The What Van? Road Test: Volkswagen Transporter

Date: Tuesday, May 03, 2016   |   Author: Steve Banner

With a pedigree that dates back to 1950, the history of Volkswagen’s Transporter is one of unabashed success. Well over 12 million have been sold in the 66 years since the first one rolled off the production line, and the appeal of VW’s solidly built workhorse seems unlikely to diminish any time soon.
Admittedly, the brand has been tarnished by the emissions scandal, but the latest Transporter, the sixth version to be unveiled, which broke cover in UK dealerships late last year – is apparently not one of the LCV models to be affected by the controversy.
Nor is the controversy affecting VW light commercial sales in Britain in general. The manufacturer was number two in the UK market once again last year – still a long way behind Ford but staying ahead of Vauxhall.
The new Transporter T6 features modest internal and external re-styling, a stack of sophisticated new safety devices, and new engines. The line-up includes the first Euro6 model, with the new emissions standard becoming mandatory for all light commercials registered from 1 September onwards.
In most cases power still comes courtesy of a 2.0-litre Euro5 single-turbo TDI diesel at 84hp, 102hp or 140hp. If you want to pack more punch then go up to the twin-turbo Euro5 BiTDI, which pumps out 180hp. The 102hp engine is alternatively available to Euro6 specifications, which means it needs dosing with AdBlue periodically. It will be supplemented by 150hp and 204hp Euro6 diesels in the coming months.
Transporter T6 fans can select from three different roof heights and two different wheelbases, with load cubes ranging from 5.8m3 to 9.3m3.
Gross weights range from 2.6t to 3.2t, and payload capacities from 658kg to 1331kg, and you can order a Transporter as a Kombi with rear seating and a cargo area at the back. It is up for grabs as a chassis cab too, with either a single or a double cab – a factory-fitted dropside body is available – and with four-wheel drive under the 4Motion banner.
Three specification levels are offered: entry-level Startline, Trendline and Highline, with Sportline variants waiting in the wings at the time of writing. We elected to sample a short-wheelbase (3.0m) standard-roof Trendline 2.8t van powered by the 102hp Euro6 engine and featuring a three-seater cab.

Load area
Access to the 5.8m3 load area is by means of twin rear doors that can be swung through 180° (a hatch can be specified as an alternative on this model) plus a sliding nearside door with an internal step.
An opaque, full-height, steel bulkhead protects the cab and its occupants should anything loose slide forwards. You can always lash things down, of course, and eight cargo tie-down points are provided.
Two lights are fitted and the load area will need timbering out. The half-height hardboard panels on the doors and sides are there more to deaden sound than prevent scratches and scrapes, and the wheel boxes are unprotected. So is the cargo bed, which can handle a gross payload of 886kg.

Cab and equipment
A grab-handle on each of the A-pillars plus one just above the passenger door, which you can reach when you open it, aid cab access.
Like the Transporter’s external styling, the interior treatment of the cab is not what you would call adventurous; indeed, some might describe it as a little dull. That said, the fit and finish of all the fixtures is to the highest of standards and the materials used are top-notch. Nor is there any lack of storage space.
Facilities include a lidded and lockable glove box with two shelves above it, a small shelf and a cup-holder at either extremity of the fascia, and two small shelves to the left of the gear lever. A shelf on top of the dashboard will take an A4 clipboard and features a sensibly positioned 12V power point, and there is another 12V point close to the gear stick.
The stick sits on a moulding that bulges out of the front of the dashboard and can restrict cross-cab movement. It does not, however, excessively limit the middle passenger’s leg room.
There are two bins in each of the doors – the lower of the pair comes with a moulding that can clasp a 1.5-litre bottle of water – and a cubbyhole above the windscreen. The sunglasses holder just above the driver’s door is a neat touch.
Both the steering column and the driver’s seat are height-adjustable, which aids with achieving a surprisingly comfortable driving position. The armrests and lumbar adjustment help.
Our Transporter featured cruise control, electric windows, heated and electrically adjustable exterior mirrors and a USB connection, plus a multi-functional touch-screen display with Bluetooth connectivity. A DAB+ MP3-compatible radio/CD player is standard on all Transporters.
Engage reverse and the highly effective ParkPilot display shows you how near you are to potential obstacles, with the sensors triggering warning beeps as the vehicle gets closer.
Climatic air-conditioning and Discover navigation were fitted to our van too, both of which are extra-cost options.
Mention should also be made of App-Connect – another option – which allows you to download various VW apps to your mobile phone or tablet. Among other things, the apps can provide information about your driving behaviour with an eye to cutting fuel usage and minimising the risk of accidents.
The van comes with all the usual safety features – some of which are now mandatory – that one expects to find on a light commercial these days, including driver and passenger airbags. The list includes ABS, ESP, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, hill-hold assist, and traction control system, which includes an electronic differential lock to aid smooth starts on slippery or loose surfaces.
Two less-common standard devices but which are welcome are the automatic post-collision braking and driver alert systems. If the van hits something then the former applies the brakes to prevent a secondary impact. The latter prods the driver into wakefulness using visual and audible warnings should they become drowsy and allow the van to drift out of lane, and suggests a break is taken.
Turning to the competition, one of our test Transporter’s closest rivals is the front-wheel drive Ford Transit Custom, in L1H1 270 guise and powered by a 100hp 2.2-litre TDCi Euro5 diesel engine with stop/start. Gross payload is virtually the same, load length is marginally shorter and load height is fractionally lower, but load width is 75mm greater and there is a lot more clearance – 146mm more – between the wheel boxes. The last two factors could explain why, at 6.0m3, the Ford offers more load cube space.
The VW Trendline trim’s closest rival on a Transit Custom is Trend. It gives you Ford Sync (which helps ensure the emergency services are summoned promptly if you are in a smash), cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors.

Powertrain
Equipped with a particulate filter and dependent on a 13-litre AdBlue tank, our front-wheel drive Transporter’s transversely mounted, turbocharged, four-cylinder, 16-valve, intercooled, common-rail, direct-injection diesel produces maximum power at 3750rpm. Top torque of 250Nm makes its presence felt across a broad 1500–2750rpm plateau.
A five-speed manual ’box is standard on this model. If you want an additional cog – or the superb, optional, seven-speed semi-automatic dual-clutch Direct Shift Gearbox – then you will have to opt for one of the two most powerful Transporters.

Chassis and steering
The front suspension employs coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers, while an independent suspension with coil springs and load-sensitive shockers is installed at the back.
Our demonstrator sat on 16-inch steel wheels graced with attractive plastic trims and shod with Hankook Radial RA28 205/65 R16C tyres. A full-size spare is mounted under the cargo bed.
Power-assisted steering delivers a 11.9m wall-to-wall turning circle.

Performance
You need to depress the clutch pedal to fire up the engine and in our case it took a second or two to think about it before it came to life. Once you are on your way, however, the experience is for the most part a rewarding one.
The Transporter rides well, if a little firmly, and feels solidly planted on the highway. It handles well too – enthusiastically tackling our favourite twisting section of the A40 on the Herefordshire/Gloucestershire border resulted in no dramas, although the steering could perhaps stand to be marginally tighter to deliver even better feedback.
A slick gear change allows you to get the best out of the engine, and with 102hp on tap in a van of this size we had no complaints about on-the-road performance. A sixth gear would have been welcome when we were slogging along the M5, however, and we kept reaching for one every so often.
Noise is not an issue. The cabin is well insulated from the engine and wind noise is only really noticeable at maximum motorway speeds.
Nothing squeaks. Nothing groans. Nothing rattles. Nobody else in the van market matches VW’s build quality, and some light commercials we can think of feel like tin cans on wheels by comparison.
Buying and running
The Transporter comes with a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with breakdown assistance provided for the duration. The body is warranted against rusting through from the inside for 12 years and the paint for three.
Service intervals are flexible and depend on how hard the van has to work and the conditions it has to face. Typically it will need to visit a workshop once every 15,000 miles.
All T6 Transporter vans come with Bluemotion Technology as standard. That means stop-start, regenerative braking and low-rolling resistance tyres, all of which are designed to reduce diesel consumption and CO2 emissions.
Our Transporter’s combined fuel economy figure is 47.9mpg. We reckon we were achieving 45mpg over a mixture of motorway, A-road and city centre routes and in some appalling weather, so not far short. The AdBlue tank will usually need topping up at around 4500 miles.
Finally, remote central locking with deadlocks and an internal locking button should help frustrate thieves.

History

It’s been almost 60 years since Ben Pon, the Volkswagen importer for the Netherlands, sketched out an idea for a panel van based on the VW Beetle chassis.
That first Transporter – the T1 – made its debut in Britain in 1954 and it would be another 14 years before its T2 successor arrived in British dealerships. Since then, the Transporter has been through four more incarnations, passed a number of significant milestones along the way (first diesel model in 1981, first 4x4 version in 1985, switch to front-wheel drive in 1990 with the arrival of the T4, winning the What Van? Van of the Year award in 2004…the list goes on) and continues to
underpin VW’s success in the UK light commercial market.

 

Volkswagen Transporter T28 Trendline SWB Euro 6 2.0 TDI 102hp
 
Price (ex VAT) – £21,175
Price range (ex VAT) – £17,745-£32,700
Gross payload – 886kg
Load length – 2572mm
Load width – (min/max) 1244/1700mm
Load bay height – 1410mm
Load volume – 5.8m3
Loading height – 566mm
Rear door aperture – 1473x1305mm
Side door aperture – 1017x1282mm
Gross vehicle weight – 2800kg
Braked trailer towing weight – 2200kg
Residual value – ????
Cost per mile – ????
Engine size/power – 1968cc, 102hp @ 3750rpm
Torque – 250Nm @ 1500-2750rpm
Gearbox – 5-spd
Fuel economy – 47.9mpg (combined)
Fuel tank – 70 litres
CO2 – 153g/km
Warranty – 3yrs/100,000mls
Service intervals – variable years/15,000mls
Insurance group – 8E
Price as tested – £23,280
 
 

 


 

 


Verdict


One of the safest LCVs, the Transporter is extraordinarily well built, well-equipped, pleasant to drive and looks a highly durable and cost-effective workhorse.

Share



View The WhatVan Digital Edition