A couple of weeks ago I got a quick taste of Volkswagen New Zealand's new plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) Multivan. It boasts virtually all the features of its incredibly popular previous generation people mover, but is now more efficient, more technically advanced and more refined (inside and out).
Dressed in mono silver and energetic orange, my review model of the new Multivan PHEV was no shrinking violet and nor should it be. This is a people mover that justifiably screams for attention and will not only have your family and friends lining up to ride in it, but they'll also be relying on you to help move their (insert large item here).
The previous model was a true seven-seater that offered no compromise when it came to comfort and convenience, and with its seemingly endless amounts of cubby holes and spaces plus moveable and removable seats, knocked practicality out of the park. Well, the new T7 Multivan PHEV is even better.
Although this latest Multivan is the successor to the T6.1 and the T6 (T standing for Transporter), it's been created from VW's MQB platform - so it's more Passenger than Transporter. That is evident when driving - but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Right now there are two models in the range: 'Family' which slips in under the $80,000 mark - and is therefore eligible for New Zealand's clean car rebate - and 'Energetic' with all the bells and whistles. This was the model I was given to review.
In terms of design, the nose is more pronounced and shapely with matrix LED lights and a start of a silver character line that runs front to rear. There are electric sliding doors on both sides for safe and easy entrance that can be opened and closed via the keyfob, switches on the dashboard, switches on the door frame and the door handles themselves. The people mover sits on 18-inch Toshima Alloys, and the all important PHEV powerpoint is on the driver's side front wing. The wall box or trickle charge point is connected to a 13kWh battery which when fully charged, VW says will provide up to 50km of EV-only range.
The new Multivan PHEV boasts a drag coefficient of 0.30 and comes with recycled material for sound deadening and areas like the inner wheel arches. It also has aluminium and composite panels, including the rear tailgate. While on the subject of the tailgate, it's powered too for opening and closing, with sports Multivan PHEV lettering and badging and more LED lights.
The new Multivan PHEV is being pitched as an alternative to premium SUVs, and when you climb inside you can quickly see why. The interior has been modernised and refined with AGR (Aktion Gesunder Rücken) ergonomic and comfy front seats (including a massage function for the driver) and 25 percent lighter seats all round for easy relocation or removal. All five seats are now individual (no more bench seats), so the cargo/passenger configuration options are seemingly limitless. Plus, the entire cabin is flooded with light thanks to a full-length panoramic sunroof.
The technology has been greatly improved too with a 10.25-inch infotainment screen that gives you access to everything from EV data to a myriad of apps and advanced driver/safety aids. The instrument cluster is now digital too, meaning you decide what you wish to see displayed in front of you while you drive.
What is difficult to see, at night anyway, is the volume and AC heating sliders below the infotainment screen: for some reason they're not illuminated and there's no grab handle to assist the driver in getting in. Both of these were about my only peeves with this clever people carrier.
Now about that drive. The new Multivan PHEV is powered by a 1.4L ICE engine and an 85kW motor - together they offer up 160kW of power and 350 Nm of torque, all directed to the front wheels. Now you may think that it's not a lot for such a spacious people mover, but you'd be mistaken. There's plenty of power to stay in the fast lane up the twisties north of Auckland and the ride itself is smooth and sophisticated, with the Multivan slipping up and down the six gears and balancing ICE/EV with magical aplomb.
When it comes to EV/hybrid driving, a quick push of the mode button on the dash by your knee gives you access to a two-option menu on the touchscreen: EV only or hybrid. Tap the hybrid and you can set the battery level/range you wish to retain, so you can use the ICE engine to recharge your battery too. Access to the two stage (basically on or off) brake regen options requires a little more delving through - so best to keep it in auto.
In terms of efficiency, VW says this new PHEV can sip fuel as low as 1.1L/100km. I managed to report 1.4L with some enthusiastic driving so I am happy to go along with their numbers. Meanwhile, emissions can come down to as low as 12g/km or none in purely EV mode.
Unfortunately, for those that require the ability to tow stuff, this PHEV model is not rated for such, but maybe in the future when there's a 4Motion option, or there's still the diesel version to assume those tasks.
The Multivan PHEV is a family favourite: not only is there oodles of legroom for all, there's places and cubby holes for virtually everything, including tray tables for all in the rear. There's less clutter for the driver too, with the gear selector and handbrake all being moved to the dashboard. The new seating configuration freedom meant I could even have my son facing backwards, annoying other drivers and not me - thankfully he doesn't get travel sick.
It's an ultra-versatile people mover that's comfortable for all, crazily efficient and very easy to drive. A true alternative to those that have the need to move more than five regularly, or need to move a substantial amount of gear too.
Why you should: It's a seven-seater people mover that doubles as a van, yet drives like a car. It's as versatile as duct tape, smarter than a 5th grader and as thrifty as a bean counter.
Why you shouldn't: Climbing in for the driver takes planning, operating the AC or volume at night is perilous and you'll get calls from friends you haven't seen in ages to help move a couch.
What else to consider: There are a number of seven-seater SUVs out there, and a multitude of people movers out there too, but this PHEV Multivan has a fair amount of exclusivity. Check out the Hyundai Staria; the Kia Carnival has a PHEV on its way, and the Mercedes V-Class and Honda Odyssey are other good starting points.