While DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group claims to have invented the minivan, in actuality, many companies from around the world have sold compact and midsize vans for decades. Some of these were primarily cargo and commercial vehicles, but many of them, like Volkswagen's ubiquitous Microbus, were family haulers--if not in the U.S., then at least in their home countries.

International auto shows in Frankfurt and Tokyo introduced a round of attractive new vans that, sadly, won't come to this country. Consumers who like the practicality of a van--and aren't so ego-bound that they can't be seen in one--would enjoy the opportunity to choose among these sleek, stylish, and lavishly equipped machines, but for now we'll just have to hope these vans will influence vehicles sold here.

Volkswagen, appropriately, led the way with the introduction of the new Multivan (which was called the EuroVan in the U.S.). Unfortunately, this cool new wagon won't be coming here either, as VW aims to attract those customers with the Touareg in the short term and the retro-styled New Bus later. The Multivan is fairly expensive and most likely wouldn't be popular enough to justify the expense of completing the necessary federal crash and emissions certifications.Our loss. The handsome new van bears a family resemblance to the old model (discontinued in the U.S. for 2004), but is more tautly drawn and expensively outfitted. The Multivan comes in three normal trim levels--Basic, Comfortline, and Highline--plus an ultraluxurious, outrageously expensive $120,000 Business model.

The Multivan retains its popular pop-top camper option, and an available driver-side sliding door means the rear table now sprouts from the floor, rather than flipping up from the left side wall. Auxiliary heat is available to keep the Multivan toasty warm inside when the engine is off.The Business model is outfitted with an electric folding table, phone, and fax. There's also a 15-inch LCD video monitor mounted to the ceiling, which folds down to display DVDs or computer presentations.

The Multivan's truly unique innovation is the available Digital Voice Enhancement system, which uses microphones throughout the vehicle to pick up voices and replay them through the van's sound-system speakers. That means drivers can converse with rear-seat occupants without turning around or shouting. It also works with the built-in phone system as a vehicle-wide speakerphone, so everyone aboard can participate in the conversation.Another feature we like is the six-speed manual transmission mated to an easy-to-reach stubby dash-mounted shifter. A six-speed automatic is also available, with power from four- and five-cylinder diesels and four- and six-cylinder gas engines. Front drive is retained from the previous model.