1999 Volkswagen EuroVan
Thinking inside the box.
Base Price $30,465
As Tested $33,640
In a world of increasingly similar minivans, each striving to be more car-like than the other, the Volkswagen EuroVan is decidedly different. It's box-like where others are round and sleek, it has a significantly higher driving position, and it lacks a left-side sliding door. It also offers unique options, such as rear-facing second-row seats and a camper body.
Remove the nameplates and badges from a parking lot full of minivans and Volkswagen's EuroVan would be the easiest to identify. It looks like no other minivan on the market. And despite the fact that there's nothing else like it in the Volkswagen showroom, it somehow has a look that is undeniably Volkswagen. Though it looks at home in major European cities, it offers a unique appearance here in the USA.
The front end is plain, interrupted only by lights and the radiator grille. Only a UPS van is more slab-sided. It is attractive in a functional way. Most love it or loath it. Driving around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, we were surprised to discover that our Hot Chili Red Metallic (maroon) EuroVan MV attracted considerable attention from Gen-Xers. Maybe they were fantasizing about filling the rear window with Grateful Dead and Nine Inch Nails stickers. The EuroVan does indeed bear some resemblance to the VW microbuses of old.
Mechanically, it's completely different. The water-cooled V6 is the 2.8-liter narrow-angle VR6 used in various VW automobiles. It has been retuned for improved low-rpm power for the EuroVan, producing 177 foot-pounds of torque from 3000 to 3400 rpm. This allows the EuroVan to tow a 4,400-pound trailer. The engine is mounted transversely, a snug fit under the short hood, but all service items are readily accessible.
All EuroVans come with a 4-speed automatic transmission with adaptive programming. Low-speed traction control is standard.
Suspension is fully independent, with double wishbones and torsion bars up front and semi-trailing arms and coils at the rear. ABS is standard, working on power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes. A load-proportional braking system biases brake pressure front-to-rear as needed -- a nice feature when loaded with heavy gear. Alloy wheels are standard.
Ground clearance is generous at 7 inches, but the overall height of 6 foot 4 inches will make some parking garages a tight fit overhead.
The Inside Story
Behind the wheel of the EuroVan, it's obvious this isn't just another Dodge Caravan wannabe. There's a commanding view from the bridge. The EuroVan driver sits much higher than drivers in other minivans, looking down on those in Caravans and Windstars.
Foot room is limited, encroached by the front wheelwells and tight packaging. The front seats, in a cushy light-gray velour, were chair-height and were a good compromise between softness and support. Both have left and right armrests and are a good place to watch the road go by.
The steering wheel does not have a tilt function, and some may be put off by the somewhat bus-like angle of the steering wheel. It isn't nearly as bus-like as the wheel on the old microbus, however. The fully automatic dual zone (front and rear) climate control system is adjustable in 1-degree increments. An ambient air thermometer is included, which is useful in changing weather conditions. The ventilation system includes a dust/pollen filter, beneficial for hay fever sufferers.
Overall the interior looks more institutional than luxurious, but it is comfortable. The ambiance is one of functionality rather than style, with straight lines serving where straight lines will fit. There's walkthrough space to the rear passenger area.
Two EuroVan models are available: $30,465 GLS and $31,965 Multivan (MV).
A primary difference between the GLS and MV models is their seating arrangements. EuroVan GLS contains traditional forward-facing center and rear bench seats.
The MV replaces the second-row bench with a pair of rear-facing seats -- positioned back-to-back with the front seats. The face-to-face seating in the second and third row was a novelty that our passengers thought could grow old. Foot room is shared, and even with cooperation and coordination there will be accidentally kicked ankles. After dark, our backwards facing passengers found the headlights of following cars shining in their eyes irritating. This arrangement makes a lot more sense when the tray table is lifted out. It's nice for those roadside lunches, impromptu card games and tailgate parties. An overhead fluorescent lamp adds lighting to the regular dome lights. The rear seat can be converted into a passable bed and privacy curtains snap all around the interior.
Pass-through panels under the rear seat allow long items to be carried. With the rear seat removed (not an easy task), a sheet of plywood will fit. A cargo shelf splits the cargo area in half which, depending on the nature of your cargo, will either be a blessing or a pain in the neck. It bolts in, however, and will require a wrench to remove. The back of the third row seat, covered in vinyl cloth, could use a more durable backing as ours had already suffered a laceration from rough cargo loading.
The EuroVan comes equipped with a high level of standard equipment that includes electronic climate control, cruise control, heated windshield washer jets, and power windows, locks and mirrors. The power glass sunroof, a $1,000 option, uses a fabric shade that's not opaque but blocks the sun, even on bright days. We're also partial to the $400 heated front seats, with settings from 1 to 5 on dash-mounted thumbwheels. The right-side sliding door provides a child lock for extra safety.
In addition to the GLS and MV models, Volkswagen offers a Camper model with a longer wheelbase (by 15.7 inches). It's just the thing for that big trip to Yellowstone. It can be outfitted with a pop-up roof, full-swiveling captain's chairs, two-burner LP gas stove, refrigerator and other amenities. A "Weekender" package available on the MV comes with a pop-up canopy top and many of the other amenities of the Camper without the longer wheelbase.
Ride & Drive
Volkswagen's V6 is very smooth and delivers on its promise of torque. Snap the throttle open and the front end rises slightly while the EuroVan accelerates. A number of minivans can easily show their heels to the VW, but it's a much closer race than it was with earlier EuroVans. There is more than enough power for day-to-day operation. The V6-powered EuroVan easily cruises at or above any posted limit in the U.S. The cruise control works very well, maintaining a constant speed on Interstate grades.
"Tomb-like" would not describe the EuroVan on the Interstate. Despite added noise insulation, wind, road and engine noise all raise the interior sound level, though not objectionably so.
Despite its big flat sides, the EuroVan tracks like a bullet on the Interstates, even with crosswinds. It responds to the steering wheel with immediacy and precision. The natural expectation for this tall vehicle is for oodles of lean in hard cornering, but not so with the EuroVan. There is little tilt and no sway. It is remarkably confidence building, with a steady dose of understeer and feedback. You won't see any EuroVans at the local sports car races -- other than the one in the parking lot. But driving a EuroVan won't consign you to being a slow-moving roadblock on winding roads. Volkswagen has strengthened the body and the increased rigidity allows the fully independent suspension to do its job well. The 38.4-foot turning radius wasn't a problem in tight parking lots.
We found the EuroVan excellent in traffic in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When our speeds were reduced to a walking pace, the nicely tuned throttle response enabled us to do the stop-and-go smoothly enough to enjoy a scalding cup of coffee without worries. Yet we were able to move quickly when we had the chance. These opportunities were easily anticipated from our lofty perch in the driver's seat, giving us an uninterrupted view of the traffic jam extending off to the horizon. The brakes were easily up to the part in the harder stops.
The EuroVan is not inexpensive. Our MV added up to just under $34,000. That puts it into competition with some luxurious domestic minivans that offer a more car-like feel. The EuroVan, however, will appeal to the individual, someone who wants to be different. Volkswagen's EuroVan isn't like anything else on the market, and nothing on the market is like the EuroVan.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.