Having clocked up getting on for 4,000 miles in our faithful short-wheelbase standard roof Volkswagen Crafter CR30 2.5-litre 109hp TDI Blue van we can testify as to its virtues as an uncomplaining workhorse. Laden with slabs, bags of gravel, tins of paint and a small mountain of tools, the 3.0-tonner has tramped a regular route between north Cambridgeshire and south Herefordshire week after week without drama.
Virtues include surprisingly good handling, with plenty of feedback through the steering, and a reasonably compliant ride over some decidedly dodgy road surfaces. Some stretches of the A40 as it runs through Herefordshire resemble the craters of the moon these days, but our Crafter has made a decent fist of coping with them.
The gearchange offered by the six-speed manual ’box is for the most part co-operative too, if a tad noisy.
It isn’t the quickest vehicle on the highway, especially when its 7.5m3 load area is fully laden — top payload capacity is a modest 936kg — so any overtaking manoeuvres have to be planned with care. Given a little bit of time you can wind it up to a decent speed, but time isn’t always on your side when you’re overtaking on a single-carriageway road.
Top torque is 300Nm across a 1,900rpm-to-2,300rpm plateau. Average fuel usage is running at 32mpg.
While our solidly-constructed test vehicle’s cab interior is fairly basic, it does feature a useful extra-cost option; a reversing camera with a 7in monitor that flips up from a shelf in the centre of the dashboard.
Part of a pricey £1,025 package (all prices quoted here exclude VAT) that also includes front and rear reversing sensors, it has proved invaluable. Damp early mornings can fog the camera lens slightly, however, and that big monitor does steal oddment storage space.
Far better in our view to fit what’s on offer as an option on the new Renault Master/Vauxhall Movano; a compact monitor mounted on the sun visor.
Our demonstrator is fitted with daytime running lights, plus electric windows, air-conditioning (£955) and electrically-adjustable and heated mirrors (£175). The latter have a separate, lower, wide-angle section.
Features of the three-man cab we’ve grown to like include the ability to fold down the back of the centre seat and turn it into a little desk complete with a clip for your pen and mouldings for a couple of cups.
Although there is plenty of space to stow flasks, sandwich boxes and so on, and you get plenty of head and shoulder room, the cab’s interior is alas rather dull. It’s a pity VW’s stylists weren’t a little more inventive.
Split bags of sand and gravel meant we encountered a load area problem familiar to us on other vehicles; the way in which detritus can accumulate in the recesses that house the six floor-mounted load tie-down rings, and defy all attempts to sweep it out.
Crafter is rear-wheel drive and as a consequence has a fairly high loading height, so clambering in and out of the back through the twin rear doors several times a day can soon feel like hard work. Entering and leaving through the nearside sliding door, with its step and grab-handle, is somewhat easier.
CR30 is at the lower end of a range that grosses up to 5.0 tonnes and features 88hp, 136hp and 163hp versions of its Euro 5 engine. Payload capacities go up to 2,528kg while load cubes go up to 17.0m3.
It’s reassuring to see that all Crafter vans feature Electronic Stability Programme and Traction Control System as well as ABS, and that they are all equipped with a full-height steel bulkhead. Rather less welcome is the need to top up the vehicle with AdBlue every so often; the only light commercial in its class to impose this requirement, familiar to many heavy truck operators, on its owner.
A water-based additive with a 32.5-per-cent urea content, AdBlue is sprayed into the exhaust gases as part of a process called Selective Catalytic Reduction designed to cut the output of pollutants.
Happily the tank only needs to be refilled once every 10,000 to 14,000 miles — VW dealers will do the job for free during the first three years of ownership from new — but it’s a chore that shouldn’t be necessary on a light commercial. If you forget to replenish it you’ll be faced with a dramatic loss of power and torque the next time you fire up the engine.
Our Crafter is covered by a generous three-year/unlimited-mileage warranty while oil change intervals are set at 12,500 miles.
If you want glamour then you’re looking in the wrong place. If it’s a rock-solid no-nonsense workhorse you’re after, however, then you’re knocking on the right door.