The arrival of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles’ revised Transporter, the T6.1, in right-hand drive at the beginning of the year was timely for the brand as its core model was beginning to lose some ground in sales terms.
In 2019 it slipped behind the Mercedes Sprinter to finish the year as the UK’s fourth best-selling LCV on 19,608 registrations, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a total that compared to 21,763 in 2018 and 21,899 in 2017.
This was still sufficient to rank the Transporter as the UK’s second most popular medium van, behind the unassailable Ford Transit Custom.
The T6.1 gets its power from four 2.0-litre TDI diesel engines with outputs of 90hp, 110hp, 150hp and the twin-turbo199hp.
The entry-level 90hp unit has been reconfigured from 84hp while the 110hp, which VW expects to be the bestseller, has been updated from the previous 102hp engine.
All engines meet the Euro6d-Temp emissions standard.
The two lowest-powered engines are paired with five-speed manual gearboxes while the 150hp unit comes with a six-speed manual as standard but is also offered with VW’s seven-speed DSG automatic transmission, which is a standard fit with the flagship 199hp engine.
The 150hp and 199hp drivetrains are also available with the brand’s 4Motion four-wheel drive set-up.
The most significant upgrades to the T6.1 come with the driver assistance and safety features enabled by the electro-mechanical power steering the van has inherited from its big brother the Crafter. Not everything comes as standard from entry level but features listed within a claimed total of 20 new ones in the range include adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, park assist, crosswind assist and trailer assist.
To simplify choice for customers, VW says it has dropped the mid-specification Trendline trim from the Transporter line-up, leaving just Startline and Highline for now, although it promises to introduce a Sportline version later.
Storage in the cabin is ergonomically sensible and features a new shelf in front of the driver and an open storage bin and extra shelf in front of the passenger as well as cup holders by each A-pillar. On the downside, the tray on the driver’s side is not big enough for an iPhone X.
VW is committed to keeping up to speed when it comes to infotainment and connectivity. A 6.5in touchscreen with App Connect is standard from Startline and encompasses two USB ports, smartphone pairing and integration capability for We Connect, We Connect Plus and the emergency eCall function.
Our van came with the Discover Media 8in navigation system with We Connect Plus for £1,056. Outside the vehicle a smartphone combined with a We Connect app enables remote control of locking and unlocking, checking fuel levels or locating where the vehicle is parked. In the UK We Connect Plus initially comes for a period of one year and can be extended thereafter.
Functions include speed alert, online anti-theft alarm, online auxiliary heating, online traffic information, hazard information and route calculation, fuel station location, online map updates, internet radio and media streaming.
If this is still not enough, panel van customers will be disappointed to learn that the all-singing, all-dancing 10.25 Digital Cockpit, which comes with high-contrast graphics and two screen configurations, is only available on executive passenger-carrying Caravelle and California camper van models.
The range of functionality on the T6.1 is impressive but less technology-savvy customers may feel they need to go back to school to get the most out of it.
Driven here is a short-wheelbase T32 Highline with the 150hp engine wedded to the impressively smooth DSG transmission.
We had a half-load in the back, which the powerplant coped with without breaking sweat.
The new steering system has improved handling by delivering more feedback and precision, making the van more dynamic to drive than its predecessors on the open road but also easy to manage in urban situations. Adaptive cruise control is a welcome standard addition on Highline models and makes for a more relaxing and safer motorway driving experience.
Our van also came with active lane assist as a £960 option (all prices exclude VAT). This can be disconcerting initially as it tugs the van back into line if it senses you are about to cross lanes at speeds of more than 40mph without indicating, and will even resort to vibrating the steering wheel if the automatic steering correction is not sufficient, but it is a feature that can genuinely improve safety.
The same can be said for crosswind assist, which is standard on all models. It automatically activates at 50mph and uses the electronic stability control and targeted braking of individual wheels to keep the vehicle on course should it meet sudden winds from either side.
Less impressive was the road noise that became intrusive at higher cruising speeds on all but the smoothest surfaces, making it difficult to hear the (standard) DAB radio clearly. This was a surprise as it is not a problem we would usually associate with VW.
Returning to more traditional van territory, the 5.8m3 load space on the SWB van is reached via a nearside sliding door and, in our case, a rear tailgate, although twin doors are available too. A solid bulkhead separates the cab from the cargo bed.
Volkswagen Transporter T32 Highline 2.0 TDI 150hp DSG
Price (ex VAT) £31,125
Price range (ex VAT) £21,635-£36,915
Insurance group 40A (est.)
Service intervals 21,000mls
Load length 2,572mm
Load width (min/max) 1,244/17,00mm
Load bay height 1,410mm
Gross payload 1,217kg
Load volume 5.8m3
Engine size/power 1,968cc/150hp
Combined fuel economy (WLTP) 34.4mpg
With so much safety kit and technology added to the package Volkswagen’s impressive medium van is far more than an able workhorse.