Volkswagen has revamped its legendary Transporter, with new 2.0-litre common rail TDI diesel engines at 84hp, 102hp, 140hp and 180hp and understated internal and external design changes.
VW is catapulting its latest front-wheel drive offering into a van market that still hasn’t recovered from the impact of the credit crunch. So is the latest Transporter good enough to tempt hard-pressed business people to open their cheque books? We decided to find out.
We elected to try one of the workhorses of the range; a short-wheelbase low roof T30 102hp van. Fitted with an intercooler and a variable turbine geometry turbocharger and complying with the Euro 5 exhaust emission rules, the four-cylinder engine produces its maximum power output at 3,500rpm. Peak torque of 250Nm bites across a 1,500rpm to 2,500rpm plateau and a five-speed manual gearbox comes as standard on this model. Quoted CO2 output is 198g/km and a particulate trap is fitted.
Strut-type independent suspension is installed at the front while semi-trailing arms with compact so-called miniblock coil springs help to support the rear of the vehicle. Anti-roll bars are to be found front and back and our demonstrator sat on 16in steel wheels shod with Dunlop SP LT30 205/65 R16 tyres.
For your money you get a tyre sealer and inflator rather than a proper spare wheel. OK, it saves weight; but sealers and inflators cannot fix major tyre damage. If that’s what you’re unlucky enough to incur, then you’ll long for that missing spare.
Disc brakes are fitted all round and ABS comes as standard. So do Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Braking Control, Traction Control System and Electronic Stability Programme, not to mention an electronic diff lock. Hill hold is included in the deal too. As its name suggests, it stops you rolling backwards if you’re trying to move away on an incline.
The hydraulic power-assisted steering offers an 11.9m wall-to-wall turning circle. Grossing at 3.0 tonnes, our demonstrator could handle a 1,149kg gross payload and haul a braked trailer grossing at 2,200kg.
Access to the 5.8m3 cargo bay is courtesy of a sliding nearside door that conceals a useful step, and through twin, opaque, rear doors. The latter can be swung through 90°, or through 180° if you release the user-friendly door stays.
The doors open to reveal a load area with six floor-mounted tie-down points plus one positioned on each of the sides. The side lashing rings are optional and form part of a £1,180 (excl VAT) SE pack that includes a full-height solid steel bulkhead plus various other extras.
Maximum load length is 2,570mm. Maximum width is 1,692mm narrowing to 1,244mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 1,410mm. Rear loading height is 566mm.The rear door aperture is 1,486mm wide and 1,305mm high. The dimensions for the side door aperture are 1,020mm and 1,284mm respectively. Cargo bay illumination can sometimes be inadequate so it’s good to see two lights shining brightly.
Van drivers need space to put sandwich boxes, flasks and clipboards and Transporter’s three-man cab should be able to accommodate most of the items they haul around.
Each door boasts an upper and lower storage bin — the lower one can accommodate a 1.5-litre bottle plus an A4 clipboard — the glovebox is lockable and a net to hold documents is positioned on the passenger side of the fascia. We’d prefer to see something a little bit more substantial than a net, however, because it’s bound to sag and pull away after a while under the burden of its doubtless-expanding contents. The passenger seat features a storage box.
Pull out the ashtray and you’ll find cup-holders on each side. There’s a shelf for your sunglasses above the windscreen, a tray for oddments on top of the dashboard, a shelf beneath the radio/CD player and another one beneath the heater controls. The heater is highly effective on a cold day, we’re pleased to report.
The SE pack referred to earlier includes air conditioning, electric windows, electrically heated and adjustable door mirrors and controls for the central locking. It encompasses an alarm too. All Transporters feature remote central locking with deadlocks.
The new instruments win top marks for clarity; classic white on black. They really stand out, especially at night.
Driver and passenger airbags are standard and our aptly-named Comfort driver’s seat — another component of the SE package — can be altered for height and has an armrest on each side as well as lumbar adjustment. The steering column is height-adjustable too.
Having achieved an acceptable driving position, everything is fine until you rise from your seat and try to slide over to the pavement side of the vehicle in order to avoid stepping out into the traffic. Unfortunately the gearlever is mounted on a moulding that curves outwards from the dashboard and partially impedes cross-cab movement. Fortunately it does not steal legroom from the centre passenger.
With a competent ride and safe, sharp handling thanks to the remarkable amount of feedback from the responsive steering, Transporter offers a relaxed drive. Noise is well-suppressed, the gearlever snicks effortless from one set of cogs to the next and while the 102hp doesn’t offer outstanding high speed performance, it can certainly handle the occasional motorway or dual carriageway dash.
In that sort of situation, however, it’s hampered by the lack of a sixth gear. Again and again you keep trying to change from fifth to top, and again and again you are frustrated. An extra gear would of course boost fuel economy. Nevertheless, our test van still achieved an average 37mpg in our tender care. An indicator on the dashboard advises you when to change gear to achieve optimum fuel economy, although to be honest we didn’t always follow its advice.
Seems a pity that there are no side rubbing strips to protect Transporter from minor scratches and scrapes. The wheel-arches are devoid of protection too.
At least Transporter is covered by a three-year/100,000-mile mechanical warranty including three years roadside assistance and recovery in both the UK and mainland Europe. A 12-year anti-corrosion perforation guarantee and a three-year paintwork warranty are included in the deal as well. Service intervals are up to two years/25,000 miles.
Solidly-made in true Volkswagen style, the latest Transporter rides and handles well, with a smooth gearchange and well-controlled noise levels. The frugal 102hp engine is fine if all you need to tackle are local urban and suburban delivery runs plus the occasional high-speed motorway dash, but suffers on long runs as the consequence of a lack of a sixth gear. Internally the cab oozes quality for the most part — as indeed does the rest of the vehicle — with high-grade plastics the order of the day. Overall it’s a van that looks built to last and is bound to enjoy strong residual values. It seems a shame, however, that VW hasn’t been more adventurous when it comes to the newcomer’s styling. Internally and externally Transporter is bland to the point of being dull, and we can’t help but think that the manufacturer could have afforded to be a bit braver. Maybe next time round?