In South Africa, the large MPV (or ‘Kombi’ as they’re affectionately known) enjoyed great popularity in the ‘80s, ‘90s and early 2000’s. This was down to their durability, practicality and a lack of options for larger families.
As the SUV became more popular, the large MPV went ignored as buyers preferred the style and utility afforded by a large off-roader. Vehicles such as the Volvo XC90 and Land Rover Discovery saw the VW Caravelle and similar slowly disappear from our roads.
There was still a market, though. Upmarket shuttle companies and tourism agencies still continued to buy the VW Transporter, Hyundai H1 and Mercedes-Benz Vito, their ability to transport several people in comfort - and relatively affordably - unmatched.
But is there still a place for the large MPV as a family car? To find out, we spent some time with the recently revised Volkswagen Transporter, the latest in a long line of Kombi’s from the German brand.
Well, from a styling perspective, there’s not much you can do with the traditional MPV shape. Despite this, VW has managed to bestow the updated Transporter with a classy, understated look. Up front, the facelift has given the people carrier an upmarket grille and headlamps, not too dissimilar from the range-topping Touareg. 17-inch alloys round everything off nicely.
Step inside the Kombi, and you’ll find all the amenities you’d expect at this price point. While six airbags are optional, we’d appreciate more than the standard dual front airbags provided, especially at this price point. VW does, at least, equip the large MPV with ABS brakes, traction control and stability control.
In terms of luxury equipment, the Kombi Trendline is blessed with cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and front electric windows. The rest of the glass slides fore and aft, a common feature in this segment. At over 5m long, VW has elected to add in front and rear parking sensors - plus a reverse camera - as standard. Options include artificial leather upholstery and LED headlamps. Naturally, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.
Interior quality is of a high standard and, despite the harsher plastics, everything feels reassuringly solid and well put together. The Transporter Kombi still has one of the most practical interiors in its class, with myriad seating positions available. What’s more, the seats are reconfigured with relative ease, besting even the Mercedes V-Class for ergonomics. The front pews are worth mentioning, the cloth-trimmed examples offering high levels of comfort.
While it’s missing the premium finishes of the Caravelle, overall the interior is a nice place to spend time.
Performance wise, the 2.0-litre turbodiesel provides decent levels of performance. With 110 kW and 340 Nm of torque, it propels itself down the road with gusto. It’s certainly not fast, but for such a big car, it’s more than adequate. What’s more, the engine is refined and keeps to itself. Even when loaded up with several people and their luggage, the powertrain never feels overstressed. Part of this is down to the smooth shifting seven-speed DSG gearbox. As always, VW’s transmissions are smooth and go about their business without fault.
This also translates into impressive fuel economy. For such a large and heavy car, we didn’t expect to get close to Volkswagen’s claim of 6.6 litres/100 km. Over our week with Wolfsburg’s family bus, we managed a still respectable 9.1 litres/100 km. The ride is also a highlight of the package; smooth and supple. It never feels caught out by bumps or undulations and dismisses potholes with ease.
The Kombi remains an impressive product and one that’s really hard to fault. Other than the two standard airbags (we’d like to see six as standard) VW has produced an incredibly capable car. It’s well-specced, performs well, rides comfortably and has enough space for the biggest families out there. What’s more, at R787 500, we think it represents phenomenal value for money. As car prices increase, it’s becoming tougher to find large, comfortable family cars with enough space for a big brood. The Transporter Kombi Trendline ticks all the boxes.
Looking to buy a Volkswagen Kombi? Click here.