Volkswagen increased sales of its core Transporter model by 11.8% to 21,526 in 2016, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, as the latest T6 vintage made a solid start in its first full year on the market.
The medium van retained its position as the UK’s fifth best-selling LCV overall.
UK boss Carl Zu Dhonna says: “It remains the backbone of the brand.”
The Transporter’s quality has never been in question but the model has been criticised for its conservative styling. The launch of a Sportline version last September, initially as a 2.0 180hp Kombi, which has now been superseded by a 204hp unit, should help to redress this perception.
The front-wheel drive Sportline is a sexed-up version of the top-of-the-range Highline trim level and comes with features such as leather seats, Discover Media navigation (DAB radio, 6.3-inch touchscreen, aux-in, SD card slot, USB port, Bluetooth, MP3, CD player), 18-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, and front and rear spoilers. Suspension has been lowered to give the van a more dynamic presence and on-road performance.
The front suspension combines coil springs with telescopic shock absorbers, while independent rear suspension comes with coil springs and load-sensitive shock absorbers.
The exterior is adorned with trapezoid styling bars with puddle lights and carbon-fibre mirror caps. All this extra kit does not come cheap – the range starts from £33,565 for the SWB six-speed manual panel van (all prices exclude VAT).
Tested here is the short-wheelbase T32 Euro6 2.0-litre BiTDI 204hp Kombi with the DSG transmission that joined the second wave of Sportline model launches at the start of this year alongside panel van, six-speed manual and long-wheelbase derivatives.
On the inside the Sportline is adorned with leather quilted seats – two-tone black and red in our van with an embossed Sportline logo – a leather multi-function steering wheel and fitted floor mats, also bearing the Sportline logo. The single driver seat gets an armrest and is flanked by a dual front passenger bench, which can accommodate two people without the gear shaft intruding too drastically into the middle occupant’s leg space.
This is notable because usually the middle seat is the one for the passenger drawing the short straw. The rear of the Kombi can accommodate another three passengers on a second-row bench seat. We found the cabin provided a roomy and comfortable environment for a family of five.
Our only gripe would be that the interior took a long time to heat up due to the seating area not being separated from the load area by a bulkhead – something customers would be well-advised to address if they want to use the Kombi as an out-and-out load carrier rather than for primarily carrying a work crew and their tools or as a taxi or family vehicle.
The cargo area is accessed via a tailgate, and a near-side sliding door lets the back-seat passengers enter. Ford may dispute the claim with its Transit Custom but it would be hard to find a medium van to match the handling and performance of the T6 Sportline. The impressively smooth DSG auto takes the strain out of urban assignments, but it’s out of town that the Sportline comes into its own, with the 204hp engine delivering oodles of power in harmonious tandem with the seven-speed transmission, which can be switched into manual mode with a flick of the gear selector.
If you do get carried away with the rare experience of being behind the wheel of an LCV that’s so much fun to drive, you can rely on plenty of feedback from the steady, precise steering to keep the van on track.
The Sportline is a classy flagship that combines refinement with excellent performance and will appeal to retail customers who want to stand out from the crowd.