Volkswagen's compact Touran MPV, based on the upcoming 'Mark Five' Golf, is now on sale in the United Kingdom at prices ranging from £14,535 to £21,460, writes deputy editor Graeme Roberts.

VW claims the Touran is the only vehicle in the compact MPV class to be offered with either five or seven seats and expects the seven chair model to account for the majority of Touran sales, as the third row can be folded into the floor when not required.

Initially there is a choice of three engines all of which are new to the UK Volkswagen line-up: a 1.6-litre FSI (direct injection) 115 PS petrol unit, and two diesels, a 1.9-litre TDI 100 PS and a 2.0-litre TDI 136 PS.

Coming later are 102PS 1.6-litre indirect injection and two-litre 150PS direct injection petrol units, a 105PS 1.9 TDI and a two-litre 140PSI TDI diesel, the latter pair hooked up to the VW Group's new twin clutch, direct-shift gearbox (DSG). The 1.6FSI petrol will also be offered with a conventional Tiptronic six-speed automatic. All powerplants meet Euro 4 emissions regulations.

The Touran competes in the compact MPV class, which in the UK accounts for 170,000 units a year, and is a direct rival to cars such as the Renault Scenic, Citroen Picasso and Vauxhall Zafira. Volkswagen UK expects to sell approximately 5,000 Tourans in 2003, rising to 11,000 in a full year.

The company expects that almost three-quarters of Touran buyers will have children, with the vast majority of customers opting for the seven seater version, but its clever TV advertising is obviously intended to make those without children at least consider the model.

Diesel is expected to account for over 75% of Touran sales (55% taking the 1.9-litre 100 PS TDI) with the most popular trim level being the entry-level S (45%), closely followed by the SE with 40%. Overall, the best-selling model is likely to be the S 1.9-litre TDI with 100 PS, accounting for 28% of total sales.

The Touran is built at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg which will make 130,000 Tourans in 2003.

Equipment is comprehensive, with all models having ABS, ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme), central locking with remote control, CD player, 'semi-automatic' (actually just automatic temperature control) air conditioning, power front windows and a height and reach adjustable steering wheel.

Three trim levels are available: S, SE and Sport - compared with Europe's Comfort, Sport and Highline derivatives. SE models and above have body-coloured side bump strips and door handles and a chrome-trimmed radiator grille surround while Sport models gain alloy wheels, chromed roof rails and tinted glass from the B-pillar back.

Additional SE equipment includes an alarm, cruise control, power rear windows, picnic tables on the front seatbacks, trip computer and leather steering wheel and gear knob while the Sport gets sports suspension, electronic climate control, alloy wheels, 'aluminium' interior trim, front fog lamps, sports seats and upgraded audio.

The Touran's overall length is 4,391 mm, very similar to that of the Golf Estate (4,397 mm), but it has a 152mm longer wheelbase and is 162mm taller. Notable styling elements of the new car include the short front and rear body overhangs and the large, wide-opening doors.

The tailgate opens in two stages, the gas-filled dampers raising it to a height of 1,822 mm initially - ideal for the shorter driver - but it can reach a final height of 1,958 mm. The load area sill is just 557 mm from the ground.

Nice little details abound. Every time the wipers are switched off, the mechanism moves them slightly upwards to reverse the angle at which the rubber blades are parked, thus prolonging their working life. Select reverse, and climate control-equipped cars switch the air intake to recirculate so the car doesn't inhale its own exhaust.

Considerable attention to detail has been devoted to the design of the Touran's storage facilities.  There are compartments under each front seat, for example, and - on SE and Sport models - an under-seat drawer for larger items. There is a large lidded compartment on top of the dashboard and a large roof console between the seats with three swing-down compartments. A further, lockable storage compartment is provided in the centre console between the seats, and there are two easily accessible cup holders. The door bins can each accommodate a one-litre bottle.

The Touran's second seating row is made up of three separate seat units which can slide forwards or backwards, move sideways, fold down or be removed completely. The two outer seats weigh just 15.9 kg and the centre seat unit 15.7 kg, making their removal easy and quick and the whole set-up is easily figured out without resort to either the manual or VW minders - after our experience with the Meriva we'd say, GM Europe, please note.

Nice touches for rear passengers include a middle seat which can be folded flat to form a table, a cup holder, large door bins and storage compartments in the floor. A 12-volt power socket is provided, as are additional twin ventilation outlets.

The seat adjustment and removal mechanism is easy to operate: a high-grip handle is pulled up to slide the seat forwards or back, while easy-to-reach loops are pulled to fold the seat back or forwards, or to remove it completely.

Head-level side airbags protect passengers in the second row of seats, and all three seats are equipped with lap-and-shoulder seat belts and head restraints - the two outer seats have Isofix child seat mountings.

The third row is a tight fit for anyone but children or small adults and either chair folds easily away into the load-area floor via a simple retraction mechanism. Each seat is equipped with a lap-and-shoulder safety belt and a removable head restraint, and there are cup holders and lockable storage compartments.

A brief drive behind each of the three launch engines showed the value of the torquey, refined diesels, particularly the more powerful two-litre unit, which easily spins its front wheels on sharp getaways. The petrol 1.6 feels sluggish after the oil burners until you adjust gear and throttle usage to account for a 4,000rpm torque peak and just three-fifths of the 1.9's pulling power.

This first try of the Mark Five Golf platform reveals a much more disciplined chassis with sharper turn-in and generally far better road manners though the steering is a bit light. Ride quality is very good, even with sports suspension, and the grippy, supportive front seats are simply the best we've ever tried in a VW.

The Touran is a late-arriving 'me-too' product in a crowded market and, while it sets no innovation standard, it's a quality package from a trusted brand and should, at the very least, meet its targets.