mode. It’s only a 90kW machine as an EV, but you get 160kW combined as a full hybrid. As with the Skoda iV models, you can manually select electric or hybrid – and even choose the level you want in the battery, meaning the petrol engine can be used for charging duties while you drive.
It’s still a big vehicle (2.2 tonnes, nearly five metres long and 1.9m high), so it’s not as nimble as a passenger car or many SUVs. But by van standards it’s in another realm.
VW NZ is actually continuing with the old Transporter 6.1 ($85,500) for the next 12-18 months. It provides a 4Motion all-wheel drive option (the T7 is FWD only for now) and perhaps more importantly, it offers a 2500kg tow rating. The T7 is theoretically limited to 1600kg, but actually not permitted to tow at all right now due to weight restrictions from the factory – one downside of having a passenger-car platform underneath. The T7 diesel will be towbar-certified, but it’ll still fall 500kg short of the 6.1 model.
Now, what about that third pillar? It’s the ID.Buzz of course, VW’s bespoke pure-electric van that will come in both commercial and passenger models.
VW NZ Commercial national sales manager Scott Duggan acknowledges Buzz will be a “halo moment” for the brand here (as everywhere). But when?
“We’ve been working very hard with the factory to make sure we can bring these cars to NZ as quickly as possible. With grey imports we know cars like ID.3 and ID.4 are on the road here now, bought by this parallel import market. They haven’t purchased from us, but we still have a responsibility to them because they have invested in our brand, for parts, updates and so on.
“We’ve used this with the factory to try and get these cars here sooner than some other countries.”
But when is that? No firm date, just “as soon as possible”, says Duggan. The same goes for a forthcoming PHEV version of the Caddy, by the way.
Given VW NZ has a firm schedule about an early 2023 launch for the T7 Multivan diesel, expect a local plan for ID.Buzz then.
VOLKSWAGEN MULTIVAN T7ENGINE: 1.4-litre turbo-petrol four with 13kWh plug-in batteryPOWER: 160kW/350NmGEARBOX: 6-speed automated dual clutch, FWDCONSUMPTION: 1.0l/100km, CO2 26g/km, EV range 50km
PRICE RANGE: $78,800 (Family, qualifies for $5750 Clean Car Discount) to $106,600 (Energetic).