Volkswagen Transporter 2.5TDI Sportline Kombi

Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Times are grim and we all need cheering up. What better means of achieving that aim than splashing out on a top-of-the-range vehicle groaning with extras? We’re talking about the sort of conveyance that will really make your business stand out from the pack.

 

That of course presupposes that you’ve got the cash to splash. One way of justifying the investment may be to make one vehicle do the job of two; work as a van during the day and as a car in the evenings and weekends. That way you can flog your car, use the money raised to contribute to the cost of acquiring your new pride and joy, and cut your overheads by paying Vehicle Excise Duty and the insurance premium on one vehicle rather than two.

That’s the rational argument for acquiring a Volkswagen Transporter Sportline Kombi, which has a second row of seats and a load area at the back. Rational arguments go out of the window, however, when most people see this vehicle. One glance and they’ve just got to have one because it looks so good.

Technical

Based on the short-wheelbase front-wheel drive Transporter, the five-seater Sportline Kombi is yet another manifestation of Volkswagen’s success in promoting upmarket, well-specified light commercials to a discerning group of customers.

Power comes courtesy of a 2.5-litre diesel pumping out a more-than-generous 174hp at 3,500rpm. Peak torque of 400Nm bites at 2,000rpm. Complete with a variable geometry turbocharger and an intercooler, the five-cylinder engine is fitted with unit injectors rather than the more widespread common rail fuel injection. It is married to a six-speed manual gearbox with a dashboard-mounted lever.

Independent suspension with MacPherson struts is fitted at the front while miniblock springs help support the rear. Anti-roll bars are installed front and back and VW’s road rocket sits on 18in alloy wheels shod with low-profile 235/50 R18 Continental 4x4 Contact tyres.

Why 4x4 tyres when the vehicle isn’t four-wheel drive? Probably because they’re better able to deal with the amount of power being pumped to the driven wheels without wearing out prematurely; a solution to excessive tyre wear that certain other makers of highly-specified vans with low profile tyres might care to bear in mind.

Disc brakes are installed all round and ABS is fitted as standard along with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Engine Braking Control and Traction Control System. Power-assisted steering gives the vehicle an 11.9m wall-to-wall turning circle.

Grossing at 3,000kg, Kombi Sportline can handle a 1,000kg payload and is capable of towing a braked trailer with an all-up weight of 2,500kg.

Load Area

A hatch-type door equipped with a heated window plus a wash/wipe system provides entry to the cargo area to the rear of the second row of seats. We’d prefer the door to be unglazed on security grounds; either that, or the vehicle should be equipped with some sort of luggage cover. Happily the rearmost side windows are opaque.

The rear load area is 1,339mm long, 1,244mm wide and 1,394mm high offering around 2.3m3 of space. It shares the rubber floor covering used elsewhere in the vehicle. If you want to separate the rear load bay from the second row of seats completely then it’s worth noting that a bulkhead that can be fitted by a Volkswagen van dealer is now available. It costs £300 plus VAT and fitting.

Rear loading height is 558mm and the rear door aperture is 1,485mm wide and 1,295mm high. The dimensions for the nearside side door aperture are 1,020mm and 1,284mm respectively.

Cab Comfort

In-cab oddment stowage facilities include two-tier bins in each of the front doors — the lower tier features a moulding that will accommodate a flask of tea or a bottle of water — a lidded and lockable glovebox and a magazine net on the passenger side of the facia. A variety of trays provide a home for pens, small change and all the other bits and pieces drivers carry around with them while the pop-out ashtray in the middle of the dashboard boasts a cup-holder on each side.

Good to see a handy shelf above the windscreen for your sunglasses. Both the steering column and the driver’s seat — it has an arm-rest on each side — are height-adjustable and the driver is protected by an airbag. So is the front passenger.


The line-up of goodies includes air conditioning, electric windows, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors with a wide-angle section on the driver’s side, a radio/CD player and central locking controlled by a button on the driver’s door. Remote central locking with deadlocking acts on all the doors.

Unfortunately there is no disguising the fact that the dashboard is rather dull-looking and needs restyling, although we must confess that we love the red and blue dials.

Every seat in the vehicle is trimmed in leather. Step between the front two and you’re in the rear passenger saloon. External access to the passenger area is by means of the aforementioned nearside (sliding) door which comes complete with a sliding window. There’s a sliding window on the opposite side of the body too.

The rear passengers enjoy a respectable amount of room and the bench seat can be folded and tipped if needs be to create more carrying space.

On the Road

With 174hp under its bonnet, Transporter Sportline Kombi is a hoot to drive from start to finish. Every time you floor the accelerator pedal you’re met with an encouraging growl from the exhaust and a firm shove between the shoulder blades as the vehicle hurtles forward. High-mileage work is a doddle; the only difficulty you’re likely to encounter is reining Sportline Kombi in.

All the torque that’s available low down in the rev range means that heavy loads have little impact on performance, even when you’re tackling an incline.

The gearchange is precise and the steering couldn’t be more responsive if it tried. That does wonders for the handling, which is exemplary. On the downside the combination of low-profile tyres and quite stiff suspension with limited travel means that the ride is firm to put it mildly. The vehicle doesn’t like ridges and it abhors the umpteen pot-holes that pepper Britain’s roads.

As it happens an especially bruising encounter with a pothole outside Ross-on-Wye revealed just how robust Sportline Kombi is. The front offside wheel dropped into it with an almighty crash, the entire vehicle shook and we pulled up as soon as we safely could expecting all sorts of damage to have been done to the wheel, the tyre and the suspension system. Happily everything came through the experience unscathed.

Despite having all that power on tap fuel economy remains pretty respectable. We averaged a not-too-shabby 34mpg.

With chrome sill-bars plus coloured-keyed bumpers, mirror casings and door handles, there’s no denying that Kombi Sportline looks good. Its appearance is enhanced by upper and lower chrome front grilles, front fog lights, a front spoiler and a rear roof spoiler.

A three year/100,000 mile warranty is provided with no mileage limit in the first two years along with a three year paintwork warranty. Our demonstrator was finished in black pearl-effect paint for an extra £475 excluding VAT. A 12 year anti-perforation corrosion guarantee is in place too.

Service intervals vary according to the type of work the vehicle is on; longer if it’s in and out of a dusty quarry all day, shorter if it’s used for local deliveries by a florist. The maximum is 18,000 miles.

VAT can usually be recovered on this vehicle by VAT registered businesses says VW. Usually does not of course mean always, so it may be best to ask your accountant to investigate how you are likely to be treated by the tax authorities before committing yourself.

Verdict

Stylish and well-equipped, the surprisingly practical Volkswagen Transporter Sportline Kombi is guaranteed to put a smile on your face despite all the doom and gloom. Huge fun to drive, it offers ample performance and handles well into the bargain. The only major drawback is the rather bumpy ride thanks to the low-profile tyres and somewhat stiff suspension. Balance that against rock-solid build quality and the envious glances you’ll get from your neighbours. Our view is simple. It’s a fabulous bit of kit and we’d have one tomorrow.

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