Volkswagen Microbus Concept

VW Appears to have dropped the ball on this one…I will attempt to make it a reality. Phil…

The New Beetle allows us to relive the days of feeling young, politically oppressed and penniless, albeit with modern mechanicals and reliability. Sort of. Today’s Beetle isn’t priced to accommodate those without some means, even on the used market. And a lot of the people who buy the new bugs know very little about anything that happened in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nor do they care. You can expect the same from whatever version of the Microbus concept arrives in the United States are reconditioned nostalgia for a price.
Volkwagen Microbus Front View
Like the Bugs, the old VW microbuses attained cult status in the U.S., except that the buses were better you could camp in them, live in them and decorate them with the same care you would an apartment. The first buses, or Transporters, trickled into the U.S. in 1950. Several different models were available, including the microbus (passenger van) and a panel van. Each rear-wheel-drive van came with a two-piece windshield and a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. The buses were completely redesigned for 1968 each model had a one-piece windshield, sliding rear door and a 47-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. A 70-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder was introduced in 1975; this air-cooled powerplant carried over into the third-generation bus, the Vanagon (introduced in 1979).

While the Vanagon was a more modern vehicle — it had a fully independent suspension among other things — it lacked the visual appeal of its predecessors. A water-cooled, 82-horsepower 1.9-liter four-cylinder arrived in 1983. A more powerful 2.1-liter engine (good for 95 horsepower) replaced this engine in 1986; this was also the first year for fuel injection and the optional Synchro four-wheel-drive system. The Vanagon died out in 1991, though 1990 was its last year in California due to emissions regulations. Its replacement, the front-wheel-drive EuroVan, made it to the U.S. for the 1993 model year. The standard powertrain consisted of a front-mounted, 109-horsepower 2.5-liter inline five connected to a five-speed manual transmission. An autobox and antilock brakes were optional.

The EuroVan was so unpopular with American consumers that only the camper version was available after 1993. An engine more worthy of the van’s girth arrived in 1997 when the inline five was switched out for Volkswagen’s VR6 powerplant (though it developed only 140 horsepower in the EuroVan). Passenger vans returned for 1999, but the manual transmission did not. Finally in 2001, a 201-horsepower version of the VR6 is available, but the EuroVan still isn’t a draw for minivan buyers who can opt for a more family-friendly Honda Odyssey or microbus enthusiasts who can pick up an old, cool bus on the cheap and recondition it to suit.
Volkwagen Microbus Interior View
So the Vanagon and the current EuroVan have never received a warm reception in the American market due to relatively high pricing, weak engine choices, lack of minivan convenience features and rather anonymous styling. Microbus, on the other hand, will prompt droves of people to ditch the airport for a cross-country road trip in a VW van. Or at least, they’ll trade in their Explorers.

The product of Volkswagen’s Simi Valley, Calif., design studio, the Microbus concept gives buyers just what they want — old-world styling touches underpinned by modern-day technology. The van revives the charming stubby nose (branded with a giant VW badge) of the early buses but has a front-mounted engine like the current EuroVan. A deep dash makes this combination possible. Slender A-pillars enhance forward visibility.
Volkwagen Microbus Left Side
The boxy shape of the new Microbus mirrors that of its ancestors, but its dimensions are similar to the EuroVan’s. Contemporary xenon headlamps wrap about either corner of the van with a complementary set of taillights on the rear. Sharply creased wheel arches extend from the van’s sheet metal and encase aggressive 20-inch tires. The concept also has dual power sliding doors.

The Microbus is significantly more powerful that the current 201-horse EuroVan — power comes from a larger 3.2-liter V6 engine that churns out 230 horsepower and 236 foot-pounds of torque (much better for light towing than the EuroVan’s 180 ft-lbs) and directs power to the front wheels. This powerplant is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic. Designers wanted to give the van a light, open, airy interior — to create a small “biosphere” (the name of the color scheme for the concept bus). To this end, the cabin has generously sized lighting elements and a translucent floor (urethane over aluminum).
Volkwagen Microbus Right Side
The cockpit seems to have been designed with the driver’s enjoyment in mind (an idea rather foreign to most production minivans). Instead of being nestled in bezels, round clock-like gauges reach out to the driver. A large central speedometer is tangent to two smaller gauges, presumably some combination of tach, temperature and fuel. The shifter is the most interesting piece of work. Neither steering column-mounted nor floor-mounted, it’s fixed to a large aluminum canister than grows out of the dash. It looks weird, but it’s positioned such that the driver could relate to the automanual transmission in the Microbus the way she would to one in a Passat. A ceiling-mounted 7-inch LCD monitor takes the place of a rearview mirror and feeds the driver images from a rear-mounted camera. The system provides audible warnings when the van gets too close to an obstacle during parking maneuvers.

The seven-passenger van provides two captain’s chairs in the front (leaving an aisle open to the second row), a three-person bench in the second row and a two-person bench in the third row. While minivan buyers often prefer second-row captain’s chairs, a second-row bench that can be turned 180 degrees would have definite advantages when you’re on a long road trip. The kids can commune in privacy, while you have your own conversation in the front.
Volkwagen Microbus Rear View
Evidently, on-board entertainment was frantically important to Volkswagen’s designers. A total of four 7-inch screens are housed in the first and second-row seat backs. Further, the third row contains an additional apparatus that can be either folded flat to form a conventional table between the rear rows (useful when the second row has been swiveled) or positioned vertically allowing occupants on both benches to view a video display.

The Microbus concept looks nothing like the production minivans currently on the market and, in its current form, it has an overwhelming array of gadgetry. But Jetta and Passat fans have made Volkswagen quite trendy in the States. And the concept van’s distinctive rewriting of the old buses should appeal to those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to pack their liberal sensibilities into a VW van for a camping trip and to families who have tired of showing up at the mall in a Ford Explorer or Toyota Sienna. A technology-lite version of the production Microbus (whenever it happens) would help ensure that ownership isn’t limited to those who can shop in the $30,000-plus bracket.
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(Photos courtesy of Volkswagen of America, Inc.)