(Pocket-lint) - The world might have gone SUV and crossover mad, but if you've a brood of three (or more) to cart around then a mid-sized crossover like the Nissan Qashqai doesn't actually cut it. That's why - despite their perceived lack of sexiness - MPVs like the Volkswagen Touran continue to prevail.
If you need five or seven seats, want more than two isofix child seat fixing points and, frankly, aren't looking to spend oodles of cash on a car, then a mid-sized MPV such as this really is your best bet when buying new.
Handy, then, that Volkswagen has just refreshed the Touran as part of its on-going range renewal. Based on the underpinning of a Golf (the MQB platform), the Touran comes with seven seats as standard and starts from £22,270 in the UK. Is this the family "Wagen" to go for?
Volkswagen Touran review: Petrol heads
You can choose from two petrols and three diesel engine options in the Touran. You'll have read a lot about diesels recently - not least in regard to Volkswagen. The company's new-generation engines, fitted to the Touran in 1.6-litre (110hp) and 2.0-litre (150 or 190hp) are modern units which use ad-blue technology to reduce NOx emissions, and are highly efficient. But they cost more to buy and will still produce higher NOx and particulate levels than a petrol engine.
Given that many cars like this will be put to use on the school run, working at low speed and covering comparatively low mileages, we'd therefore reckon many buyers would do well to try a petrol engine. And with Volkswagen's new turbo petrols being some of the best, we chose to test the 1.2 TSi 110hp engine in this car. It's the lowliest powered Touran you can buy, and this isn't a small car - so we were interested to find out if a small capacity petrol unit felt right here.
Start up a modern direct-injection petrol like this, and beyond a slightly audible injector tick from the engine, one of its most pleasant attributes is quietness. The Touran's unit is a winner in this regard - it's refined, yet set out along the road and it's eager too. It revs happily, doesn't feel as slow as you might imagine and is generally a pleasant thing to drive.
The engine is aided by light yet precise controls and a nice, positive action gearshift - just as we've come to expect from the Volkswagen group. The ride is pliant and clam, helped by this model's small wheels, and the handling is tidy and neat. The Touran doesn't drive like a van, in fact it feels more car like than many crossovers.
The real surprise though is that it returned 47mpg during our test route. Whether you'd get those kind of figures just driving the Touran around town, we're unable to verify. But taken at face value, the smallest petrol version of the car is frugal enough to make you think twice about going diesel - which will cost you £1,600 more in list-price terms.
Just be careful if your driving involves a lot of high-speed, out of town work, or if you're regularly loaded up with a full cargo - because then you need to work the engine harder and it can occasionally feel lacking in power. But it never gets too noisy and harsh. It's just if we were using our Touran that way, we'd be swayed towards the diesel - or the more powerful 1.4 TSi petrol.
Volkswagen Touran review: People power
Where MPVs come into their own is inside. And here, Volkswagen truly raises the bar in the Touran. Everything feels incredibly high quality and works with a high level of precision. Perhaps most importantly, the Touran is stuffed full of clever storage spaces, compartments, nets and bins that make family life in the car just so much easier. Volkswagen says you can specify up to 47 of them in total.
The ones that we would "drawer" your attention to (sorry, couldn't resist) that came with our SE-spec car were the four bins/slots on the dashboard (two to the right side of the driver, one on top of the dash, one in front of the passenger) - plus the glovebox. The net on the passenger side footwell, huge (lined) door bins which can store 1.5-litre bottles in each front door, and an overhead drop down console which will store two pairs of sunglasses. In the back, we got airline-style fold up tables, another roof-mounted sunglasses holder and storage units for the third row passengers. Be warned, you'll lose stuff in your Touran. But at least it'll stay tidy.
Storage for things is one skill, but seating seven can be a headache. Yet here, too, the Touran seems to have things licked. Each chair feels chunky, sturdy and high quality. They're well trimmed with no odd sharp edges to catch unsuspecting hands, and high quality fabric. Parents will be interested to hear that every single rear seat (including the middle perch and the very rear-most third row seats) have isofix attachments. Middle row leg room is great for 6-foot adults. And the rear seats can cope with adults for a short journey. Kids and teenagers are likely to be happy for longer runs.
But the bug bear of this type of car has always been accessing that rear row of seats, and folding seats quickly to transport more load and less people. Handily, a new fold-flat system means that the rear-most seats fold flat into the floor with a single tug of a lever. When they do this, there are no odd gaps in the floor either, so the Touran should be easy to keep clean. The middle row all topple to fold flat too. And unlike many cars, the front passenger seat can be folded forwarded - meaning the Touran makes a great impromptu IKEA / DIY van.
There's other clever stuff too. The outer rear seats feature a simple pull-and-lift mechanism to allow reasonable access to the back row, and the rear parcel shelf stores below the boot floor when it's not being used. When this is in place, a simple tap gets it to retract half way back into the boot, creating easy access to stuff.
Many cars of this ilk get this stuff wrong - and having a young family ourselves, we appreciated the fact that the Touran has clearly been designed by a sympathetic, smart team that's clearly used to the trials of shepherding a herd of young people (and their paraphernalia) around.
If we're being picky, though, it's all terribly dull. There's no flash, and a lot of black and grey to go with this review car's brown exterior. Oh, and the boot lid is heavy to pull down, as it isn't powered (that's a £335 option).
Volkswagen Touran review: Technical spectacle
The Touran comes in five spec levels. Our SE-grade car is an obvious choice over the base S car, because it comes with alloy wheels, a USB port, lots more of the storage cubbies (and the folding front passenger seat), rear tinted glass and parking sensors.
Higher spec models - there's the SEL "luxury" and R-Line "performance" cars - get bigger wheels, more storage, nicer upholstery and bigger, better tech (CarPlay / Android Auto is standard from next-step up SEL grade). However, nothing that jumps out as a must have.
But our pick of the specs is SE Family which adds a sat nav system, VW's Car-Net "Guide and inform" online data system, a panoramic sunroof, rear door sunblinds and adaptive cruise control. There's even a system which amplifies the driver's voice around the car so those in the back can hear (it's £95 in the other models, included in the SE Family). It's a £1,485 jump from SE to SE Family.
Like most new cars, you can add (at cost) a raft of advanced driver support and safety systems like lane keep assist, high beam assist, a driver concentration alert system and park assist (which steers into parallel park bays for you and is a reasonably priced £190 option on all models about S spec).
All models allow Bluetooth streaming of music, have a DAB radio and come with a number of 12-volt sockets. What we'd like to see is a few more USB sockets dotted around the cabin, given how tech-focused modern families are.
Volkswagen Touran review: A van with windows
If only the exterior looked as good as the interior, eh?
Ultimately the Touran's exterior finish follows the same functionally-led approach as the car's inside, meaning it puts function over form. And all of that boxy interior space can't be magic-ed from nowhere, as reflected on the outside.
But we still wish the Touran didn't subscribe quite so closely to the "van-with-windows" formula of MPV design. Perhaps that's unfair - it does have some neat design details here and there.
But in silhouette, a Citroen Grand Picasso easily out-styles it, and Renault's forthcoming Scenic is about to set the cat amongst the pigeons in this class, with its crossover-like design, and standard 20-inch wheels laying on the style with a trowel.
The Volkswagen Touran is a sleeper car among a vehicle fleet of look-at-me crossovers. It wears its practicality on its sleeve and that creates a boxy-looking car, which - particularly when rendered in the brown of our test model - isn't what you'd describe as a looker. But you already knew that from our pictures.
Still, if you really need the space - for stuff and people - then the Touran does an admirable and impressive job. It never wows, as such, but just constantly supports your life and impresses with it ability to cope with almost anything you throw at it. The interior space, storage and seat design makes it a go-to model for anyone with three or more children.
Add that it's good value, a decent drive for this type of vehicle, highly refined and well built, and the Touran is a car that has truly surprised us with its blend of abilities. And with its range of engines and specs, there's a Touran to suit most budgets and most needs.
It might not be all the car you'll ever desire - but for a young or growing family crowd, it is arguably more than all the car you could ever need.