THE iconic Volkswagen Kombi has meant so much to so many - a minivan, hippie van, campervan, food van, or even bus - equally confident in the company of surfers and businessmen, families or singles just looking for adventure.
Few would have guessed when the first drawings were sketched in 1949 that the Kombi would become an institution, selling more than 12million vehicles around the world and leaving an indelible mark on our memories.
This week Volkswagen released its sixth generation T series, a van that straddles the commercial and private, one that bares little physical resemblance to the 1950s mould breaker but retains the heart.
The T series commercial van line-up consists of the van, crewvan, single cab and dual cab, with the Caravelle and Multivan making up the passenger carriers. There are two wheelbases and three roof heights (van and crewvan) with an encouraging level of flexibility and functionality.
The jewel in the crown, for us at least, is the Generation Six Launch model, a modern exhibit that pays homage to the history of the Kombi with its two-tone exterior, colour co-ordinated interior, superior comfort levels and funky wheels. A little connection to a past worth celebrating.
The interior of the Multivan is all about space and practicality, with a car-like dashboard and seats that can be manoeuvred to suit a number of purposes.
The layout is typically Volkswagen in simplicity and efficiency, with clearly marked instrumentation in a wide dashboard and the dials and buttons most used closest to hand.
A leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel also helps matters, as does a 6.3-inch colour touchscreen with an easy to use App Connect system.
Storage is varied too, including retractable coffee cup holders and a place for iPads and mobile phones - satisfying the needs of those who need to use the van for both work and family. Plastics, as you would expect, are hard and sometimes not perfectly finished off but for the Generation Six Launch van in particular, the colour-coded interior with top glove box cover, two-tone leather seats and stitching on steering wheel and gear selector adds a good dash of premium.
On the road
Both the commercial Transporter and the more family oriented Multivan are reassuringly easy to drive. The elevated height helps in tight traffic situations, the turning circle is good and the new electric steering system may not be as direct as its predecessor but is easy to get used to.
Three new diesel engines were developed for the T6 range with the Multivan Highline, Executive and Generation Six spec sporting the powerful 2.0-litre bi-turbo (132kw/450Nm) paired with a slickish seven-speed DSG. There is some urging needed off the line but there is comfortable linear power progression and barely any engine noise in a well-insulated cabin.
Adaptive chassis control in Generation Six - and as an option in Highline - allows the driver to choose from comfortable, normal and sporty styles, with the electrically adjustable shock absorbers offering more cushioning or better handling. These two specs and the Transporter TDI400 can also be optioned with 4Motion all-wheel drive.
Naturally, both the Transporter and Multivan feel better under load but work fairly well without, too, with just a little body roll to give the game away.
What do you get?
Despite its commercial underpinnings this van range is not without creature comforts and technological savvy, with features like electrically adjustable front seats, cooled glove box, multi-zone air-conditioning, touchscreen infotainment systems with App Connect, MP3 compatibility and Voice control all par for the course.
Emphasis has been placed on safety too, with six airbags, ABS, ESP and EDL, as well as a range of driving aids including Front Assist with City Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Multi-Collision Braking, Fatigue Detection, reverse camera and sensors with Hill Descent optional.
Volkswagen has a convincing footprint in this segment but there is also interest in the Mercedes Vito (from $38,990), Hyundai iMax and iLoad (from $36,490) and Ford Transit (from $47,680). The $74,990 Multivan Generation Six can look to the Mercedes V-Class V250 at $85,500 as a German rival.
The sliding, turning, tumbling seats are one of this van's biggest drawcards. There are captain's seats in the front and middle row, with a three-seat bench seat across the rear.
The second row can be turned to face the third and they can all be moved along rails to change the room available for long legs and luggage. A foldable table serves the back two rows.
The third row can be folded and pushed forward and a mattress placed in the stowage area.
Both the second and third rows can be removed completely if you need to load furniture or work items.
So the T6 is far less arresting than its 1950s and 1960s predecessors and though there is not much that can be done with a long box, Volkswagen has made a bid by adding new wheels and extra chrome details.
The Generation Six Launch model with its two-tone body, rear privacy glass, LED lights and 18-inch disc alloys certainly sets it apart.
The Volkswagen Multivan, and the Generation Six Launch model in particular, offers an interesting alternative to those who need a vehicle that offers both commercial and lifestyle solutions. It is safe, spacious and economical, superiorly practical with creature comforts to boot. Yes, it's a van … but a good one.
What matters most
What we liked: Practicality, captain's seats, torquey engine.
What we'd like to see: Powered tailgate, a funkier exterior with more Kombi charm.
Warranty and servicing: 3-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Model: Volkswagen Multivan Generation Six Launch model.
Details: Five-door two-wheel drive or all-wheel drive mulitvan.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel generating maximum power of 132kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 400Nm @ 1500-2000rpm.
Transmission: Seven-speed DSG.
Consumption: 7.6 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $74,990 (Generation Six Launch). Multivan Comfortline TDI340 from $49,990. Transporter TDI340 SWB from $36,990.
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