Once in a while a model comes along that looks as though it could not only be a game-changer for its manufacturer but could also upset an entire sector’s established order.
The new Crafter is one such vehicle.
Its predecessor was built on the same platform as Mercedes’ Sprinter and, perhaps as a consequence, always seemed to be overshadowed by its rival. So when the end of the Merc partnership was announced, VW not only took production back in-house but also built an all-new plant in Poland in which to assemble the next-generation Crafter, a model that has lagged behind the brand’s traditionally strong performers in the light van (the Caddy) and medium van (Transporter) sectors. The £688m investment in the facility announced VW’s intention to punch its weight in the large van market.
Whereas the previous model was available only in rear-wheel drive, its successor is up for grabs in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive formats, with the first of these on sale from May and the latter two coming later this year. VW also now offers an eight-speed automatic gearbox to complement the six-speed manual transmission and plans to muscle in on the supermarket delivery and blue-light markets, which have tended to be dominated by the RWD auto Sprinter and Iveco Daily.
The new Crafter comes in three wheelbases, three roof heights, and in single- and double-cab guises. A 2.0-litre EA 288 Nutz diesel engine, which VW claims it developed especially for the model, powers the range with outputs of 102hp, 122hp and 140hp, plus there’s a bi-turbo TDI with 177hp.
The panel van range is available with load volumes of 9.9m3, 11.3m3, 14.3m3, 16.0m3, 16.3m3 and 18.3m3 while payloads go from 801kg to 2,279kg. We tested a MWB, high-roof, FWD 140hp manual panel van in mid-range Trendline trim.
The loadbay was carrying a weight equivalent to half its payload capacity of 1,244kg and, surprisingly, the noise reaching the cabin from the cargo area was quite intrusive, although this may have been down to the fact the load consisted of large iron brackets lashed to the floor rather than say, sandbags.
Other than that the ride quality and handling were excellent, both on the open road and in urban areas. Trendline trim comes with cruise control and a speed limiter, but VW’s excellent adaptive cruise control, which keeps a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front on motorway journeys, is only fitted to Highline models.
The six-speed manual gearbox is slick and gets the most out of the responsive 140hp powertrain, and the sharp, electromechanical steering makes the big van go exactly where you want it to. Lumbar support adds to the comfort of the driver’s seat. Build quality is up to VW’s usual high standards and the interior is robustly finished and equipped with lots of functional storage – including space under the middle passenger seat, which also folds down into a table. Our van also had a useful split overhead shelf with a two 1-DIN audio/toll-reading device slot in the centre. This, however, was listed as a £125 extra on the option list (all prices exclude VAT).
Other options included climactic aircon for £1,320, the Discover Media satnav system (£672), front fog lights with a cornering function (£202), and in the load area – which is accessed by a near-side door and twin rear doors, which swing through to 270°–
a storage compartment above the cabin for £136.
One major criticism would be that parking sensors, both front and rear, are only included on the top Highline trim, which is odd considering VW claims to have consulted extensively with customers in developing the new Crafter and most hard-working operators would surely consider reversing aids a necessity. They can, however, be added as a £425 option or as part of an assistance pack with active side protection for £768 on Trendline.
|Volkswagen Crafter Trendline CR35 MWB 2.0TDi 140hp 6-spd manual FWD|
|Price (ex VAT) £29,200|
|Price range (ex VAT) £23,920-£33,655|
|Service intervals 12,000mls|
|Load length 3,450mm|
|Load width (min/max) 1,380/1,832mm|
|Load bay height 1,940mm|
|Load volume 11.3m3|
|Gross payload 1,244kg|
|Engine size/power 1,968cc/140hp|
|Combined fuel economy 38.2mpg|
Aside from some odd standard specification levels the Crafter is an excellent proposition about to give the sector leaders serious competition.