V is for Volume, value. And Vroom!
by John Matras
Base Price (MSRP) $26,200
As Tested (MSRP) $28,490
Volkswagen, Van and Volume go together very well, and have for the half-century since the first VW Transporter was made. The VW van may not have had the capacity of a full-size American van, but there was a lot of room on the inside compared to the space it took up on the road.
The V-word that has never been associated with Volkswagen vans is Velocity. After years of building a van with what German engineers think drivers need, they finally built one with what American drivers want: power, 201 horsepower, to be exact.
While they were at it, they lowered the price more than $5000, which brings in another V-word: Value. The price-performance ratio that had kept American buyers away in droves has been flipped, and if all is right with the world, customers should be beating down dealers' doors for this better mousetrap. Perfect it's not, but this Van has Volume, Velocity and Value, and yes, it's a Volkswagen.
Two standard wheelbase EuroVan models are available: the $26,200 GLS and $27,700 Multivan or MV.
The primary difference between the GLS and MV models is their seating arrangements. The EuroVan GLS has two individual middle row seats in the second row, with a three-place bench in the rear. The MV turns the second-row seats around, back-to-back with the front seats, and adds a table that folds out from the wall. The third-row seat also folds out into a bed.
A Weekender package ($3,335) available with the MV adds overnight capabilities with a pop-up roof that includes a two-person bed, window screens for the two side-sliding windows and a refrigerator under the left-hand rear-facing seat.
A longer version of the EuroVan (with a 130.7-inch wheelbase) called the Camper ($38,733) seats up to six, but also includes a pop-up roof, a two-burner LP gas stove and full-swiveling captain chairs, among other amenities. It's just the thing for a weekend in the infield at Indy.
The VW EuroVan is easy to find in a parking lot. It towers over just about everything, not only cars but also Caravans and Windstars and even pickup trucks. Even from afar, it's apparent that this is not just any minivan. While all the others have gone “car-like” with swoopy lines and rounded exteriors, the EuroVan's sides and tailgate are almost perfectly vertical, while the hood and windshield have the same rake though with the glass set back slightly. It's functional to the extreme, with a semi-corrugated roof (to add strength) that's only noticeable from above; if you can see it from ground level, the NBA is looking for you. The van is that tall.
Although the EuroVan bears some outward similarity to the VW microbuses of old, it is completely different mechanically. The water-cooled narrow-angle V6 is mounted up front and drives the front wheels (unlike the old air-cooled flat four mounted out back and driving the rear wheels).
Climbing into the driver's seat of the EuroVan reveals a commanding view. Not only does one sit higher than in other minivans, the dash is low, so there's a panoramic sweep of the road ahead.
Foot room is limited, encroached by the front wheelwells and tight packaging, but there is room to stretch your legs. The front seats, in the optional light-gray velour, are chair-height and a good compromise between softness and support. Both have armrests and are a good place to watch the miles go by.
The steering wheel has no tilt function, and some may be put off the by the somewhat bus-like angle of the steering wheel. It isn't the Ralph Kramden special like the wheel on the old microbus, however. The fully automatic dual zone climate control system is adjustable in one degree increments. It adjusts side to side, with separate rear control. 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.
The interior is plain, but it's comfortable. The ambiance is one of functionality rather than style, with straight lines serving where straight lines will fit. The dash now has the blue and red lighting that has become a VW trademark; it's a love it or hate it thing.
There's walkthrough space to the rear passenger area, and the space between the seats can accommodate a small cooler. Alas, there's no console, just a small tray with dual cupholders down at ankle level. There's no conventional glove box either. The owners manual, in a tidy black leather zipper case, resides in the right door pocket; the armrest on the left door opens to reveal a locking receptacle for vehicle documents and whatever. The shift lever for the automatic transmission is mounted on the floor like a large industrial switch, about knee high, in black plastic.
Our 2002 GLS's conventional forward-facing middle-row seats were a comfy pair of chairs, well off the floor and with right and left armrests, giving up nothing in comfort to the front seats. Cup holders are integrated into the seat bases, but hold cans and small cups only; the average fast food “medium” drink cup doesn't fit. The third-row seat was comfortable as well, with no lack of legroom and wide enough for three adults.
A test of an MV model found its face-to-face seating in the second and third row a novelty that could grow old. Foot room is shared, and even with cooperation and coordination there will be accidentally kicked ankles. After dark, backwards-facing passengers have headlights from following cars shining irritatingly in their eyes. The good news is that raising the tray table in the MV is great for roadside lunches, impromptu card games and tailgate parties, with the light from an overhead fluorescent lamp adding to the regular dome lights. The MV's rear seat converts to a passable bed and privacy curtains snap all around the interior.
A cargo shelf splits the cargo area in half. Depending on the nature of the cargo that is either a blessing or a pain in the neck. It bolts in and requires a wrench to remove. It does fold forward with the rear seatback, however, and with the middle-row seatbacks folded forward, the GLS accepts 4x8-foot sheets of plywood or similar cargo. For maximum volume, however, the seats are difficult to remove. This older design requires that the rear seat must be literally unbolted from the floor using the lug wrench, the seat tipped this way and that for access to the bolts, and then wrestled sideways to remove it through the rear hatch. The middle row seats are easier, unclipping from studs on the floor but are anything but state of the art. On the other hand, with seats removed the EuroVan will cause owners of other minivan to emit expressions of awe usually reserved for blimp hangers; it presents an enormous amount of cargo space.
The EuroVan comes equipped with a high level of standard equipment that includes electronic climate control, cruise control, heated windshield washers jets, and power windows, locks and mirrors, and dark tinted glass for side and rear windows. The power glass sunroof, a $1000 option, uses a fabric shade that's not opaque and on really bright days leaves one wishing for something darker. We also wonder about its long-term durability. We're particularly partial to the $400 heated front seats, with heating elements in the seat back as well as the seat bottom and dash-mounted thumbwheel settings from 1 to 5. No left-side sliding door is available, but the right-side sliding door has a child lock for extra safety.
We used a Volkswagen EuroVan GLS to take a daughter-and most of her worldly possessions-to grad school. It was a 4821-mile round trip, half with the EuroVan fully loaded and the return trip virtually empty.
The EuroVan's interior room was greatly appreciated. Only two months before, we had moved the same items home after college graduation in-and on-a Ford Windstar, which not only required that her desk be strapped to the roof, but six boxes of books were mailed home. The EuroVan swallowed the same load completely, including the desk and books and added luggage with room to spare. Goodbye Windstar, hello Eurovan!
Our route included an Interstate dash from northeast Pennsylvania to New Mexico with detours to visit family, and a return trip over two-lane highways in Colorado, Kansas and Missouri, all this during an August heatwave with temperatures, according to the EuroVan, as high as 109 degrees, and thunderstorms with downpours of Biblical proportions. The EuroVan shone in these conditions.
Loaded nearly to the rafters, the EuroVan was able to handle even western speed limits with ease and was eager to go faster had we dared. No more excuses are necessary for the EuroVan's performance. The cruise control works very well, maintaining a constant velocity even over western mountain passes, even with a full load. With the added power, passing on two-lane highways was as much a joy as a chore, if only for the juvenile thrill of showing the passee what this big flying brick can do.
“Tomb-like” would not describe the EuroVan on the Interstate. Wind, road and engine noise all raise the interior sound level, though not objectionably so.
Despite is big flat sides, the EuroVan tracked like a bullet on the Interstates, even with a 30 mph crosswind across the Texas panhandle that was strong enough that my daughter, following in her car, complained that it must need to be realigned. The EuroVan 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 for the EuroVan. There is little tilt and no sway. It's no gazelle-a rhino is a more apt metaphor-the steady dose of understeer and feedback is remarkably confidence building. Volkswagen has reinforced the Eurovan's body and the increased rigidity not only allows the fully independent suspension to do its job well, but the van was creak and rattle free whether loaded or unloaded. The 43.3-foot turning radius was useful for U-turns on the rare occasion we went the wrong way. Suspension is fully independent, with double wishbones and torsion bars up front and semi-trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. VW replaced the 2000 model year 15-inch alloy wheels with nifty 5-spoke 16-inch alloys for 2001.
The EuroVan performed so well that we'd gladly forgo the style of cushier minivans for the comfort and utility of the Volkswagen.
Ground clearance is a generous 7 inches, but the overall height of 6 foot, 4 inches will make some parking garages a tight fit overhead.
The V6 is the same engine used in some of Volkswagen's performance sedans. New cylinder heads for the 2001 model year bumped horsepower from 140 at 4500 rpm to an impressive 200 horsepower at 6200 rpm. The power increase came from improved breathing, four-valve-per-cylinder heads replacing the three-valve heads on the 2000 model.
The engine also has more grunt across the board, producing 191 foot-pounds of torque from 2500 to 5500 rpm (versus last year's 177 pounds-feet from 3000-4300 rpm). Increased torque allows the EuroVan to tow a 4,400-pound trailer (if equipped with electric brakes). The tradeoff is an appetite for premium fuel, which it burns at an EPA-estimated city/highway 15/20 miles per gallon. Open the hood, by the way, and there's nothing to see but an engine cover with cutouts for the oil dipstick and filler cap. You apparently aren't expected to need more access than that.
All EuroVans come with a 4-speed automatic with adaptive programming. Traction control and an electronic stability program (ESP) are standard, as is an electronic differential lock to help pull the EuroVan out of slippery spots.
Power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes became bigger in 2001 for more stopping power, with ABS standard. A load-proportioning braking system biases brake pressure front-to-rear as needed, allowing the rear brakes to contribute more braking when carrying a heavy load, for example.
Despite being big, the EuroVan hasn't been one of Volkswagen's biggest selling models. However, we'll forecast an increase in popularity for this unique minivan. It offers substantially more power at a substantially lower price, combined with its traditional characteristics that begin with an interior the size of a junior high gymnasium. More than one curious owner of a different minivan planned to visit a VW dealership after being shown the EuroVan.
Our GLS totaled $28,490, placing it in competition with some luxurious domestic minivans that offer a more car-like feel. And personally, we'd exchange the $1,000 sunroof for a CD changer and keep the change. The EuroVan will appeal, however, to the practical individual who can appreciate comfort over style and has a willingness to drive something the neighbors aren't. Others may follow, however. With the decreased price and increased power, the new EuroVan adds yet another V-word: Vrrrrrooom!
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.