Many among us were raised to be Democrats in families that were propelled by Generation One and Generation Two VW Microbuses. They were homely, slow, rare, and cheap.
Now there's a new VW minivan, Generation Four, called the EuroVan. It's homely, slow, and rare. Cheap, it's not. The five models to be introduced late this spring will range from about $17,000 to $24,000. That suggests the van will instead appeal to today's upscale Euro fans rather than radical families. We're not sold: Despite its name, the EuroVan (called the Caravelle in Europe) hasn't got the chic presence of other stylish European products, namely Audi cars, Braun coffee makers, or Krups food processors.
The Euro Van is 10 inches taller than a Chrysler minivan. You climb high into the driver's seat or the front passenger's optional swivel seat. Front-seat occupants sit tall and can see over the tops of other minivans. The rear floor, however, is relatively low, and entering through the sliding side door is easy.
The EuroVan is larger inside than other minivans. Camper models, the 15-inch-longer-wheelbase RV (Recreational Vehicle), and the CV (Camping Vehicle) are available with beds, one a double in a pop-up roof. Passenger vans come in three models: the low-line CL, the GL, and the MV (Multiuse Van), differentiated by amenities and seat placement. The RV seats two in back, the CV seats four, and the other models seat five rear passengers.
The EuroVan's front wheels are powered by a transverse in-line five-cylinder engine. Older, rear-engined VW Buses had horizontal steering wheels, and to parallel-park you had to remember the left front wheel is under your butt. The EuroVan's front wheels are in front of the driver's feet, but its bus-style horizontal steering wheel makes it feel similar on the road to the rear-engined VWs. The EuroVan rides better than the Vanagon (Generation Three) though drivers will feel as much body roll. Wind buffeting feels substantially reduced because the new VW van is more aerodynamic. The EuroVan's vast flanks, which dwarf its 15-inch wheels, are large enough for the biggest flower decals. The windows, too, are large, and provide superb rear and side visibility for the driver.
Nobody ever bought a VW van to drive fast, and the EuroVan upholds this tradition. The 109-hp Euro Van jumps quickly away from a stop, but acceleration slows when you reach 20 mph. Its five-cylinder engine was developed from Audi's 2.2-liter, and it is the least powerful engine you can buy here in any van except the four-cylinder Dodge Caravan or Plymouth Voyager. The new VW powerplant doesn't have the throaty growl of the Audi engine; it sounds more like a small truck engine, the kind you're likely to hear in downtown Frankfurt or Munich. Acceleration to 60 mph takes 15.8 seconds, just one second faster than the latest "waterboxer" Vanagon, but five seconds slower than a 3.3-liter Dodge Caravan. Top speed is 95 mph—a Vanagon will reach only 83 mph. The standard electronically controlled four-speed automatic (also used in the Passat) shifts like a rental truck and is not as refined as the transmissions in other U.S.-sold minivans.
The EuroVan was developed in the mid-Eighties to compete with Europe's Ford Transit, currently the bestselling minivan over there. The bulk of sales (over 60 percent) are to plumbers and carpenters and the like. The U.S. models have more soundproofing but still are slightly noisier than other minivans for sale here. VW expects Americans will buy about 20,000 per year—one for every 20 Chrysler minivans sold.
In the age of the Chrysler minivan, a VW van designed for European plumbers can't compete as transportation for the average American family. Maybe it can for the radical American family, and thereby uphold a good tradition. Peace, baby.