MOSSEL BAY, Western Cape – Everyone loves the Kombi. It’s a bus that has won the hearts of countless South Africans from the days it was running a rear-mounted air-cooled boxer engine. Since its introduction here, the Kombi has been favoured by businesses and families alike thanks to its generous interior packaging (made possible by that trademark rectangular design) and easy-to-drive nature.
As before, the Kombi is positioned as a more accessible variant next to the posher Caravelle; the latter model now has an asking price of R1 166 600. The T6.1 update to the Kombi undercuts this with a price of R755 300 for the 110 kW version we drove, though the two models are worlds apart in terms of specification.
For starters, the Kombi makes use of the Volkswagen Group’s trusty 2,0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel mill, which in this guise delivers 110 kW and 340 N.m of torque to the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. For R725 900, a lower-powered version using the same configuration (but with 81 kW and 250 N.m) is also available. For those who desire added grunt and versatility, the T6.1 Kombi can also be had with the 2,0BiTDI unit with 4Motion, as found in the Caravelle, for R907 000.
The biggest difference between the two model lines is seen in the list of standard features. In Trendline trim level featured on all three Kombi derivatives, things are fairly basic, with the cabin sporting three rows of cloth-upholstered seats. Despite there being plenty of space, items such as cup holders and storage compartments are few and far between. Still, there are at least two roof-mounted air vents for the middle and rear rows. However, the controls for these are placed in the front section, so rear passengers need to request adjustments to temperature and fan speed.
While the list of standard kit is obviously not as impressive as that of the Caravelle, it’s certainly in line with what one would expect in this price category. The Kombi features cruise control, two USB C sockets (for charging and data transfer), a touchscreen infotainment system (with Android Auto, Apple Car Play and Mirrorlink) connected to six speakers and park distance control both front and rear.
Is it an ideal product from a passenger’s point of view? Well, having been chauffeured in the middle row, I can say it’s certainly a pleasant experience. The Kombi offers a plush ride quality on tarmac and with the optional heavy-duty suspension and shocks, it’s not too bad on gravel either (unless you plan on tackling really aggressive corrugations). There’s more than enough legroom for those in the middle row but at the rear, things are a bit tighter.
So, passengers are fairly well catered to in terms of comfort. But what’s it like to pilot? Dynamically, the Kombi is not far off the Caravelle, despite only the front wheels being driven. With a fluid Servotronic speed-related variable steering assist system, the Kombi is easy and enjoyable to drive both through urban settings and on highways. The 110 kW oil burner provides sufficient power to the front axle and is impressively responsive thanks to the snappy dual-clutch transmission. Overtaking can be performed with ease; an important trait for a vehicle that will likely be hitting national highways on a fairly frequent basis.
As for consumption, while Volkswagen claims a combined figure of 6,6 L/100 km, we managed an indicated 8,3 L/100 km on our drive, which consisted predominately of cruising at 100 to 120 km/h along the N2 and R62. Given the shape and weight of the vehicle, that’s a satisfactory result. And with an 80-litre tank capacity, the Kombi should be good for a healthy range of around 800 km.
The engine is a good fit though it does lack that final level of polish in terms of refinement. While vibration transferred into the cabin is pleasingly minimal, the mill is fairly noisy in terms of traditional diesel clatter. Given its shape, wind noise is prevalent from speeds of 80 km/h as well.
For those buying in this segment, safety is usually a major talking point as the vehicle will likely be carrying plenty of passengers. What’s somewhat concerning is that the Kombi features just two airbags as standard; one for the driver and one for the front passenger (though this can be increased to six as an option). It’s worth pointing out Trendline-spec Polos, Tiguans and Caddys ship standard with six apiece. That said, electronic stability control, hill start assist and cross wind assist are at least included in the price.
The Kombi may not exhibit the sort of flair and on-road presence we’ve come to love from the Cavarelle but from behind the wheel it’s just as enjoyable to pilot and nearly as practical. Compared with its more premium sibling, the Kombi also significantly more accessible. Though the spec differences are obvious, this does not detract from the Kombi’s overall feeling of perceived quality. For those looking for a simple and straightforward people-mover that does the job without fuss, the Kombi is a terrific option. As it has been for several decades.
Engine:2,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel
Power:110 kW @ 3 750 r/min
Torque:340 N.m @ 1 500 - 3 000 r/min
0-100 km/h:12,0 seconds
Top Speed:182 km/h
Fuel Consumption:6,6 L/100 km
Maintenance Plan:Five-year/60 000 km maintenance