The What Van? Road Test: VW Crafter
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Always perceived, rather unfairly, as the poor relation to Mercedes-Benz’s all-conquering Sprinter in the eyes of the van-buying public, VW’s rear-wheel drive Crafter has undergone a revamp.
The old 2.5-litre diesel has been replaced by the smaller 2.0-litre TDI diesel used throughout the rest of the manufacturer’s light commercial range. Complete with a diesel particulate filter, it complies with the latest Euro5 exhaust emission regulations and meets the EEV – Enhanced Environmentally Friendly Vehicle – standard.
Power outputs are set at 109, 136, 143 and 163hp. The 88hp option available in the old model has been dropped.
Unlike its predecessor, the new engine does not make use of AdBlue, saving money on servicing in the future as after three years VW charged to refill it. Familiar to heavy truck operators, but unusual on a light commercial, it is a mixture of water and urea sprayed into the exhaust gases to cut pollutants.
Around 1.5% more expensive on average than the departing model, the new Crafter is available as a chassis cab and as a chassis double-cab as well as in van guise. The passenger-carrying kombi is, however, no longer marketed in the UK.
Tipper, dropside and Luton- bodied variants are up for grabs under the Engineered to Go programme while more-bespoke conversions can be sourced under the Engineered for You banner. Gross weights run from 3.0 to 5.0 tonnes.
Payload capacities are up and VW has softened the Crafter’s styling, giving it a less-aggressive appearance than its predecessor. There are some modest alterations to the interior too.
Those internal changes include darker upholstery, a modified instrument cluster with white illumination and an indicator on the dashboard that tells you which gear you should be in for optimum fuel economy. Otherwise it’s as you were, and we are a little disappointed that VW has failed to take the opportunity to inject a bit more style into a rather dull working environment.
That is not to say that the three-seater cab’s interior is impractical: far from it. Offering ample space and plenty of headroom, it features lots of places to house all the bits and pieces drivers are obliged to haul around with them. The line-up includes a big bin in each of the doors with a moulding to keep a flask or a large bottle of water, shelves above the windscreen on both the driver’s and the outboard passenger’s side of the vehicle and a lidded glove-box. Three shelves, one of which will swallow an A4 clipboard, are on top of the fascia along with a couple of cup-holders. A handy clip for paperwork sits on the dashboard and there’s yet another cup-holder when you pull out the ashtray.
Pull down the centre section of the middle seat’s back and it turns into a table complete with two cup-holders and a pen-holder: handy if you have paperwork to complete or when stopping somewhere for a lunch break.
No matter whether you are stationary or driving, the height-adjustable driver’s seat is firm but nonetheless comfortable. The amount of support it gives means you should be able to tackle long-distance trips without ending up with back-ache.
We have no complaints about the quality of the fixtures and fittings. As might be expected from VW, it’s all top-notch.
What Van? sampled the 109hp CR35 3.5-tonne medium- wheelbase high-roof light commercial. With an 11.0cu/m cargo area it can handle a 1412kg gross payload and haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2000kg. (Remember that if you are proposing to tow something that heavy you may be obliged to have a tachograph installed and obey the heavy truck drivers’ hours regulations.)
Access to the load bay is by means of a sliding nearside door or through twin rear doors that can be swung through 90° or 180° if you release the, commendably hefty, stays.
While the side door aperture features a step and grab-handle (internally mounted in both cases), the wide and high rear door aperture does not, and desperately needs both.
It’s good to see, however, that eight floor-mounted cargo tie-down points are provided plus two more at the bottom of the full-height steel bulkhead.
Protected from scratches and scrapes solely by half-height panels on its doors, our Crafter’s load area needed timbering out: an exercise that would have to include a tailored cover for the vulnerable floor. That is something you always need to budget for unless it is included in the vehicle’s price.
Load length is 3265mm while load height is 1940mm. Load width is 1780mm narrowing to 1350mm between the wheel boxes, while rear loading height is 670mm. Side door aperture width is 1300mm with a height of 1820mm. The rear door aperture’s dimensions are 1565mm and 1840mm respectively.
Also found in the Caddy, Transporter and Amarok, the 2.0-litre TDI four-cylinder common rail diesel has been tuned for use in the Crafter so that it delivers increased levels of torque at lower engine speeds. In our case that meant 300Nm delivered across a 1500rpm-2250rpm plateau with top power kicking in at 3500rpm.
A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard, and it is interesting to note that VW has quietly dropped the optional Shiftmatic automated manual transmission from the Crafter range as sold in the UK. It remains available on the other side of the Channel, but solely with the old 2.5-litre engine.
A full, torque-converter, automatic transmission looks set to be launched as an option next year.
Chassis and steering
Sitting on 16-inch steel wheels shod with Michelin Agilis 235/65 R16C tyres, our 3665mm wheelbase Crafter was equipped with transverse leaf spring independent suspension plus an anti-roll bar at the front and a rigid axle with single-leaf leaf springs at the back. Power-assisted steering offers a 13.6m turning circle wall-to-wall.
There’s no denying that the new 109hp Crafter is a lot livelier than the old 109hp model. It darts away from rest more rapidly, accelerates through the gears more strongly and makes it much easier for drivers to get past slower-moving traffic.
With the previous 109hp engine, overtaking involved much more of an internal debate about whether there was enough power on tap to pass the vehicle in front, but you now have far more of a chance of surging ahead and returning to the safety of your own side of the road without incident. Nor does the newcomer disappoint when it comes to motorway cruising, although we would consider the 136hp version if we knew we had to tackle a lot of long-distance inter-city runs.
Noise levels are well-suppressed and the Crafter handles remarkably well for a big panel van, with plenty of feedback through the steering. On the downside the gear-change quality is poor – the words notchy and clonky spring to mind – and the unladen ride can be lumpy and bumpy, although things calm down a lot once you put some weight onboard.
No matter how much the vehicle is shaken about however, there is no rattling or squeaking. Build quality is rock-solid and to a standard that many of the Crafter’s rivals struggle – and usually fail – to match.
Included in the price are electric windows, an MP3-compatible radio/single CD player and a 12V in-cab power socket. You pay an extra £65 for a height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel however, which seems a bit mean, while electric adjustment and heating for the exterior mirrors will cost a further £185.
Our test van additionally boasted Climatic air-conditioning (£1025) and Bluetooth connectivity (a new feature on the Crafter) for £335.
Buying and running
A three-year warranty is provided with no mileage limit, while UK and European breakdown assistance lasts for three years. A three-year paint warranty offers further protection along with a 12-year warranty that covers the body against rusting from the inside out.
The Crafter is subject to Volkswagen’s LongLife Service regime – in other words, there are no fixed intervals for visits to the workshop; it all depends on how the van is driven and the jobs it
has to tackle, although a maximum time/distance limit of two years/25,000 miles is imposed.
Such an approach requires the use of synthetic oil. If you favour a more conventional approach to maintenance, though, ask your dealer to drain it and fill the engine with a standard lubricant instead. Do that and you will be on a 12,500-mile oil change interval thereafter.
The official fuel consumption figures are 28.0mpg on the urban cycle, 36.2mpg on the extra-urban cycle and 32.8mpg on the combined cycle. We averaged 32.0mpg.
The Crafter can be ordered with low-emission Bluemotion technology, albeit solely on the 3.5-tonner. As well as energy recovery during braking, cruise control and a longer back axle ratio, you benefit from a stop/start system to prevent wasteful engine idling at the lights and in traffic jams.
It’s good to see that our Crafter was blessed with a full-size spare wheel. The presence of a step in the front bumper to make it easy to climb up and clean the windscreen is another plus-point, and deep side rubbing strips should help protect the body from minor bumps.
It is a shame, however, that this protection is not extended to the wheel-arches.
The Crafter features a highly- comprehensive safety package including ABS, an Electronic Stability Programme that adjusts its behaviour in line with the load, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Electronic Brake Assist and Traction Control System. An electronic diff lock is fitted too. Ventilated disc brakes are installed at the front while the rear discs are solid.
Daytime running lights should ensure that other motorists will see you coming and the wide- angled lower section that forms part of the aforementioned big exterior mirrors should make it easier for you see what is coming up behind you.
A driver’s airbag is standard as is remote central locking. All the doors can be locked if you hit a button on dashboard.
A Thatcham Category 1 alarm protects both the cab and the load area. As well as going off if there is a break-in it will sound if somebody tries to tow the van away illicitly.
A solid and safe van that performs well on the road and looks like a useful, cost-effective working tool.
It is heavy, it’s the Transporter’s big brother
Volkswagen’s involvement in the heavy-duty end of the panel van market goes back to 1975 with the introduction of the LT as a bigger brother to the Transporter.
Having gone through various upgrades and facelifts, that LT was replaced with an all-new model in 1996 under a joint-venture agreement between Volkswagen and Daimler. Under the terms of the deal the LT and Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter used the same body shell but different power trains.
The first Volkswagen Crafter (right), the successor to the LT, debuted in 2006 and has now been followed by a re-engined and restyled model.