Every panel van with opaque rear doors should be fitted with a reversing camera as standard. That’s our conclusion after having covered well over 5,000 miles in our always-dependable short-wheelbase standard roof long-term-test 2.5-litre 109hp-at-3,300rpm Blue TDI Volkswagen Crafter CR30.
Our Crafter 3.0-tonner has got one and we can testify to its usefulness. Mounted above the back doors — we’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve asked us what that funny-looking object is — it’s hooked up to a 7in monitor that flips up from a shelf in the middle of the dashboard.
Engage reverse and the monitor displays exactly what’s behind you. We’re convinced that it has saved us time and again from the embarrassment of dented rear panels and a bashed back bumper.
Something we’ve also learned, however, is not to rely on the camera completely. If you’re going backwards then it’s essential to keep glancing in the exterior rear view mirrors too. If you don’t then you can guarantee that you’ll end up swiping something that’s suddenly appeared alongside you.
Our test van is equipped with electrically-adjustable and heated exterior rear view mirrors for an extra £175; all prices quoted here exclude VAT. They’ve each got a useful, separate, lower wide-angle section.
The camera has two drawbacks. Damp early mornings can mist the lens slightly and the monitor steals some oddment storage space.
We feel the screen should be integrated more fully into the rest of the van’s design. On the new Vauxhall Movano/Renault Master, for instance, it’s built into the sun visor while a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter we drove recently had one positioned in the middle of the dashboard.
OK, those screens are probably not quite as big as Crafter’s, but they’re perfectly capable of doing the job.
Fortunately the camera appears to be quite robust. A noisy encounter with some overhanging tree branches made us wonder if we’d damaged it, but it suffered no ill effects. Nor did the van’s roof.
Crafter’s magic eye forms part of a £1,025 package that also includes front and rear reversing sensors. The screen is one of the few extras in a three-man cab interior that is otherwise fairly basic aside from a radio/CD player, electric windows and air conditioning.
The last-named feature costs £955 and is worth every penny when you start to roast in yet another M25 traffic jam.
Although you get ample head and shoulder room and there is plenty of space to stow bottles of water, clipboards and so on, the cab’s interior is alas rather dull. We can live with dull, however, if it also equates to durable; and Crafter’s has withstood several months of usage without wilting.
Dirty jeans and equally-grubby tee-shirts have left the seats unmarked and the floor has stood up well to the tramp of muddy working boots; and our test van has certainly worked.
Regular weekly hikes between north Cambridgeshire and south Herefordshire weighed down with bricks, bags of gravel, tins of paint, ladders and assorted tools have been replaced by more lightly-laden trips to such exotic locations as Slough, Huddersfield and West Thurrock in Essex. Our demonstrator has tackled local delivery runs too, shifting everything from crates of booze and boxes of books to a small mountain of waste cardboard.
To date every trip has been completed without drama or mishap, with a little bit of creaking from the rear suspension the only evidence that Crafter has been kept busy.
As we’ve said previously, it boasts surprisingly-good handling with ample feedback through the steering plus a reasonably-compliant ride over Britain’s rapidly-disintegrating road surfaces; and those surfaces are going to get worse and worse in the new age of austerity.
While the six-speed manual box’s gearchange co-operates with the driver most of the time, it is a bit noisy. Happily it’s the only bit of Crafter that is; engine, road and wind noise are all well-suppressed.
Drive this 109hp Volkswagen and you’re unlikely to shatter any speed records. It’s not a van for speed freaks, especially when it’s laden to its modest 936kg payload capacity.
Don’t expect to out-accelerate other light commercial drivers at the traffic lights and you won’t be disappointed. That said, once you’ve wound the vehicle up to motorway cruising speed you can usually expect it to stay there. Daytime running lights ensure that everybody can see you coming.
Maximum torque of 300Nm makes its presence felt across a 1,900rpm-to-2,300rpm plateau. Average fuel usage is 32mpg to 33mpg and seems to be improving the more miles we clock up.
Run a Crafter and you can guarantee to keep fit. Because it’s rear-wheel drive it has quite a steep rear loading height and climbing in and out of the back through the twin rear doors several times a day soon makes your legs ache.
Using the nearside entrance, which has a step and grab-handle just inside its sliding door, is rather easier on the muscles. So why not provide a step and handle for the rear entrance too?
Good to see though that the VW’s 7.5m3 cargo box comes with six floor-mounted load tie-down rings plus two more at the base of the hefty-looking full-height steel bulkhead fitted as standard across the Crafter van range. If the odd bag of gravel does happen to slide forward under heavy braking, then it won’t join you in the cab.
For your money you get a tailored load bed cover that extends up over the wheel boxes, but it’s a pity the van’s sides aren’t protected against minor scratches and scrapes with plywood.
CR30 is at the lower end of a line-up that grosses up to 5.0 tonnes and comes with 88hp, 136hp and 163hp versions of its Euro-5 engine. Load cubes go up to 17.0m3 while payload capacities go up to 2,528kg.
It’s reassuring to see that all Crafter vans feature Electronic Stability Programme and Traction Control System as well as ABS.
Somewhat less praiseworthy is the requirement to top up the vehicle periodically with AdBlue, a water-based additive with a 32.5-per-cent urea content.
While this obligation is now a familiar one to many heavy truck operators, Crafter is the only vehicle to impose it on light commercial owners.
As part of a process called Selective Catalytic Reduction designed to cut the output of pollutants, AdBlue is sprayed into the exhaust gases.
The AdBlue tank only has to be replenished once every 10-14,000 miles and VW dealers will do the job free-of-charge during the first three years of ownership from new.
We still cannot help but think that it’s ridiculous that a 3.0-tonner requires AdBlue to operate. On the other hand Crafter is covered by a generous three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty and that’s definitely a point in its favour. Oil change intervals are set at 12,500 miles.
Nobody is going to pretend our Crafter is the most glamorous light commercial on the public highway. Instead, it’s a sturdy workhorse that can do a day’s hard graft with the minimum of fuss; and when you come to think of it, that’s exactly what you want from a van.