Over the past few years many truck owners have had to come to terms with pouring a substance called AdBlue into their vehicles in order to ensure they comply with tougher emission regulations. A water-based additive with a 32.5 per cent urea content, it’s sprayed into the exhaust gases as part of a process called Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) designed to cut the output of pollutants.
SCR converts any NOx (oxides of nitrogen) in the exhaust system into nitrogen and water without producing undesirable by-products and AdBlue helps it to do so.
Topping up with AdBlue is a chore that’s been spared the owners of light commercial vehicles; up until now. Anybody who buys one of Volkswagen’s new Crafter BlueTDIs employing the manufacturer’s BlueMotion technologies will have to get used to doing so, however, to ensure it meets the forthcoming Euro 5 emission rules.
VW says that the 25-litre AdBlue tank has to be refilled once every 10,000 to 14,000 miles; and AdBlue costs around 77p a litre. Happily VW dealers and authorised repairers will do the job free of charge, but only during the first three years of ownership from new. The AdBlue reservoir sits under the bonnet. Let it run dry and you’ll find you’re dealing with a dramatic loss of power and torque next time you start the engine.
A switch to AdBlue is not the only change that distinguishes the latest Crafter. It gets a new manual gearbox, a modified particulate trap and engines that have been modified too under the BlueTDI banner.
We’ve been trying out a medium-wheelbase high roof CR35 3.5 tonne van. Crafter can also be ordered as either a 3.0-tonner or a 5.0-tonner and with a variety of van body configurations. It’s additionally available as a chassis cab and as a chassis crew cab.
Our demonstrator had a 109hp 2.5-litre five-cylinder common rail diesel under its bonnet. Maximum power kicks in at 3,300rpm, top torque of 300Nm makes its presence felt across a 1,900rpm-to-2,300rpm plateau and the engine is married to a new six-speed manual gearbox with a dashboard-mounted lever. Boasting longer fifth- and sixth-gear ratios plus a shorter throw intended to speed up ’changes, it’s standard across the range unless you specify a Shiftmatic semi-automatic ’box instead.
Three other versions of the new BlueTDI 2.5-litre are up for grabs in Crafter — at 88hp, 136hp and 163hp — and that constitutes the complete powerplant range.
Crafter CR35 employs transverse leaf spring independent suspension at the front with an anti-roll bar while a rigid axle and single leaf springs are to be found at the back. Our test van’s 16in steel wheels were shod with 235/65 R16C Continental Vanco 2 tyres.
Disc brakes are fitted all round — ventilated at the front, solid at the rear — and VW appears determined to ensure that you don’t come to grief while you’re thundering up and down the motorway if the list of safety devices installed is anything to go by.
As well as ABS, the package includes Traction Control System, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Stability Programme and Electronic Brake Assist. An electronic differential lock is fitted too.
Power-assisted steering offers a 13.6m wall-to-wall turning circle.
With an unladen weight of 2,113kg, our 3.5-tonner boasted a gross payload capacity of 1,387kg; an 18kg improvement on the previous model’s capability.
Trailer towing capacity is down sharply, however, from 2,800kg to 2,000kg, although it is apparently possible to get it up-rated retrospectively. Apparently this somewhat odd situation is all down to complexities in the rules surrounding the fitting and use of tow-bars.
Access to the 11.0m3 cargo area is by means of a sliding nearside door and twin, opaque rear doors that can be swung through 90°. Unhook the easy-to-release stays and they can be swung through almost 180°.
The offside door is graced by a large, round VW badge that overlaps the nearside door when the two are shut. We’re slightly nervous that harassed drivers juggling armfuls of parcels will try to use it as a handle; and snap it off.
There’s certainly the need for a rear grab handle to make it easier for people to haul themselves into the back of the vehicle. There’s one just inside the sliding side door, along with a step; so why not at the rear?
Once you’re inside you’re faced with ten load tie-down points and a full-height solid steel bulkhead. Our van was fitted with a tailored load bed cover for an extra £410 — all prices quoted here exclude VAT — which also protects the wheel boxes.
Aside from some panels on the lower halves of the doors there is no other protection from minor scratches and scrapes so the load bay will require lining. The cargo body’s exterior is protected against minor damage by side rubbing strips.
Maximum load length is 3,265mm. Maximum width is 1,780mm narrowing to 1,350mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 1,940mm. Rear loading height is 670mm. The door apertures are generously proportioned to ease loading and unloading. The rear one is 1,565mm wide and 1,840mm high while the dimensions for the side aperture are 1,300mm and 1,820mm respectively.
Although it’s somewhat dull and unimaginatively styled, Crafter’s cab interior is at least practical, with plenty of head and shoulder room.
Storage facilities include shelves above the windscreen plus bins in each of the doors with a moulding that can hold a flask. A reasonably capacious lidded, but not lockable, glovebox is provided too, along with assorted shelves on top of the facia that feature a couple of cup-holders.
A pop-out cup-holder is fitted to the centre of the dashboard next to the pull-out ashtray and we like the ability to pull down the centre section of the middle seat’s back and turn it into a handy table. Complete with two cup-holders plus a slot for your pen, it’s just what you need if you’ve got paperwork to complete. You can use a clip on the facia to keep your paperwork tidy.
All three seats are equipped with lap-and-diagonal belts and the driver’s seat is height-adjustable. Unfortunately the position of our vehicle’s steering wheel could not be altered.
An MP3-compatible radio/CD player comes as standard as do a driver’s airbag and electric windows. You pay £170 extra if you want the exterior mirrors to be electrically adjustable and heated however — good to see they have a separate wide-angle section — plus £925 for the Climatic air-conditioning.
The heating and ventilation controls are a little confusing at first sight but you should be able to get the hang of them; eventually.
On the Road
For a big van Crafter is remarkably sure-footed. We happily pushed it hard through tight bends, enjoying the amount of feedback provided by the steering and remarking on the lack of body-roll.
While we’d probably specify the 136hp version of the 2.5-litre if we were tackling a lot of high-speed long-distance motorway work heavily laden, its 109hp stablemate is no slouch. It’s more than adequate for parcels delivery work around local housing estates, an area of activity where Crafter’s manoeuvrability comes into its own. So do the front and rear parking sensors for an extra £280.
The suspension system is capable of handling most of the potholes that are now a feature of Britain’s disintegrating road network, although the van bounces just that little bit too much when lightly laden.
We could have wished for a smoother, quieter gearchange too, but we’ve got no complaints about noise levels. They’re well-suppressed.
Look for the spare wheel and you’ll look in vain, because there isn’t one. Instead, VW provides a tyre inflator and sealant kit that is stowed in a compartment beneath the driver’s seat. Doing away with the spare does of course save weight, and it’s one less item to be stolen or go missing. However while a sealant kit is fine for dealing with a neat little puncture, it’s no use whatsoever if you’re faced with a massive gash in the tyre’s sidewall or a blow-out.
One advantage claimed for the BlueTDI engine is improved fuel consumption when compared with the previous offering, especially so far as the extra-urban cycle is concerned; 34.4mpg compared with 32.1mpg.
The claim appears to be true. We found that overall diesel usage was slightly better, at 34mpg compared with 33mpg on routes that admittedly involved a lot of lightly-laden work and some careful, speed-camera-influenced, driving.
While Crafter’s aggressive exterior styling — check out the snarling front grille with its big VW badge — may not be to everybody’s taste, at least it should prompt other motorists to get out of your way sharpish. Good to see that a step is provided in the bumper to make it easier to climb up and clean the windscreen.
Service intervals are set at 25,000 miles and at the time of writing Crafter came with a three year/unlimited mileage warranty with UK and European roadside emergency assistance extended for the entire three-year period. A 12-year body corrosion perforation warranty and a three-year paint warranty are provided too.
Remote central locking is a standard feature and you can also lock the cab and load area doors by pressing buttons on the dashboard. A Thatcham Category 1 alarm is fitted too.
As well as complying with Euro 5, BlueTDI Crafter has achieved certification as an EEV; an Enhanced Environmentally-friendly Vehicle. That means it meets the most demanding European Exhaust Emission standard for commercial vehicles.
Register a Euro 5 Crafter before the end of 2010 and it will qualify for lower Vehicle Excise Duty for its entire life. At present that means you save £60 a year; worth having in today’s tough trading climate.
Offering nimble handling, sufficient performance and decent fuel economy, Volkswagen’s well-put-together 109hp Crafter CR35 BlueTDI 3.5-tonner is without doubt an impressive package; and an environmentally-friendly one too. Noise levels are well-suppressed, and while the cab interior is unlikely to win top marks for styling, at least it is practical. We’ve no real quarrels with the ride or gearchange either, but we’re not happy about having to pour AdBlue into a 3.5-tonner. It spells more hassle and expense; and you won’t of course need to do so if you buy, say, a Euro 5 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. We’re also concerned about the drop in towing capacity. If you can put up with using AdBlue however, don’t tow a really big trailer and you’re not frightened by Crafter’s aggressive looks, then stick the big Volkswagen on your shopping list. We doubt you’ll be disappointed.