Lake Placid, New York - While many credit Volkswagen with creating the minivan concept with its legendary Type 2 Microbus way back in the '50s, the company's present managers gladly award that distinction to Chrysler Corporation and its acclaimed brainstorm of 1984. "There's nothing mini about our van," they say with a twinkle, before showing a video that demonstrates how their latter-day Microbus successor, the EuroVan, can swallow tall loads that defeat the grandest Voyager. And it's true, you could always fit a lot more into a Volkswagen EuroVan than the seven occupants it accommodates in comfort and style.
Only thing was, size apart, Volkswagen forgot to put a couple of other important things into its capacious hauler when it was launched in 1993: power and value. With a piddling 109 horsepower on tap from five grumpy cylinders, the first EuroVans could barely outrun an original Microbus--or, for that matter, a smart American shopper on foot, although there weren't too many of those chasing EuroVans, as the Spartan VW was priced uncomfortably close to its more powerful, better-equipped American competitors.
Sales were predictably slow. So slow, in fact, that between 1994 and 1997, Volkswagen forgot to bring the EuroVan to America at all (except for a Winnebago camper conversion). In 1998, the boxy VW returned, mildly invigorated with a version of the Wolfsburgers' excellent VR6 engine in place of the five. Detuned to 140 horses, the new narrow-angle six marked an improvement, but, with a list price northward of $31,000 and virtually no marketing support, the EuroVan was guaranteed to remain more than a little exclusive. Until now.
Anxious to reclaim its good name in the truck and passenger-van markets on the eve of the 2003 debut of its upcoming sport-utility vehicle and the likely launch of the new Microbus, an ascendant Volkswagen has decided to breathe some life into the EuroVan. Seeking to quadruple sales to 10,000 in 2002, VW has given its biggest hauler more power (extracting a creditable 201 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque from the VR6) and more features (including traction control, Electronic Stability Program, improved dual-zone air conditioning, and sixteen-inch aluminum wheels). Best of all, the company has cut prices.
Volkswagen points to reduced production costs and a more favorable exchange rate, but, whatever the reasons, we can only applaud the news that the entry-level GLS starts now at $26,200, down 16.3 percent from $31,300, while the better-equipped Multivan (MV) rings in at $27,700, a 15.5 percent reduction from the $32,800 VW was asking for a slower, less well-equipped vehicle last year. And to spread the good word, the company will begin its first-ever serious marketing campaign for the EuroVan in America, with actual radio and TV ads.
On the road, the EuroVan is still no fireball, but it's no longer necessary to toss a rappelling hook onto a passing Freightliner if you want to get up to highway speeds quickly. At long last, overtaking maneuvers can be contemplated by those without suicidal tendencies. And, for a tall box of a thing, the EuroVan is pretty nimble, too. It's no GTI, but it evokes a few more driver smiles than most minivans, not one of which has more interior room. Now, that is an idea worth taking credit for.