Ryan Bubear spends some time with the Volkswagen Kombi 2.0 TDI SWB Comfortline DSG...
Remember Volkswagen SA's iconic Memories television advert from the 1990s?
You know, the one featuring a certain Andre de Villiers lullaby, detailing the major moments of a South African man's life, with a firm focus on the array of trusty VWs that served him so well?
Or what about the series of "Volksiebus" commercials starring David Kramer and his trademark red veldskoen shoes?
Well, with the recent launch of the sixth-generation T-Series model, the local arm of the German automaker decided to tug enthusiastically at the heartstrings once more with a modern take on these classics, featuring the very same Memories song.
It's fitting, really, seeing as so very many South Africans spent large chunks of their childhoods in some or other Kombi variant.
The latest T6 line-up, of course, includes all manner of body-styles, from the Transporter (in Pick Up, Panel Van, and Crew Bus form) to the practical Kombi and range-topping Caravelle. We tested the short-wheelbase Kombi, in Comfortline trim and fitted with an automatic transmission.
This eight-seater bus is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel mill, which is carried over from the T5 range. The gutsy four-pot makes 103kW at 3500rpm and 340Nm between 1750rpm and 2500rpm, enough to coerce the 1976kg bus to 100km/h in 14.7 seconds.
Of course, the front-wheel drive Kombi's ability to race to three figures or tackle bends at high-speed matters little. More important are the levels of comfort and practicality on offer. Here, naturally, the Kombi shines brightly, serving up a decent ride quality and not allowing excessive engine noise to creep into the roomy cabin.
Volkswagen claims an average fuel consumption of 8.0 litres per 100km, but we'd put a more realistic everyday figure at a little more than ten. The seven-speed DSG transmission, meanwhile, is fairly intuitive and easy to use, skipping through its cogs without much fuss at all. In fact, overall the Kombi is a simple-to-drive thing, mixing useful visibility with a tractable powertrain and light steering.
That said, at a little over 4.9m long and nearly 2.3m wide, it's also rather a large vehicle to park. Yet, even at this lofty trim level, a reversing camera or even parking sensors don't come standard (front and rear sensors plus a camera will cost you an extra R7800). Thankfully, the Kombi's boxy structure makes it fairly easy to judge the position of the vehicle's corners.
So, to the Kombi's party piece: its interior. The second and third rows — each comprising three distinct seats — boast generous helpings of leg- and head-room, even for tall adults. Each row also features a dedicated ventilation and lighting panel housed in the roof, further improving comfort levels on long trips. The side windows, meanwhile, are fitted with useful roller-style sunblinds.
Access to the capacious seating area comes via a sliding door on each side of the vehicle. The seats at each entry point are easily tipped forward, providing fuss-free entry to the third row. Unfortunately, this final row has to make do without IsoFix child-seat anchors (which are thankfully present on the second row).
Similarly, all derivatives in the five-model Kombi range come fitted with just two airbags (one each for the driver and front passenger), which is somewhat peculiar on a vehicle that will no doubt appeal to families. Again, this can be optionally increased to six.
Still, at least the benches are removable — fairly straightforwardly, too, without any tools and just a spot of sweat (considering their not insignificant weight and bulkiness) — which means the Kombi can double as a load-lugging van, with well over 4000 litres of usable space on offer.
With all seats in place, there's still enough room for the weekly shopping, and if somewhat longer items need transporting, there's also the option of folding down various seatbacks (and even tumbling some forward). Ultimately, a versatile and practical interior it most certainly is.
Comfortline models feature "comfort" seats for the driver and front passenger, which include height adjustment, lumbar support, and nifty little armrests that prove handy on long journeys. Copious grab-handles, meanwhile, make clambering into the front compartment a little easier, and there are numerous storage trays, hidey-holes, and cup-holders scattered around the vehicle.
Other standard features include electric windows up front, electrically adjustable (and heated) side-mirrors, climate control, and an audio system (with SD card slot, USB socket, and Bluetooth). The vehicle we tested was furthermore fitted with options such as a multifunctional steering wheel, cruise control, front fog-lights, a towbar (braked capacity sits at 2500kg), and the brand's clever touchscreen infotainment system.
Overall, the move from T5 to T6 has not signalled drastic changes for the Kombi. It's still a highly practical, properly versatile vehicle that majors in comfort and space. While it will no doubt appeal to certain types of businesses, large families shouldn't count it out as a more sensible alternative to the often-compromised seven-seater SUV.
Of course, the Volkswagen Kombi is no longer a budget-beater, even if it is effectively the Caravelle's more affordable sibling. In fact, the model we tested here comes in at a whopping R601 000, before any extras are added (for what it's worth, the lower-powered Trendline version, with a manual gearbox, starts at R496 300).
The Ford Tourneo Custom range, for instance, is a little more palatably priced, as is the recently refreshed Hyundai H-1 line-up. In fact, for this sort of money, family buyers may be tempted to look at the likes of the Kia Grand Sedona (although this chunky MPV seats one fewer) or even the Mercedes-Benz Vito and base V-Class derivatives.
Regardless, one thing is for sure: Volkswagen will be counting on the power of nostalgia to draw in many of the Kombi's potential customers.
And while the marketing efforts may indeed include a sentimental angle, the Kombi is ultimately a convincing enough product to warrant attention on its practical merits alone — whether you remember red veldskoene or not.
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See page two for specs and pricing.