Volkswagen has substantially revamped its hugely successful T5 Transporter. It gets new common rail TDI diesel engines, internal and external re-styling and the two most powerful diesels can now be ordered with an optional seven-speed version of the superb Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG). It replaces the automatic ’box previously offered and has an overdrive top gear with high-speed motorway cruising in mind.
Diesel power comes courtesy of a four-cylinder 2.0-litre generating 84hp, 102hp, 140hp or 180hp. Equipped with twin turbochargers rather than the single turbo with variable turbine geometry fitted to its stablemates, the last-named generates a hefty 400Nm of peak torque. The other three engines offer 220Nm, 250Nm and 340Nm respectively.
Across-the-board fuel savings of up to 20 per cent are promised compared with the old four- and five-cylinder engines with their unit injectors. A 10 per cent cut in diesel usage and CO2 output is the quoted average figure.
A particulate trap is a standard feature along with low-temperature exhaust gas recirculation and an oxidation catalytic converter, and all versions of the 2.0-litre comply with the latest Euro 5 exhaust emission regulations. A 2.0-litre petrol engine is available too, but will not be offered on this side of the Channel.
VW believes that frugal diesels combined with lower exhaust emissions make a lot more environmental sense in a van of Transporter’s size than some of the more exotic alternative sources of power. “We don’t think there is a business case for a hybrid,” one senior executive observed. Nor was he enthusiastic about the idea of an electric Transporter.
We hadn’t expected VW to restyle Transporter radically and we were spot-on. The external changes are subtle rather than immediately obvious, with a modest reworking of the front of the vehicle and the rear lights.
Internally you’ll find a new three-spoke steering wheel, revised seats, a new instrument cluster, redesigned air conditioning controls and updated radios and sat navs.
Sourced from Swedish manufacturer Haldex, now electronically rather than mechanically controlled, but available with an optional mechanical rear diff lock, the latest 4MOTION 4x4 system can be specified in conjunction with either the 140hp or the 180hp engine. Opt for it on the latter and you can combine it with DSG if you so wish.
VW is marketing Transporter with a host of optional safety features, including Side Assist. Employing a radar system that constantly scans the body’s back and sides it alerts the driver when he indicates to move into the next lane on a motorway or dual carriageway if he risks hitting, say, a car hidden in his blind spot. It will warn him too if he is about to pull into the path of a vehicle approaching rapidly from the rear. It’s activated at speeds in excess of 20mph and the warning is provided by LEDs in the appropriate exterior mirror housing. Side Assist can be fitted to vans, but not chassis cabs.
A reversing camera (Rear Assist ) can be specified as well, as can a tyre pressure monitoring system with a dashboard display.
Another handy safety option is what VW refers to as a static turning light. Integrated into the front fog lights, and activated by the indicator or the movement of the steering wheel, it illuminates the area into which the driver is turning to a distance of several metres at an angle of 35°. The idea is to ensure that he doesn’t clobber a pedestrian or a cyclist. It kicks in at speeds below 25mph when the driving lights are switched on.
A standard safety feature on all Transporters ensures that the brake lights flash rapidly to alert following vehicles if the driver has to slam on the anchors in an emergency. Once Transporter has screeched to a halt, the hazard warning lights come on automatically.
Aside from the aforementioned LED lights, the more aerodynamic outside mirrors house the radio, phone and GPS antennae. In our view, that’s a bad idea, and one that we suspect has been devised by people who don’t drive light commercials for a living.
Van drivers have a nasty habit of bashing mirrors. Do so in this case and you’ll run the risk of wrecking your communications system; and then there’s the replacement cost to worry about.
Good to see that servicing costs have been cut though. The timing belt now lasts for 130,500 miles before it needs replacing.
So what’s the latest Transporter like to drive? We took to the highways of Italy just north of Rome in a 140hp high roof to find out; and we were impressed. For your money you get a van with precise handling and ample feedback through the redesigned steering, a firm but by no means unpleasant ride and a slick gearchange courtesy of the 140hp lump’s six-speed ’box. With that many horses on tap there’s no lack of performance and noise is not an issue.
VW claims that the engine is around 5dB (A) quieter than its predecessor and points out that the human ear perceives this drop as being about the same as a halving of noise emissions.
Build quality is up to VW’s usual high standards — nothing squeaks or rattles — and the driving position ensures you feel instantly at home. We particularly like the clear, easy to understand dials with their white back-lighting; easily the clearest we have ever encountered.
A display tells you which gear you should be in to save fuel. Unfortunately we suspect it’s the sort of well-meaning advice that many drivers will ignore.
The high roof Transporter’s roof looks as though it’s been glued on as an afterthought, but high roof versions of vans of this size always look rather awkward; witness Mercedes-Benz’s unfortunately styled high-roof Vito.
After that we decided to sample a 180hp Transporter with DSG. With a powerplant some 4dB (A) quieter than its predecessor, this one’s a real flier and the gearbox is just as impressive as the DSG fitted to the Caddy.
Changes are made at exactly the right time, with the minimum of fuss and no jerkiness whatsoever. A dashboard display tells you which gear you’re in. If you need a bit more grunt, then switch the lever to S for Sport. More grunt is exactly what you’ll get courtesy of higher rev shift points.
At the other end of the performance scale, we liked the 102hp Transporter we sampled too. It packs more than enough punch for stop-start urban work and rural delivery runs.
New Transporter will go on sale in the UK next January priced from £15,700 to £24,340, with Sportline versions hopefully on offer from next March. Apart from a panel van it will also be available as a five/six-seater Kombi and various models of Window Van up to a nine-seater.
VW expects to find buyers for around 11,000 Transporters in 2010 plus around 1,000 Caravelle people-carriers and California camper vans. Derived from Transporter, they’ve been revised at the same time.
We have a lot of respect for the current T5 and its T5.1 successor is even better. Put it this way, if we were spending our own money, then the latest Transporter would be the van we’d spend it on.