Good: oodles of space, plenty of seats, comfort, cabin quality, general usefulness.
Not so good: hugely expensive, refinement issues, occasionally ponderous handling.
This, of course, has been going on for years. It's nothing new for families and others to use commercial vehicles for personal use. Lots of space, lots of seats and generally a lower price tag: what's not to like? I spent my youth rummaging down the back of various Transits, Escort Vans and a Type 3 Volkswagen Transporter that my dad owned and used for both work and hauling kids around.
So you could call it a door-mobile, a van with windows or whatever you like. I personally call it Mighty Overlord of MPVs - All Others Must Bow Before Its Multi-Seated Glory. Volkswagen, almost disappointingly, calls it the Shuttle.
The Shuttle is based on the latest T6 version of the venerable Transporter, and ours was the long wheelbase model. The difference between the two is profound - an extra 400mm of length liberates 6.7 cubic metres of load space, and that's in addition to the seats for nine, including the driver. There is actually five square metres of floor space to share out so it won't matter even if you've gone the full Vatican II on the whole birth control thing, as you'll have space for everyone.
It's pretty comfy too. The Shuttle is basically a less posh version of the pricier Caravelle (both are surely not coincidentally named for famous flying machines with rear-mounted engines, even if the Volkswagen's is mounted at the front...) so cabin quality and seating comfort are more than decent. OK, so you're going to put up with plastics that would be rejected by a Passat or Golf quality control white coat, but here in the Shuttle they feel and look just fine. The 'Composition' media/radio touchscreen system looks and feels bang up to date (even though it's now a generation behind compared to what you get in, say, a new Tiguan) and there is an almost endless procession of cubby holes and storage spaces (even if you need to be built like an orangutan to reach stuff in the bottom of the front door pockets). We really like the simple cupholders, countersunk into the top of the dashboard up by the windscreen pillars, which mean you won't end up with a drinks bottle getting in the way of the gearshift.
Speaking of the gearshift, can I please recommend that, if you're buying a Shuttle, you go for the automatic DSG gearbox option? There's nothing wrong with the way the six-speed manual actually shifts from cog to cog, but it's just that a more relaxed automatic would suit the mien of the Shuttle rather better.
You sit high and tall in the saddle of the Shuttle, peering down on the roofs of Range Rovers and BMW X5s, so there's a pleasant sense of superiority to help detract from the bus-like atmosphere of the rear cabin. Next to the driver are two front passenger seats, but you'll need to dissuade anyone too bulky from sitting in the middle seat or they'll get in the way of your gearshift arm (another good reason to go for the auto). Behind, there are two rows of three seats and these are commendably roomy, although legroom in the rearmost row is a little tighter than you might expect. Everyone gets air vents and reading lights, but ventilation from the outside is limited to small pop-and-slide windows in the side doors. The fact that those doors slide makes the Shuttle rather more useable in tight car parks than you would think, but they can be a bit heavy for some.
Way, way out the back is the boot that is simply massive. For anyone who's ever complained that you can't fit luggage into an MPV when all the seats are being used, this is the ultimate riposte. You could fit a whole Samsonite shop back there, although the huge lift-up tailgate can be a bit heavy and unwieldy and impossible to use if you've parked too tight to whatever's behind you. Van-like split doors might have been more useful, even at the cost of some rear visibility.
Visibility overall is very good, a thanks to that combination of high seating position and lots and lots of glass, so you can actually manoeuvre the Shuttle pretty easily around town. You can spec it up with a rear-view camera too, but actually the parking sensors do a good enough job on their own and as long as you take your time when swinging around (and keep in your head the sheer length and width of the thing) you can get the Shuttle into and out of some pretty tight spaces.
Taking your time is something of a motif for driving the Shuttle in general. By van standards, it actually has pretty well honed responses, with light, accurate steering that has none of the sawing-at-the-wheel slack you'd expect and a decent, if ultimately futile, resistance to body roll. It's happiest on the motorway, perhaps unsurprisingly, where the optional adaptive cruise control helps to make long journeys that little bit more relaxing, but it's not totally out of its depth on country roads. You just have to, as I say, take your time, slow down, give the brakes, steering and springs some time to respond to your inputs and just accept that your speed across the ground isn't going to be as brisk as the Volkswagen's Earth-orbiting namesake.
If the Shuttle has one major drawback, it's in terms of refinement. At a main road or motorway cruise, the engine drones, the tyres roar and the big, square, tin-shed body resonates with every decibel. For a van, it's hardly too bad, but by passenger car standards it's just way too loud inside and communication between front and rear seats can sometimes descend into a shouting match. Drink your Ribena. I SAID DRINK YOUR RIBENA!!! RIBENA!!! DRINK IT!!!! I SAID... oh never mind. I SAID NEVER MIND!!! You get the idea.
If the Shuttle has another major drawback it's its price. Our test car cost €63,035 and another €570 a year to tax. That's a shocking wedge of money, really, even given the optional extras fitted (leather wheel, 17-inch alloys, parking sensors, multifunction display, power latching for the side doors, adaptive cruise, heated windscreen and metallic paint, on top of standard Comfortline kit of three-zone air conditioning, Bluetooth and USB connection and automatic lights and rain sensor). To put that in perspective, you're paying €20k more than you would for a Sharan MPV and getting two extra seats and a bigger boot.
You could of course keep that price down a little by buying the standard wheelbase model instead, or by having fewer options, but it does seem to let itself down a little on the theory that van-based cars are cheaper than car-based cars. Of course, it's also not really a fair comparison - the Shuttle is designed to be a working vehicle, making money for its owner rather than simply operating as day-to-day family transport, so it has to be viewed through that kind of prism.
However, even with the cost, even with the size and heft, it's hard to think of another vehicle that would be as useful to you if you've decided to go for the 'traditional' Irish family model.
Ford Transit Kombi Custom: just as roomy and practical as the Volkswagen, if significantly cheaper, but not as classy to look at.
Mercedes-Benz V-Class: arguably posher than the Volkswagen and a fraction more enjoyable to drive, but also hugely expensive and not really a family car.
SsangYong Rodius: butt-ugly and not good to drive, but hugely spacious inside. Only seats seven, though.