The 2018 Light Commercial Vehicle of the Year Award goes to the new VW Crafter, which is without doubt the most significant new model to arrive on the UK market during the past 12 months.

Once in a while a model comes along that looks as though it could not only be a game-changer for its manufacturer but could also shake up an entire sector’s established order. VW’s large van is such a vehicle.

The Crafter’s predecessor was built on the same platform as Mercedes’ Sprinter and, perhaps as a consequence, always seemed to be overshadowed by its rival. So when the end of that partnership was announced in 2013, VW not only took production back in-house but also built an all-new plant in Wreznia, Poland, in which to assemble the next-generation Crafter, a model that has lagged behind the brand’s traditionally strong performers in the light van (the Caddy) and particularly the medium van (Transporter) sectors.

VW defines “the basic thought behind the (Crafter) vehicle concept” as “giving the agile and popular Transporter range a big brother”. The Transporter is widely recognised as setting the benchmark in the medium van segment and this is clearly a position VW aspires to with the Crafter in the large van market.

And the exterior design is reminiscent of the sixth-generation Transporter with a front end that rises in a straight line, the family grille (a scaled-up version of those on the Caddy and T6 Transporter), and sharp lines defining the bonnet.

The £688m investment in the new Crafter facility announced loud and clear VW’s intention to punch its weight in the large van market.

Whereas the previous model was available only in rear-wheel drive, its successor is up for grabs in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive formats, with the first of these having been on sale from May and the latter two joining the range from November.

Further highlighting Volkswagen’s determination to cover all bases, the new Crafter comes in three wheelbases, three roof heights, and in single- and double-cab guises.

The brand says it consulted 900 customers with a wide range of operational requirements – from small traders to large fleets – before designing the model. It found total cost of ownership and suitability for myriad specific jobs and functions to be key customer requirements.

VW claims 69 body/drive derivatives are available and stresses the wide range of conversions enabled by the single- and double-chassis cab versions. It is building standard Engineered to Go Crafter conversions at its factory in Poland – such as a three-way tipper – and also utilises a team of dedicated bodybuilders under its Engineered for You scheme to produce more bespoke vehicles such as a mobile service clinic van converted by Winton Engineering.

A 2.0-litre EA 288 Nutz diesel engine, which VW developed especially for the Crafter, powers the line-up with outputs of 102hp, 122hp and 140hp, plus there’s a bi-turbo TDI with 177hp.

VW also now offers an eight-speed automatic gearbox to complement the six-speed manual transmission, and with this in its arsenal it plans to muscle in on the supermarket delivery and blue-light markets, which have tended to be dominated by the rear-wheel drive auto Mercedes Sprinter and Iveco Daily.

But VW claims its front-wheel drive auto will offer an added advantage in the shape of a lower loading floor.

Crafter product marketing manager Mark Leonhardt says that at 570mm, the load floor is 100mm less than that of the RWD van, thus saving frequent-drop delivery drivers 200mm in legwork and lifting every time they get in and out of the cargo bay.

RWD Crafters are likely to be favoured by customers needing to tow heavier loads (the RWD CR35 can haul 3.5 tonnes compared to the 4Motion and FWD’s 3.0 tonnes) but there is a 100kg payload deficit on RWD compared to FWD vans due to the additional weight of the drive system. The all-wheel drive 4Motion will enable VW to compete with Ford and Mercedes’ 4×4 Transit and Sprinter vans in appealing to the likes of utility companies, which need to access jobs in remote areas.

The panel van range is available with load volumes of 9.9m3, 11.3m3, 14.3m3, 16.0m3, 16.3m3 and 18.3m3 while payloads go from 801kg to 2,279kg.

The Crafter’s ride quality and handling now rank alongside the best in the business, both on the open road and in urban areas. The mid-specification Trendline version comes with cruise control and a speed limiter, but VW’s excellent adaptive cruise control, which keeps a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front on motorway journeys, is only fitted to Highline models.

A significant innovation on the new Crafter’s running gear is the introduction of electromechanical steering – a sector first, according to the manufacturer. The speed-adjusted system delivers sharp handling and better agility on challenging roads than the hydraulic steering it replaces and works well in conjunction with the crisp and precise six-speed manual gearbox – and is even better with the smooth eight-speed automatic transmission.

Large Van of the Year

It’s no surprise that having scooped the LCV of the Year Award the Volkswagen Crafter also topped the Large Van category.

Prices start at £23,920, excluding VAT, for the entry-level 2.0 TDI 102hp FWD manual, with the eight-speed automatic coming in at £29,500 on FWD and £29,700 on rear-wheel drive models. The 4Motion all-wheel drive version is priced from £33,150.

Volkswagen has ramped up safety equipment levels on the new Crafter and it will be interesting to see how Mercedes-Benz, often renowned as the leader in this field, responds to the challenge with its forthcoming Sprinter in 2018.

Aside from VW’s Automatic Post Collision Braking System and side wind assist, which are standard on all models, a vast array of driver assistance systems are up for grabs, such as Lane Assist (an active lane-keeping system), adaptive cruise control, Front Assist emergency braking, automatic Light Assist, Park Assist, and Trailer Assist.

Highly Commended: Iveco Daily

After winning the Large Van Award for three straight years, the Iveco Daily finally steps aside to take second spot on the podium.

The Daily remains a formidably practical and capable heavy van.

We particularly like the consummately smooth eight-speed Himatic automatic transmission that is available in tandem with both the 2.3- and 3.0-litre drivetrains.

Iveco has utilised both selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technologies to meet Euro6 emission rules. Payloads across the line-up go from 1,185kg to 1,500kg and load volumes span from 7.0m3 to a cavernous 19.6m3.

HC-Daily class=