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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.
Remove the nameplates and badges from a parking lot full of minivans and Volkswagen's EuroVan would be the easiest to identify. It looks like no other minivan on the market. And despite the fact that there's nothing else like it in the Volkswagen showroom, it somehow has a look that is undeniably Volkswagen. Though it looks at home in major European cities, it offers a unique appearance here in the USA. The front end is plain, interrupted only by lights and the radiator grille. Only a UPS van is more slab-sided. It is attractive in a form-follows-function way.
Most love it or loathe it. Driving around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, we were surprised to discover that our Hot Chili Red Metallic (maroon) EuroVan MV attracted considerable attention from Gen-Xers. Maybe they were fantasizing about filling the rear window with Grateful Dead and Nine Inch Nails stickers.
Volkswagen's modern EuroVan does indeed bear some resemblance to the VW microbuses of old. Mechanically, it is completely different. It's front-wheel drive instead of rear-wheel drive. The engine is mounted in front (transversely), instead of in the rear. The engine is Volkswagen's water-cooled V6, not an air-cooled horizontally opposed four-cylinder.
All Eurovans come with Volkswagen's innovative 2.8-liter narrow-angle VR6 used in some of Volkswagen's performance sedans.
For 2001, however, the VR6 engine has been fitted with a new cylinder head with four valves per cylinder. (Last year's VR6 used three valves per cylinder.) Improved breathing from the 24-valve head allows the engine to rev higher and gives it a huge jump in top-end horsepower. Output has been raised to 201 horsepower at 6200 rpm from last year's 140 horsepower at 4500 rpm.
This year's engine also has more grunt across the board, producing 181 foot-pounds of torque from 2500 to 5500 rpm (verses last year's 177 lbs.-ft. from 3000-4300 rpm). Increased torque allows the EuroVan to tow a 4,400-pound trailer (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. (It's a snug fit under the short hood, but all service items are readily accessible.)
All EuroVans come with a 4-speed automatic transmission 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.
Suspension is fully independent, with double wishbones and torsion bars up front and semi-trailing arms and coil springs at the rear. ABS is standard, working on power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes, larger for 2001. A load-proportional braking system biases brake pressure front-to-rear as needed -- a nice feature when loaded with heavy gear. VW replaced last year's 15-inch alloy wheels with 16-inch alloys for 2001.
Ground clearance is generous at 7 inches, but the overall height of 6 foot, 4 inches will make some parking garages a tight fit overhead.
Behind the wheel of the EuroVan, it's obvious this isn't just another Dodge Caravan wannabe. The EuroVan driver sits much higher than drivers do in other minivans, looking down on those in Caravans and Windstars. There's a commanding view from the bridge.
Foot room is limited, encroached by the front wheelwells and tight packaging. The front seats, in cushy light-gray velour, are chair-height and a good compromise between softness and support. Both have left and right armrests and are a good place to watch the road go by.
The steering wheel does not have a tilt function, and some may be put off by the somewhat bus-like angle of the steering wheel. It isn't nearly as bus-like as the wheel on the old microbus, however. The fully automatic dual zone (front and rear) climate control system is adjustable in one-degree increments. 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.
Overall the interior looks more institutional than luxurious, but it is comfortable. The ambiance is one of functionality rather than style, with straight lines serving where straight lines will fit. There's walkthrough space to the rear passenger area.
The face-to-face seating in the second and third row of the MV was a novelty that our passengers thought could grow old. Foot room is shared, and even with cooperation and coordination there will be accidentally kicked ankles. After dark, our backward facing passengers found the headlights of following cars shining in their eyes irritating. This arrangement makes a lot more sense when the tray table is raised. It's nice for those roadside lunches, impromptu card games and tailgate parties. An overhead fluorescent lamp adds lighting to the regular dome lights. The rear seat can be converted into a passable bed and privacy curtains snap all around the interior.
Pass-through panels under the rear seat allow long items to be carried. With the rear seat removed (not an easy task), a sheet of plywood will fit.
A cargo shelf splits the cargo area in half which, depending on the nature of your cargo, will either be a blessing or a pain in the neck. It bolts in, however, and will require a wrench to remove. The back of the third-row seat, covered in vinyl cloth, could use a more durable backing as ours had already suffered a laceration from rough cargo loading.
The EuroVan comes equipped with a high level of standard equipment that includes electronic climate control, cruise control, heated windshield washer jets, and power windows, locks and mirrors, and dark tinted glass for side and rear windows. The power glass sunroof, a $1,000 option, uses a fabric shade that's not opaque but blocks the sun, even on bright days. We're also partial to the $400 heated front seats, with settings from 1 to 5 on dash-mounted thumb wheels. The right-side sliding door provides a child lock for extra safety.
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.
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