Volkswagen built its new Crafter from scratch in a bid to become a serious player in
the large van sector. James Dallas takes a look at the result of its investment
Volkswagen unveiled its eagerly awaited new Crafter in the metal last month at a high-profile international event in Frankfurt.
Following the announcement of the dissolution of its agreement with Mercedes in 2013, under which VW’s large van was built on Merc’s Sprinter platform, the manufacturer not only decided to develop its next Crafter in-house, but constructed a brand new plant in Wreznia, Poland, in which to assemble the model, which it emphasises is new from the ground up.
The manufacturer is aiming to make a leap forward with the next-generation Crafter in a sector of the market where it has traditionally struggled to make an impact against the Sprinter and, in the UK in particular, the dominant Ford Transit.
It is significant, therefore, that VW defines “the basic thought behind the vehicle concept” as “giving the agile and popular Transporter range a big brother”.
The Transporter is widely recognised as setting the benchmark in the medium van segment and this is clearly a position VW aspires to with the Crafter in the large van market.
The exterior design of the Crafter is obviously based on the sixth-generation Transporter with a front end that rises in a straight line, the family grille (a scaled-up version of those on the Caddy and T6), and sharp lines defining the bonnet.
The new Crafter will come in three wheelbases, three roof heights, and as a single- and double-cab chassis cab. A 2.0-litre EA 288 Nutz diesel engine, which VW claims it has developed especially for the model, will power the range with outputs of 102hp, 122hp and 140hp, plus there’s a bi-turbo TDI with 177hp.
The manufacturer says the new Crafter will be available in front-, rear- and four-wheel drive (4Motion) and with the choice of six-speed manual and, for the first time, eight-speed automatic, transmissions.
Volkswagen LCV boss Eckhard Sholz claims the brand consulted “like never before” with its customers before designing the new van.
“We created the product our customers want to have,” says Sholz. “It was built from the ground up.”
The brand claims it reversed the usual development process by taking the customer as the starting point and then moving onto the vehicle – rather than vice versa.
It says its research found total cost of ownership (TCO) and suitability for myriad specific jobs and functions to be key customer requirements – claiming 69 body/drive derivatives are available and stressing the wide range of conversions enabled by the single- and double-chassis cab versions.
With environmental impact a consideration linked to TCO, VW claims the new Crafter will emit 25g/km less CO2 than the current model and will be “15% better than the competition as of today”. It has not released official figures, but by way of a marker, the Euro6 Ford Transit 350 2.0 170hp RWD has official fuel consumption of 42.2mpg coupled with CO2 emissions of 190g/km.
Interestingly, VW claims its customer research shows that operators tend to be more concerned with load volume than payload. The new Crafter panel van range offers cargo spaces of 9.9m3, 11.3m3, 14.3m3, 16.0m3, 16.3m3 and 18.3m3. The manufacturer claims the largest model can accommodate six Euro pallets while the core L3H3 11.3m3 van can take four.
Although payload figures are not yet available, VW says the 3.5t front-wheel drive Crafter’s maximum front axle load of 1800kg and maximum rear axle load of 2100kg, which rises to 2250kg on rear-wheel drive models, facilitates the application of conversion bodies. The RWD Mercedes Sprinter offers a front axle load of 1650kg and 2250kg to the rear.
VW adds that a Universal Cargo Floor is fitted with cabinet mounting points and transverse and lengthways tracks suitable for all the major racking suppliers, such as Bott, Sortimo and Wurth. VW says it is also possible to re-use storage systems from previous models and adds that due to the use of harder wood, its cargo floor offers greater resistance to wear and tear than conventional load bed floors.
An innovation that VW claims breaks new ground in the heavy van sector is its use of electromechanical power steering on the new Crafter, rather than the hydraulic systems the brand says all its competitors use and which was fitted to the outgoing model.
The manufacturer claims the speed-adjusted assisted steering improves handling and helps to reduce fuel consumption as well as facilitating safety and driver assistance features such as Front Assist emergency braking, Lane Assist, Park Assist and Trailer Assist.