None of the iconic van’s direct rivals feature petrol power (see ‘Rivals’): if that’s what you require then your only option is to downshift to something smaller and lighter such as Ford’s Transit Connect, Vauxhall’s Combo or, indeed, Volkswagen’s own Caddy – always assuming, of course, that your choice has sufficient carrying capacity to suit your needs.

Volkswagen’s move is in part a reaction to the widespread – and largely unfair – condemnation of diesel, something that was in large part triggered by the manufacturer’s own regrettable role in the ‘dieselgate’ scandal.

It is worth repeating that although they are by no means free of harmful emissions, today’s frugal Euro6 diesel engines are far cleaner than their predecessors.

It is also a response to fears that some city fathers may ultimately decide to exclude even the most modern of diesels from their precincts.

Intrigued by the novelty of getting to grips with a medium-size petrol panel van, we climbed behind the
wheel of a 150hp 2.0-litre TSI, with a short wheelbase, standard roof and Highline spec.

What’s it like to drive? Huge fun – but it’s a potential licence-loser too…

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Load bay

Rear entry to the cargo area is by means of twin doors that can be swung through 180° if you release the stays, which are rather stiff and awkward.

A sliding door provides nearside access.

Four floor-mounted load lashing points are fitted plus there’s one next to each of the wheel boxes.

A hefty-looking full-height steel bulkhead should prevent unsecured cargo from slithering forwards into the cab.

Equipped with two interior lights, our van’s load area was defended against minor damage by optional full-height hardboard panels along its sides and an optional tailored rubber cover for the load bed.

There was no protection for the vulnerable wheel boxes.


Interior and equipment

Light-grey seat fabric is not terribly practical in a hard-working van, but that is what we were faced with. We were also faced with the Transporter’s undoubtedly practical, but not terribly attractive, dashboard.

Happily there is no shortage of storage space.

For your money you get a lidded and lockable glovebox with two shelves above it and two next to it. You will also find cup-holders and cubbyholes at either extremity of the fascia, a shelf on top of it that accommodates a 12V power point (there is a second one in the front of the dashboard), another cubbyhole above the windscreen, and a holder for your sunglasses above the driver’s door.

Two bins are mounted on each of the doors, and the driver’s door plays host to a removable waste bin for all those sweet wrappers and empty bags of crisps – it’s a sensible feature that should help keep the three-seater cab’s interior tidy. The bin sits in a moulding that could be used as a bottle holder.

Side storage compartments are fitted to the seats.

Anybody sitting on the middle seat should find it acceptable for a short journey, but probably not for a long haul – the occupant’s right knee is against the bulge that accommodates the gear lever, and that bulge could stand to be padded with some soft trim.

Putting three seats into a comparatively narrow cab means that space is compromised in other ways. One consequence is that the handbrake lever and the driver’s seat are so close together that it is difficult to access the wheel used to adjust the seat’s lumbar support, even if you have, like the writer, fairly small hands.

It is far easier to adjust the seat for height, reach and rake, however, and the leather-trimmed steering wheel is height-adjustable too.

Driver and passenger airbags come as standard, as do electric windows and electrically-heated and -adjustable exterior mirrors, and grab handles on the A-pillars. So do a USB port and an aux-in socket, not to mention Bluetooth connectivity and an onboard computer.

The Volkswagen Transporter can be ordered in Startline and Trendline specifications. Go one rung above to the Highline spec and you will get climate control, a heated windscreen, leather trim for the steering wheel, gear knob and gaiter, and front fog lights with cornering lights. It also wins you a Thatcham Category 1-approved alarm and immobiliser with tow-away, perimeter and interior cab protection, not to mention 16-inch alloy wheels

Our demonstrator was fitted with optional heating for the driver and passenger seats plus a high-quality DAB radio.

An optional Discover Media satellite navigation system was fitted as was App-Connect. It allows you to operate certain apps by mirroring the screen of your smartphone on the radio system’s colour touchscreen display.

Volkswagen is well-known for being safety-conscious and the Transporter sports a wide variety of electronic systems – some that are legally required, many that are not – that should help prevent accidents.

The line-up includes ABS, Brake Assist, electronic stabilisation programme, electronic brakeforce distribution, Hill Hold Assist and Traction Control System.

Also installed is the Automatic Post-Collision Braking System, designed to prevent secondary impacts after a crash. That is in addition to  Front Assist with City Emergency Braking System – it warns the driver if it detects a hazard ahead and triggers the brakes if necessary – and an electronic diff lock.

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Engine and gearbox

Transversely mounted, the direct-injection TSI petrol engine comes with a variable turbine geometry turbocharger plus an intercooler.

Maximum power kicks in across a wide 3,750-6,000rpm plateau while top torque of 280Nm bites across an equally wide plateau of from 1,500-3,750rpm. In our case the engine was married to a six-speed manual gearbox.


Well, it’s quick – very quick, especially if you are lightly laden.

On a run from Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire to the centre of Bath, which encompassed both the M5 and M4 motorways, we found we were up to the maximum motorway speed limit and way beyond almost before we realised it. Hence our earlier reference to the T30 TSI being a potential licence-loser.

The answer? Set the cruise control fitted to this van to a sensible speed and stick to it. It’s either that or install a speed-limiter.

In reality it’s probably not that much livelier than its 150hp diesel counterpart, but this model certainly feels a lot faster.

So how frugal is it? On the aforementioned run we averaged 27.8mpg. On other trips, primarily on rural roads, with more weight on board and travelling at lower average speeds, we were hard put to achieve 30mpg. That is despite the presence of a stop/start system, which can be switched off if needs be, and regenerative braking.

The equivalent 150hp diesel model can achieve 44.1mpg on the combined cycle according to official figures, which means its CO2 footprint is a lot smaller.

Noise levels are low, and the vehicle rides well, if a little firmly. The handling is sure-footed, but the gear-change could stand to be a touch smoother. It didn’t offer the slickness that we have enjoyed on other Volkswagen Transporters.

Once again the manufacturer’s build quality is top-notch: nothing squeaks, groans or rattles.

Returning to the ride, the front suspension on the 3,000mm-wheelbase Transporter features coil springs and telescopic shock absorbers, while independent suspension with coil springs and load-sensitive shockers is fitted at the back.

Our test light commercial vehicle ran on 205/65 R16C Hankook Radial RA28E tyres. A full-size spare tyre sits under the cargo bed. The jack is in the load area next to the nearside wheel box.

Power-assisted steering delivers a 11.9m wall-to-wall turning circle.

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On the face of it, opting for a 150hp petrol Volkswagen Transporter rather than one of its 150hp diesel stablemates should make sense if you are a low-mileage user, given that the former is £1,000 cheaper than the latter. If you don’t clock up the miles, the theory goes, then you won’t benefit from the fact that diesels are more frugal than petrol vans.

Unfortunately, the theory is wrong, at least in this case. Even if you cover no more than 10,000 miles annually the diesel is the winner, despite the front-end price premium.

We asked running-cost guru KwikCarcost to work out how much it would cost per mile to run our petrol Transporter for 10,000 miles annually for four years, and how much it would cost to run its diesel counterpart.

Even at this low mileage the diesel is cheaper, at 74.1p a mile. At 80.1p a mile, the petrol Transporter will cost you a full 6p a mile more.

In four years’ time the petrol light commercial will have depreciated to 31.6% of its list price. The diesel will have depreciated to 35.6% – evidence that there is still reason to be confident in diesel’s future.

Petrol or diesel, a three-year/100,000-mile warranty is included in the deal, with emergency roadside assistance provided for the duration. So is a three-year paint warranty, while the anti-perforation corrosion warranty lasts for 12 years. The initial service is set at two years/20,000 miles and is followed by a 12-month/20,000-mile servicing schedule.

Reversing sensors should reduce the risk of damage when backing up and they can be switched off if necessary. Optional front parking aids are fitted too.

The body has no side rubbing strips, which makes the van’s paint finish – cherry red, since you ask – vulnerable to minor damage. The same finish decorates the Transporter’s colour-coded front and rear bumpers, mirror casings and door handles.

VW Transporter Highline T30 SWB 2.0 TSI 150hp petrol

Price (ex VAT)             £25,745
Price range (ex VAT)              £19,870-£40,100
Gross payload             1,054kg
Load length             2,572mm
Load width (min/max)             1,244/1,700mm
Load bay height             1,410mm
Load volume             5.8m3
Loading height             568mm
Rear door aperture             1,473×1,305mm
Side door aperture            1,017×1,282mm
Gross vehicle weight             3,000kg
Braked trailer towing weight              2,500kg
Residual value            25.9% *
Cost per mile            52.7p
Engine size/power             1,968cc, 150hp @ 3,750-6,000rpm
Torque             280Nm @ 1,500-3,750rpm
Gearbox              6-speed
Fuel economy              31.0mpg
Fuel tank             80 litres
CO2             208g/km
Warranty             3yrs/100,00mls
Service intervals              2yrs/20,000mls
Insurance group             38E
Price as tested             £27,820

* after 4yrs/80,000mls
source: KwikCarcost


Options fitted

Discover Media navigation system        £930
Front and rear parking sensors            £285
Heated driver and passenger seats       £265
Lining for cargo area’s sides                 £195
Rubber load bed cover                        £155
App-Connect                                     £135
Cab seat trim covers                        £110



Ford Transit Custom

  • Price (ex VAT)            £20,395-£31,545
  • Load volume             6.0-8.3m3
  • Gross payload             674-1,474kg
  • Engines             105hp, 130hp, 170hp 2.0 diesel

Verdict: The van to beat in this sector of the market, and beating it is going to be a big ask for any manufacturer. Performance, ride and handling are all class-leading, residuals are to die for, and the Transit Custom is now on offer with an auto gearbox. Facelifted model goes on sale early this year with a plug-in hybrid due for 2019.

Peugeot Expert

  • Price (ex VAT)            £18,745-£27,795
  • Load volume             4.6-6.1m3
  • Gross payload              1,099-1,499kg
  • Engines            95hp, 115hp 1.6 diesel, 120hp, 150hp, 180hp 2.0 diesel

Verdict: Peugeot’s Expert is also marketed through Citroen dealers under the Dispatch banner and through Toyota dealers as the Proace. A significant and welcome improvement on its ageing predecessor, this model is a sensible package offering most of the facilities the driver is likely to require.

Vauxhall Vivaro

  • Price (ex VAT)             £20,970-£28,120
  • Load volume             5.2-8.6m3
  • Gross payload              989-1,280kg
  • Engines            95hp, 120hp, 125hp, 145hp 1.6 diesel

Verdict:  Made in Luton and proud of it, the Vauxhall Vivaro rides and handles well, is not short of performance, and also comes with one or two thoughtful ideas. This light commercial vehicle also shares the same design as Renault’s Trafic, Fiat Professional’s Talento, and the Nissan NV300.