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DRIVE - EuroVan: Urge to travel

By Ann M. Job

For The Associated Press

Don't be surprised if you get an urge to head out on a weekend trip or a vacation if you buy a 2003 Volkswagen EuroVan.

This sizable van, the only German-built van sold in the United States, just seems so ready for long-distance travel.

The spacious, airy interior, pleasant ride on the highway and the EuroVan's availability as a bed- and camper-equipped vehicle all bring thoughts of how much fun it would be to get away for a while.

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EuroVan sales in the United States have increased in the last two years -- from 2,714 in calendar 2001 to 6,673 last year.

It may not be due to a sudden, getaway mentality, though. In the 2001 model year, Volkswagen of America Inc. lowered the EuroVan's price by 15 percent.

The 2003 model, which is the final EuroVan until VW brings out a new-generation van in 2005, has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $26,815 for a base GLS.

Yes, the price is higher than the base prices of popular minivans like the $24,860 base Honda Odyssey LX and $23,320 base Dodge Grand Caravan SE. The EuroVan pricing is more on a par with mid-range Odyssey and Grand Caravans, in fact.

But this is no regular minivan.

At 76.4 inches tall, the EuroVan is considerably taller than the 68-plus-inch Odyssey and Grand Caravan.

It's shorter than the Odyssey and Grand Caravan by at least a foot. It's much boxier in its styling, too.

The EuroVan continues with just one sliding side door, and this door continues to operate manually. There's no power-sliding door or power-raising liftgate at the back here.

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And many of the other vans' modern conveniences -- fold-into-the-floor third-row seats, movable, floor-mounted consoles and DVD-based rear entertainment system aren't offered.

Still, the EuroVan has other qualities -- specifically a unique ride and driving character that's tailored for a German buyer.

After all, the EuroVan is a sales leader overseas, where it has held some 60 percent market share.

In the test GLS, the driver feels like being in a truck or bus seat. My legs dangled downward and the front wheel well intruded where a dead pedal might normally be found.

I had to climb aboard with a small step at the doorway, too. And the four-spoke steering wheel is sizable.

But the 2003 EuroVan GLS managed road bumps with little fuss, sending only mild vibrations through to passengers. The ride was especially pleasing on long, straight highway runs where the EuroVan seemed to skim the road surface and provided great views out the good-sized side and rear windows.

The EuroVan did feel tippy, however, in aggressive driving on curvy roads, and wind noise grew louder and louder the faster I drove.

It almost became a whistle sound from somewhere around the driver's door as I neared 80 miles an hour in the tester. There was some tire noise on certain pavement surfaces, too.

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The front suspension uses an independent double wishbone arrangement. The rear suspension has an independent diagonal trailing arms setup.

Note that wheels and tires are 16-inchers and four-wheel antilock brakes are standard.

There's only one engine for the EuroVan -- VW's 2.8-liter, 15-degree, VR6.

It provides 201 horsepower and 181 foot-pounds of torque at between 2,500 and 5,500 rpm.

The EuroVan's engine is readily heard on acceleration, and it pulled this front-drive van along steadily.

But this more-than-4,200-pound van can sap the engine power a bit at high speeds if all seven seats have passengers.

Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance, and the government fuel economy rating is 17 miles a gallon in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.But there are fun as well as unusual features in this van.

Example: Every one of the seven seats in the GLS comes standard with pull-down armrests that help riders get comfortable.

I found that as a driver I could look down on the roofs of Toyota Camry sedans, look over small pickup trucks and through the windows of many sport utility vehicles, so forward visibility was commendable.

Gauges are illuminated in VW's trademark bright blue at night, making for a jazzy appearance.

All seven seats came with a height-adjustable and lockable head restraints as well as shoulder belts. All seating positions were comfortable, too, with decent legroom, headroom and shoulder room. Seats are the usual, firm VW style.

Second-row riders have windows that open quite a ways to let in fresh air. They operate manually.

In contrast with competitors, such as the Odyssey and Grand Caravan, the mid-range EuroVan MV can be had with a pop-up roof, two-person bed, window curtains and other items in a Weekender package that makes the vehicle ready for any getaway.

In addition, the top-of-the-line EuroVan Camper even includes such things as a two-burner gas stove, stainless steel sink and countertop, closet and two tables.

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