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Since the dawn of time, or at least around about 1950, Volkswagen has produced a minivan. We didn't call it such then. Whether in its original Beetle-based rear-engine configuration, or its later front-engine/front-drive layout, Volkswagen's minivans have been practical to a fault, seemingly having more room inside than the outside would allow. But they've also been slow. Even the 2000 Eurovan, with 140 horsepower under its blunt snout, was more barn than barnburner.
But for 2001, VW fired up the Eurovan. The '01 has almost half again as much horsepower with a new 201-horsepower version of its VR6 V6 engine.
And the price has tumbled more than $5,000, from $31,300 last year to $26,200 for the '01 models on sale in March.
An electronic stability program (ESP) comes standard on all 2001 models, along with 16-inch alloy wheels. Enhancements including a new premium stereo, individual chairs for second row seating and standard integrated fog lights help further Americanize the Eurovan.
In a world of increasingly similar minivans, each striving to be more car-like than the other, the Volkswagen EuroVan is decidedly different. It's shaped like a box where others are round and sleek. It has a significantly higher driving position, and it lacks a left-side sliding door. It also offers unique options, such as rear-facing second-row seats and a camper body. Among today's sleek minivans, the EuroVan stands out in more ways than one.
Volkswagen's V6 is very smooth and delivers on its promise of torque. Snap the throttle open and the front end rises slightly while the EuroVan accelerates. With the added power, other minivan drivers will have to be alert to get the drop on the VW. No more excuses and rationalizations are needed for the EuroVan's acceleration capability. The V6-powered EuroVan easily cruises at or above any posted limit in the U.S. The cruise control works very well, maintaining a constant speed on Interstate grades.
"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 its big flat sides, the EuroVan tracks like a bullet on the Interstates, even with crosswinds. It 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 with the EuroVan. There is little tilt and no sway. It is remarkably confidence building, with a steady dose of understeer and feedback. You won't see any EuroVans at the local sports car races -- other than the one in the parking lot. But driving a EuroVan won't consign you to being a slow-moving roadblock on winding roads. Volkswagen has strengthened the body and the increased rigidity allows the fully independent suspension to do its job well. The 38.4-foot turning radius wasn't a problem in tight parking lots.
We found the EuroVan excellent in traffic in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. When our speeds were reduced to a walking pace, the nicely tuned throttle response enabled us to do the stop-and-go smoothly enough to enjoy a scalding cup of coffee without worries. Yet we were able to move quickly when we had the chance. These opportunities were easily anticipated from our lofty perch in the driver's seat, giving us an uninterrupted view of the traffic jam extending off to the horizon. The brakes were easily up to the part in the harder stops.
The EuroVan hasn't been one of Volkswagen's biggest selling models, but with substantially more power at a substantially lower price, combined with its traditional characteristics that begin with an interior the size of a junior high school gymnasium, we'll forecast an increase in popularity for this unique minivan.
Our MV added up to just under $30,000. That puts it into competition with some luxurious domestic minivans that offer a more car-like feel. The EuroVan, however, will appeal to the individualist, someone who wants to be different. With the lower price, it's now within reach of more of those freethinking drivers.