Sound the lifestyle klaxon: new VW T6.1 Caravelle unveiled for 2019

Published: 22 February 2019

► VW Transporter-based MPV facelifted
► Substantial interior upgrade with more tech
► Up to 196bhp, steering is now electric

Be still your beating hearts – VW has just revealed a new Caravelle people carrier.

Yes, yes, it’s a van. But if there was ever a van that was close to CAR’s high-octane heart it’s surely the Volkswagen Transporter that forms the basis of this mightily lifestyle multi-seater. Also part and parcel of the Bulli, Microbus, Multivan and California – and we’ve probably missed a few variations – VW’s sold more than 12 million of the things since they first entered series production in 1954.

It goes without saying that this new one moves the game on. By more than just a little bit.

How new is the new VW Caravelle?

Well, it’s still based on the old Caravelle, meaning it uses the T6 Transporter platform. But it’s been ‘completely overhauled’ to create this new T6.1 model. And while we’re seeing it in European Multivan guise here, the changes will be applied wholesale to the California camper and largely to the Transporter van over the course of 2019 as well.

So, in addition to the sharp new front-end styling (‘my, my, MPV – what a big grille you have,’ etc), revised LED-heavy lighting, new paint colours and wheel choices, on the inside you’ll find a totally reworked dashboard, while under the skin lurks electromechanical power steering for the first time and some updated 2.0-litre TDI engines.

What’s more, the T6.1 has been loaded with tech, including the very latest Volkswagen ‘MIB3’ infotainment system. The only other VW so far fitted with that is the latest Passat.

So what’s up with the new dashboard?

VW has managed an impressive feat here. It’s made the new dashboard more practical – which van drivers will like – but also more car-like and stylish… which, let’s face it, van drivers will also like.

You’ll need the maximum 9.2-inch touchscreen to get the full effect (8.0 inches are also available, along with some lesser multimedia solutions provided by older MIB2 systems; you can even have – shock, horror – just a radio), but this is one slick looking van cabin.

Yet one that still has space for all those Ginsters wrappers and little pencils stolen from trades stores.

As this is the posh people carrying version it has a slightly nicer dashboard finish than the actual vans likely will – but we’re assured the overall look of the thing will be very similar.

Any other new tech worth mentioning?

Other cool features include VW’s Digital Cockpit instrument cluster, which replaces the traditional dials with another big screen – 10.2 inches this time, if anyone’s worrying – and a new higher-level of built-in connectivity via a SIM card.

This last powers a ‘natural speech’ voice control system that will – you guessed it – allow you to say ‘Hey Volkswagen!’ and attempt to engage it in a chat. Said chat will be limited at first (‘what’s the weather doing’, ‘I’m hungry’, ‘turn the bloody heating up’, that kind of thing) but this is apparently the future, so we may as well start practicing.

Caravelle rear

Oh, and the new T6.1 has wireless Apple CarPlay functionality. Which is neat.

Why is the electromechanical steering important?

You’ve probably already heard the one about how it saves some tiny percentage of fuel versus hydraulic power assistance, right? Well, VW didn’t play that card; instead it’s focusing on the safety benefits.

EPS means the T6.1 can have crosswind assistance as standard (really quite handy in a van), as well as lane-keeping assist, automatic parking and a rad Trailer Assist system that allows you to steer it backwards with a trailer using the control knob for the electric mirrors.

Sounds mad, works brilliantly.

In addition to those safety chops, the new Caravelle and its cousins also get rear cross traffic alert with automatic braking for the first time.

VW was already the first manufacturer to fit forward-facing AEB as standard to all its vans.

Anything exciting about the new T6.1 engines?

Not especially. They’re all still mostly 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel units. VW’s tweaked the power outputs a bit as part of the move to meet the new Euro 6d Temp emissions regulations – so the entry-level model now as 89bhp instead of 83bhp, but some other models get a little less. Including the range-topping BiTDI twin-turbo, which used to make 201bhp but now makes do with 196bhp.

Bulli badge

Not sure that’ll make much difference when you’ve got seven or eight screaming kids on board, but we suppose it might.

That version gets DSG as standard, while every other model is fitted with a manual transmission; only the 148bhp variant also gets DSG as an option. The two DSG-capable machines can be fitted with 4Motion four-wheel drive if you want it; front-wheel drive is otherwise standard.

Mostly?

An e-Transporter electric van is coming as part of the T6.1 update, which may also spawn an e-Caravelle. These will be built by ABT (yes, that one) on VW’s behalf, and offer up to 250 miles of driving range, depending on how many battery packs you’re happy carrying.

You can read more about the e-Transporter on our sister site Parkers, which also has a very handy general electric van guide.

When does the 2019 VW Caravelle go on sale?

European sales of all T6.1 models are set to start in autumn 2019. But since the UK apparently doesn’t count as Europe any more, we can expect them to arrive on our shores a little later than that. As ever they will be sold in short- and long-wheelbase configurations.

Expect something of a price hike (given the new tech and Brexit). Not that the Caravelle was ever a budget choice anyway, so we doubt this will make too much difference to buyers. A surfboard just doesn’t look the same strapped to the top of a VW Sharan, after all.

Check out our Volkswagen reviews

By CJ Hubbard

Former CAR magazine associate editor, road tester, organiser, extremely variable average wheel count

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