If you’re like me and grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, you’ll likely recognise the latest 2021 Volkswagen Multivan T6.1 Cruise Edition as a direct descendant of the Kombi, despite boasting its most contemporary design yet and the latest technology.
Known as the Type 2, it’s only the second Volkswagen model created behind the iconic Beetle. You could easily argue it’s the most important van in the history of the automobile, given its lifecycle spans more than 70 years.
It’s a staggering story of survival and a true measure of success, especially when you look back at how many brands have vanished off the face of the Earth over that same period.
Popular as it’s always been, the Kombi and its successors have always been a little bit quirky, favoured by hippies, surfers, and weekend adventurers from Southern California, at least initially.
The Kombi’s success became even more widespread with its position as the default wagon of the counterculture, thanks in part to the legendary Woodstock music festival.
It didn’t end there. In 1958 in Volkswagen USA was already running print ads for commercial variants of the Kombi with dual-side opening doors and drop-down side panels for innovative loading on the single-cab version.
More often than not success is measured by numbers alone, and the Kombi has sold plenty. More than 12 million VW Transporters have been shifted worldwide over the vehicle’s seven-decade lifespan, with Australia notching up more than 54,000 since 1993.
This latest T6.1 represents the most significant changes to the model since the launch of the T5 back in 2003, with no less than 49 different variants available over three body types, two wheelbases, two roof heights, and a choice between three engines.
We tested the family-friendly Multivan Cruise Edition, offered in a single short-wheelbase, front-wheel drive specification with the TDI340, seven-speed DSG, and unique two-tone paint scheme.
It’s the ultimate surf chaser, as I like to call it, and effectively, a mid-range variant in the Multivan family.
As a standalone model in one exclusive specification, the Multivan Cruise Edition wears a sticker price of $73,990 before on-road costs.
Meanwhile, entry into the Multivan family starts at $61,990 before on-road costs for the Comfortline Premium SWB with the TDI340 2.0-litre diesel engine with seven-speed DSG in front-wheel drive, or $64,990 with all-wheel drive.
Further up the Kombi scale are the LWB versions in the same Comfortline trim, beginning at $64,990 for front-drive and $67,990 for all-wheel drive .
Next rung up the ladder is the luxury-kitted Highline SWB exclusively with the more powerful TDI450 in either FWD or 4Motion AWD, from $84,990 or $87,990 respectively.
If you want the LWB version, which is known as the Comfortline Exec, it’s priced from $87,990 before on-roads.
Our Cruise Edition tester is pretty-much fully loaded, including the sensational two-tone paint job our tester wears, as one of three such colour choices.
While the Multivan Cruise Edition offers plenty of kit, and is easily the most aspirational (if not the most practical) vehicle of its kind on sale today, there are several more affordable luxe people-mover options to choose.
Importantly, the T6.1-generation Multivan received its most critical update as far as in-car technology goes with many more standard inclusions that ever before.
Equipment highlights include:
- 18-inch ‘Tersina’ alloy wheels
- 9.2-inch touchscreen
- Satellite navigation
- Apple CarPlay/Android Auto (wireless)
- Digital Cockpit 10.25-inch digital instrument display
- Heated, power-folding door mirrors
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Reversing camera
- LED headlights, tail lights, and daytime running lights
- Fog lights with static cornering function
- Auto headlights and wipers
- Privacy glass for passenger side windows and rear screen
- Electric power-sliding doors
- Electric tailgate
- LED interior lighting
- Semi-automatic parking assist
- Front and rear parking sensors
- Dual-zone climate-control
- Two-tone micro fleece seat upholstery
- Heated front seats
- 18-inch alloy wheels
- Tyre repair kit
- Step lighting for all side doors
- Six-speaker sound system
Our tester wore two-tone Reflex Silver Metallic with Starlight Blue Metallic paint, but there’s also the choice of Reflex Silver Metallic/Indium Grey Metallic or with Fortana Red Metallic as standard kit.
The T6.1 Transporter hasn’t been crash tested, but the mid-life update brought about a raft of active safety features:
- Front assist with autonomous emergency braking
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane-keep assist
- Crosswind assist
- Multi-collision braking which can prevent follow-on collisions
- Driver fatigue detection
That’s atop front and side/curtain airbags for front passengers, and curtain airbags for second and third-row occupants.
Apart from the fact you need to use the grab handle on the A-pillar to pull yourself into the high-set driver’s seat, there’s little, if any real indication that the Multivan Cruise Edition is effectively a commercial vehicle – albeit one with a luxury fit-out.
The specially-lit entrance steps on all doors with non-slip rubber points almost feel like you’re boarding a private jet.
Anyone who’s owned a late model Volkswagen will feel right at home from the moment they get seated.
Volkswagen’s Digital Cockpit virtual instruments and central infotainment screen make the T6.1 feel utterly contemporary with a car-like ambience, although it looks more Mk7 Golf than the very latest offerings from the German marque.
It’s a functional design without too many buttons and dials given the screens and steering wheel provide 90 per cent of accessibility to the infotainment. There are still a few rotary dials for the climate control system and a few remaining buttons for opening/closing the electric sliding doors.
Like it or not, there’s an old-school shift lever instead of the increasingly common shift-by-wire switches you get in the latest Golf, which works well in this type of vehicle.
There are also quite a few manual functions, too, from the seat adjustment for all three rows to the steering wheel. But there’s still automatic entry and start with a proximity key, and that’s probably the key aspect of owning a T6.1 if you’re juggling groceries or sporting equipment, like surfboards and bikes.
One important aspect of the Multivan Cruise Edition you very quickly take for granted is the amount of space available inside. Given our youngest daughter is at university overseas these days, leaving just my wife and I at home, I had the third-row bench removed, leaving just the two front seats and two individual Captain’s chairs making up the second-row seating.
There are endless configurations available depending on your lifestyle and needs thanks to the ingenious rear-seat rail system that allows any of the seats to be moved forward or aft in seconds. Perfect for the surf scene one day, and mountain biking the next.
It’s not just the space, it’s about the easy access from both sides with the sliding doors activated either by the door handle itself, the key fob, or the buttons on the dash. Take your pick.
Same goes for the auto tailgate, just be sure to leave sufficient space because this has to be the largest tailgates in the business. It’s perfect to provide cover at the beach if it starts raining while you’re suiting up.
While storage for phones, wallets, and other odds and ends like masks and sunnies is in short supply up front, there are reasonably-sized sliding storage bins hidden under each of the seats, as well as plenty of USB-C ports and cup holders throughout the cockpit.
Plenty of vision all-round, too, with a large glasshouse and easy-to-use sliding windows for second-row seating, despite the electric-sliding doors.
There’s no spare wheel, either, but a portable air compressor/tyre inflator if it’s a slow puncture, along with a can of goo if you’re desperate.
If there are any complaints it would be the lack of bolstering on the individual seats (just a bit more would make all the difference), although the micro-fleece upholstery is more than comfortable.
The Multivan Cruise Edition is available exclusively with a ‘TDI340’ 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine making 110kW of power and 340Nm of torque.
It’s mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the front axle in this case.
Other Multivan variants offer the same engine with all-wheel drive, as well as the more powerful 146kW and 450Nm tune with either front or all-wheel drive.
You’ll soon get used to the bus-like steering wheel angle/seating position.
Don’t fret about the fact you’re driving something almost five metres long, two metres wide, and nearly two metres high; I couldn’t find a single underground carpark where the Multivan wasn’t able to enter safely.
With a cab-forward design, the driver’s view is outstanding, as is its ability to pull off U-turns in relatively confined spaces like the Sydney fresh food markets (before lockdown), or in my own suburban street.
It’s quite extraordinary how easy this thing is to manoeuvre with the combination of good vision, a rear-view camera, and parking sensors.
At 2266kg the Multivan Cruise Edition is hardly a lightweight, and 110kW and 340Nm isn’t a whole lot of grunt, so it’s a surprise how effortlessly it gets going. It’s not so much quick, but the fast-shifting DSG makes forward progress a breeze.
That said, if you want to scoot along faster again, you can knock the shifter down a notch into Sport and gear ratios are held longer for more go, but it’s smoother if left in the default Auto.
Same goes for the handling. Body roll is well contained for a vehicle in this category, to the point where you often forget you’re piloting a family van. It’s part of what makes the Multivan Cruise Edition such an easy thing to live with.
Armed with decent 340mm front brakes and 294mm out back, you’ve got sure-footed stopping power with a reliable pedal feel. The same goes for the Multivan’s steering, it’s lightweight and quick to respond. Honestly, your mother would find it easy enough to drive.
However, while ride comfort is generally good as vans go, there’s no mistaking the Multivan’s commercial underpinnings on rougher surfaces and larger speed bumps. It’s certainly no deal-breaker.
Where the front-wheel drive Multivan can fall down is in wet conditions moving off from standstill at a junction, where the front wheels can sometimes fight for traction. It’s in this scenario where I’d most likely choose 4Motion if it were available on this variant.
For those wanted to use their Multivan for towing, it’s got a braked towing capacity of 2500kg, with a towbar downball load of 100kg.
All Volkswagens, including the entire Transporter range, come with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
You also get a year of roadside assistance, which is extended with each service at a Volkswagen dealer.
There’s capped-price servicing, too, with the opportunity to purchase servicing packages upfront, across either three years for $1300.
For those buyers prepared to commit to a five-year servicing package, the upfront cost is $1980 – a saving of $781 on a pay-per-service basis.
The factory fuel consumption guide claims 6.6L/100km on the combined cycle, but over more than a few weeks we saw our consumption as high as 12.7L/100km, and as low as 6.9L/100km depending on conditions.
There are more affordable options if you want a seven-seat family chariot with all the fruit, but it won’t hold a candle to the Volkswagen Multivan Cruise Edition when it comes to versatility and icon-status design.
This a vehicle I found myself looking back at every time I parked, not to mention the countless times I was stopped by onlookers wanting a guided tour.
Its timeless design, abundance of easily-accessible space, and car-like cabin and features make it about the only commercial-based van I can think of that’s truly aspirational.
Having said that, we can’t wait to see what’s in store with the next-gen T7 and EV variants of the model. After all, the ID. Buzz could end up as the world’s coolest EV.
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