By Mark Kleis
Tuesday, Mar 1st, 2011 @ 7:41 am
 
The Volkswagen Transporter, or Microbus (if you're American), or Bulli (if you're German), was only the second-ever model to come from the automaker, even though it helped create the van segment with its introduction in 1950. This small van has soldiered on for over six decades, selling on continents across the globe - but the design is quite dated, and Volkswagen believes it has created a replacement suitable for a vehicle with such a rich heritage.

Some of you may recall that VW actually introduced a concept known as the Microbus in 2001, but the automaker says that the timing and technology wasn't right then, but it believes the time is now and the new Bulli concept is the answer for today.

Just as the original Microbus appealed to the Earth-loving crowds in the 1960s, the latest take on the people mover will likely do the same, thanks to the fact that it is an electric vehicle with zero tailpipe emissions. VW says the Bulli concept is capable of traveling up to 186.4 miles on a single electric charge thanks to a 40 kWh lithium-ion battery.

In terms of output, the Bulli concept produces 114 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque from an electric motor, allowing it to scoot up to six people around at speeds up to 87 miles per hour. Acceleration isn't exactly brisk, but it isn't terrible either given the context, with zero-to-62 miles per hour taking 11.5 seconds.

VW also realizes that the mass adoption of electric vehicles is still some time away, so it developed the Bulli to be capable of accepting gas or direct-injected diesel engines, with either 1.0- or 1.4-liter displacements.

Bulli dimensions
The VW Bulli concept measures 156 inches in total length, with 68.4 inches of width and a height of 66 inches. VW points out that the original Microbus was longer and taller, but was also narrower than the modern interpretation. While we're covering measurements, note that the wheelbase comes in at 102 inches, with the track width coming in at 54 inches.

If there is one thing that the original Transport/Microbus/Bulli had going for it, it was its iconic, tried-and-true style that literally carried on virtually unchanged for decade after decade. When VW decided to recreate and revive this bus, it realized the homage it must pay to the original design, and created a vehicle that is as decidedly modern as it is classic.

For example, the Bulli example shows off the two-tone paint found on many of the original vans, with the "V" of the front fascia clearly in-tact. While the totally flat front has been axed in favor of a safer, more aerodynamic shape, the Bulli does as faithful a job as one could to still deliver that original, simple design, albeit with more defined and sharp modern lines.

From the side, the Bulli shares an uncanny resemblance to the latest-generation Scion xB, although the Scion has a notably longer hood.

Up front and out back VW utilizes low-energy consumption LED lighting, and decidedly simplistic designs.

What about the interior?
For starters, the Bulli uses a seating arrangement that technically allows up to six occupants, but realistically will seat four large adults, and possibly two children. The overall interior design is particularly simplistic, although VW did decide to go a bit high-tech and utilized an Apple iPad (removable) for its touch-screen to control functions like the Bluetooth hands-free phone functions and the navigation system.

Running the distance of the roof is a panoramic glass sunroof, along with a trick audio system with branding by Fender - a common partner in recent VW products.

Finding a blend between form and function, VW also designed the interior to accommodate the transport of cargo, as much as 1,600 liters worth, with the rear bench seat stowed and the front seats folded down with the 2/3rds split.

As expected, the modernization of the Transporter has forced the end of some key aspects of the original car, such as the flat front fascia and rear-engine and rear-wheel drive, but overall VW seems to have down a faithful job as modernizing a classic design to properly incorporate modern safety and technology.

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