Covid-19 and the impact of successive lockdowns have triggered an explosion in home shopping. With many high street retailers obliged to close, consumers have been buying online – and delivery companies have been working flat-out dropping off packages and collecting returned items.
Good news for the van market, and this looks set to continue as the economy gradually inches its way back to some semblance of normality. The reopening of non-essential stores is sure to prompt some purchasers to revert to more traditional ways of shopping, but online buying seems unlikely to disappear any time soon.
Home delivery is hard work, and light commercials engaged in it take a hammering. Clutches can soon wear out and manual gearboxes suffer too; so why not opt for an automatic?
Multi-speed auto boxes have been embraced widely by delivery fleets, and sales of 3.5t Mercedes-Benz Sprinters with automatic transmissions have benefitted as a consequence.
Other manufacturers are eager to grab a piece of the action, and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) reckons it might be in with a shout.
Its current Crafter is available with an eight-speed, fully automatic gearbox– a transmission we’ve been eager to try, and the centrepiece of this month’s test – which can be specified in either the front or the rear-wheel drive variant. The alternative is the standard six-speed manual box.
Both transmissions are married to a 2.0-litre TDI diesel, the only power plant fitted to the vehicle. The horsepower choices are 102hp, 122hp, 140hp or 177hp, and the automatic box is on offer as an option with the two most powerful variants.
A battery-electric Crafter is in the pipeline but there is as yet no firm indication as to when it will appear in the UK. MAN markets a rebadged version of Crafter under the TGE banner and has already supplied 100 electric eTGEs to parcel giant DPD’s UK operation. Battery-electric technology will, of course, come to dominate home delivery in the longer term.
Grossing at from 3.0t–5.0t, the Crafter is produced in van, chassis cab and chassis double-cab guise. Van load cubes range from 9.3m3 to an echoing 18.4m3 – two different wheelbases and three different heights are listed – while gross payload capacities extend from 801kg to 2,560kg.
Customers can choose from Startline or Trendline specification levels, and upgrade with a Business Pack should they so wish.
Worthy of note is the 4MOTION four-wheel drive Crafter. The 4x4 system is fitted by VWCV itself rather than a converter.
We elected to sample a CR35 3.5t, front-wheel drive, medium-wheelbase (3640mm) van in Trendline trim with the auto box and 177hp to play with. So, how good is it?