The Volkswagan minivan is an American cultural icon of the 1960s because it was loved by that decade's flower children. Durable and cheap to run, it was a rolling example of unconventionality and freedom.
The 2001 Volkswagen EuroVan carries on the tradition and isn't just for former flower children who have hit their 50s. It's the same highly functional box-on-wheels it always has been, and Volkswagen said it will be essentially unchanged for several years.
Volkswagen actually invented the minivan in 1950—or some 33 years before Chrysler Corp. introduced its first minivan and took credit for creating this type of vehicle.
But, while Volkswagen considered its various minivans (mostly just called "vans") secondary vehicles, ranking far below its cars in terms of sales and profits, Chrysler depended on its minivans to virtually save it from going under.
Volkswagen started selling minivans in America in 1950, although few were sent here from Germany before 1954. The first model was called the Transporter and the vehicle variously also has been called the Station Wagon, Kombi, Micro Bus (often spelled as one word) and Vanagon.
The EuroVan is a far cry from the 1960s models, which were roomy but had sorely underpowered engines and really skinny tires. As with the 1960s models, the Transporter used reliable Volkswagen Beetle auto components such as a rear-mounted air-cooled engine and four-speed manual transmission.
There was nothing like the Transporter offered in America, where U.S. vans were drab work vehicles. The early 1950s Transporter had bright two-tone colors and hauled up to nine persons in its brick-shaped body. It only had a 30-horsepower engine, and Volkswagen gave it a dashboard sticker that read: "The allowable top speed of this vehicle is 50 miles per hour."
However, most early 1950s American cars weren't fast, and many publications recognized the practicality of the strange new Volkswagen.
For example, Mechanix Illustrated's colorful auto writer Tom McCahill tested a 1955 model and wrote, "It's as versatile as a steamship con man and twice as useful." The same could be said for the 2001 EuroVan.
Volkswagen steadily improved its minivan. By 1968, horsepower had been raised to 57. But cars and trucks had become much faster than in the 1950s, and the Volkswagen minivan had a top speed of only 65 mph and took nearly 40 seconds to reach 60 mph.
However, older owners knew what they were getting and really didn't mind the lack of performance. And the flower children didn't seem to be in a hurry to reach destinations, unless they were shooting for San Francisco.
The fourth-generation Volkswagen minivan arrived for 1993 as the EuroVan. It was longer and heavier than its Vanagon predecessor, and was the first Volkswagen minivan with the engine up front. Still roomy, it remained slow with just a 109-horsepower five-cylinder engine. Disappointing sales caused Volkswagen to yank it from the market for several years.
More Powerful Engine
A decent 140-horsepower V6 was added for 1999, when the EuroVan was revised. But the 2001 model gets a new 201-horsepower V6, making it seem almost like a hot rod.
Other new 2001 features: Electronic stability control system, slightly larger (16-inch) wheels, single seats for second-row seating, new premium stereo and integrated fog lights.
Moreover, prices of the two solidly built EuroVan models have been drastically cut by $5,100. The regular GLS model now costs $26,200 and the recreation-oriented Multivan (MV) version lists at $27,700.
Both are well equipped, although a power sunroof costs $1,000 and heated front seats are $400.
The MV can be had with a $3,235 Weekender Package that contains a pop-up roof with a two-person bed; window screens for two side sliding windows, fixed driver-side rear facing seat (with refrigerator beneath a lift-up seat bottom); auxiliary battery and heavy-duty alternator.
It's a little tricky to get in and out of the front of the high 76.4-inch-tall EuroVan, but occupants have a splendid view of surroundings once seated.
As always, the Volkswagen minivan has quirks. For instance, while the front bucket seats are supportive and comfortable, a driver has no convenient spot to rest her left foot, and the generally awkward driving position takes getting used to. Radio and climate controls are too small. And the rotary front seatback adjusters are difficult to use.
Comfortable, Roomy Interior
The no-nonsense, but high-quality, comfortable interior is generally quiet, but there is noticeable wind noise above 55 mph. After all, the EuroVan is basically a big box that must force its way through the air without much benefit of aerodynamics.
The EuroVan is a 7-passenger vehicle, with various seating arrangements. The GLS has two forward-facing second-row seats, while the MV has two rear-facing second row seats positioned back-to-back with the front seats.
The MV also has a folding table, side curtain windows and a rear bench seat that converts to a removable bed.
There is lots of room for stuff in the high cargo area made possible by the tall roof, but most folks will need to use the hefty pull-down strap to close the large, heavy hatch. And there is no driver-side sliding door.
Despite the more potent engine, the front-wheel-drive EuroVan is no hot rod, taking 11 seconds for the 0-60 mph run. And there is a brief, bothersome acceleration lag when moving out fast from a standing start. However, the four-speed automatic transmission shifts crisply. And, once underway, the EuroVan easily cruises at 75-80 mph all day, with pretty good 65-75 mph passing times.
No Fuel Miser
But the EuroVan likes to gulp gasoline, partly because it weighs 4,285 pounds. Estimated fuel economy is only 15 mpg in the city and 20 on highways. However, a 21.1-gallon fuel tank allows a decent highway cruising range.
The EuroVan has trimmer exterior dimensions than it appears to have; it's fairly easy to maneuver and park—and should fit in most garages. Steering is decent and handling is good for such a tall vehicle. The ride is generally well controlled, but occasionally gets bouncy. The brake pedal is soft, although braking distances are short.
Volkswagen doesn't promote the EuroVan much in this country. But it seems ideal for those looking for a reasonably priced, well-equipped, high-quality minivan that is an alternative to the large number of mainstream minivans.