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Volkswagen Kombi to ride again

Bullish: VW’s Bulli concept from the 2011 Geneva show is odds-on to hit roads around the world.

VW finally ready to reinvent Kombi for the 21st century, but not as we know it

2 Aug 2011

VOLKSWAGEN has toyed with the idea of resurrecting an all-new Kombi for the 21st century, but this time it appears to be serious.

The original 1949 Kombi gained rear windows and an extra two rows of seats to create a passenger version of the Type 2 Commercial, which was based on the original flat four boxer-engined Type 1 that became known as the Beetle.

The Kombi name was applied most recently in 2006 to a people-mover version of the T5 Transporter – the Kombi Beach – but Volkswagen now looks set to return to its formative roots by basing a born-again Kombi not on the new Beetle, but the smaller-still Up.

Due to make its world debut at next month’s Frankfurt motor show, the all-new Up hatchback – which is under consideration for release in Australia next year – will spawn an entire range of pint-size models, as previewed by successive Up concept cars in recent years.

The latest of them was the Bulli, which presented obvious Kombi styling cues when it debuted at the Geneva motor show in March and is based on the same compact vehicle platform as the Up – known as MQB in German and MTM (for modular transverse matrix) in English.

The first Volkswagen group model to be underpinned by MQB will be Audi’s next A3, but the flexible chassis architecture is expected to form the basis of up to 60 different Volkswagen group models across the VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat brands, slashing development and production costs by reducing the number of current front-drive VW group models from 18 to just two.

As such, the Bulli will be significantly smaller than both the original Kombi and Volkswagen’s last retro-bus concept, the decade-old 2001 Microbus, which had been widely expected to preview the next-generation Transporter by 2004.

3 center imageLeft: Volkswagen Bulli concept. Bottom: 2001 VW Microbus concept.

However, although the compact people-mover segment is almost non-existent in Australia, the downsized Bulli represents Volkswagen’s intention for the utilitarian Transporter to continue to serve commercial markets globally, while offering a safer, more refined and more affordable small wagon for booming mini-MPV markets in Europe.

Whether the born-again Kombi would be sold in Australia remains to be seen, but it is clear the Bulli will morph into a production model that will join three- and five-door hatchback versions of the Up in an all-new baby-car family from Volkswagen.

If successful, like the post-war Type 2, the Bulli could itself develop into a whole range of compact VW models, including people-mover, camper, sub-Caddy van and even commercial ute derivatives.

“Unlike the Microbus, which was purely a seven-seat concept not based on anything else, the Bulli is a compact five-seater based on the Up, so there’s a good chance it will reach production,” Volkswagen Group Australia managing director Anke Koeckler told GoAuto.

Last week a News Limited report went further, citing an unnamed Volkswagen source as confirming a definite production plan for the Bulli, as part of the upcoming Up city-car range.

When it revealed the Bulli concept – which takes its name from the German name for the original Kombi (which in turn was called the Microbus in North America) – in Switzerland five months ago, Volkswagen said: “In this vehicle, Volkswagen is finishing what it started in 2001.

“Ten years ago, the vision of a new Bulli led to an unforgettable concept vehicle known as the Microbus, but some visions need to mature before they yield something new.

“Now, the time is right for this vision. That is because the concept was sharpened and the necessary, sustainable technologies are now at hand.

“This concept has the potential to establish a new, fifth brand of people carrier next to the Caddy, Touran, Sharan and its large counterpart – the Caravelle.” While the Up hatch will go on sale in Europe later this year and could hit Australian roads just after the next Beetle late next year, the six-seater Bulli should hit European showrooms some time in 2012 and could be sold here from 2013.

Unlike the original air-cooled, rear-engined, rear-drive Kombi, the Bulli will employ the same front-engine/front-drive configuration as the sub-Polo Up, with which it should also share its efficient 1.0-litre three-cylinder diesel and 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines.

However, as previewed by the zero-emissions Bulli at Geneva, the production model could also offer hybrid or all-electric drivetrains, the latter via the concept’s front-mounted 85kW/270Nm motor, delivering 300km on a single charge of the Bulli’s 40kWh lithium-ion battery, which was claimed to fully recharge in less than an hour.

Despite being significantly ‘greener’ than the V6-powered Microbus concept, the Bulli concept was said to deliver 0-100km/h acceleration similar to the original Kombi at 11.5 seconds, and an electronically limited top speed of 140km/h.

For the record, the Bulli rides on a 2620mm wheelbase and measures 3990mm long, 1750mm wide and 1700mm tall, making it smaller than the Californian-designed Microbus concept (which rode on a 3000mm wheelbase and measured 4722mm long, 1909mm wide and 1904mm high), as well as shorter and lower but wider than the original T1-codenamed (for Transporter 1) Kombi.

Unlike the iconic Kombi and still-born Microbus, the Bulli features only two rows of seats, with a front bench seat providing accommodating for six.

Inside, VW claims 370 litres of luggage space behind the rear seats and a full 1600 litres with them folded, while an obligatory panoramic glass roof resides above all six occupants.

High-tech Bulli features include an infotainment system controlled via iPad, narrow dual headlights with L-shaped LED daytime running lights and turn indicators, large round foglights either side of a central air intake, and a sound system designed by legendary US guitar and amplifier manufacturer Fender.

Although it lacks the sliding rear door and D-pillar air-vents of the 1950 and subsequent Kombis (including the Microbus concept), instead offering four conventional front-hinged doors, the Bulli features a large frontal V-shape with oversized white VW badging, as seen on the original Kombi and Beetle.

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