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Volkswagen Transporter test drive

The newly-updated Volkswagen Transporter could be the new mid-size panel van of choice

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Many might consider the Polo, Golf and Passat as Volkswagen’s longest-serving nameplates on sale today, but it is actually the Transporter van that holds this accolade – offering an astonishing 70 years of service to breakdown firms, couriers and independent businesses.

We’re now in the sixth generation of Volkswagen Transporter – hence the T6 nameplate – with over 12 million being sold since 1949. It’s also Volkswagen’s best-selling van by some distance, and the fourth most popular overall van in the UK.

Four years after the T6 first went on sale, here we have the facelift T6.1, but can it deliver?

What’s new about the Volkswagen Transporter?

The days of vans being backwards compared to cars are long over, and this latest Volkswagen Transporter shows this vividly – predominantly in the cabin.

A new dashboard gives the Transporter an ever more car-like feel, while VW has bolstered connectivity levels through the standard six-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and the company’s ‘We Connect’ range of online services.

Safety has also been enhanced significantly, with the Transporter coming as standard with new driver assistance features, such as autonomous emergency braking and crosswind assist – the latter automatically applies brakes if the van becomes unstable.

The Transporter has also been given a trademark ‘nip and tuck’ facelift, but more on that later.

  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 - front view | The Van Expert
  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 - rear view | The Van Expert

How does it look?

The cynical might compare the styling of the new T6.1 (the ‘.1’ meant to resemble an iPhone-style update) to the T5, which debuted in 2003. However, a lot has changed in that time – it’s just hard to go too outlandish with a commercial vehicle’s design.

The most notable changes are at the front, which is headed up by new twin headlights (LEDs on range-topping models), along with revised daytime running lights. A redesigned front bumper is another feature on the facelift, along with a new grille with a more imposing chrome strip.

Choosing between the trim levels can hugely affect the van’s looks, as opting for the entry-level Startline brings black plastic bumpers and steel wheels, while those wanting something a bit classier to look at should choose the Highline – bringing alloys and painted bumper trim.

What’s the Volkswagen Transporter like inside?

Step inside the T6.1, and purely looking at the dash you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Polo or Golf – the quality is that good. The plastics all feel solid and built to stand the test of time, with the switchgear also being easy to use.

  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 interior and dashboard | The Van Expert
  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 touchscreen | The Van Expert
  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 cargo bay | The Van Expert

A big difference on this update comes in the form of the now-standard infotainment touchscreen – known as ‘Composition Colour’. While not coming with satellite navigation, it brings smartphone mirroring and We Connect, which adds a host of online connected services. These include access to an emergency call and a parking locator.

Up front there is also a decent amount of room for adults to sit three abreast, while the load bay is also a generous size, with buyers able to choose a long-wheelbase version – adding an additional 40cm of room. Unfortunately, VW has not yet announced details on the payload of the Transporter.

What’s the spec like?

Volkswagen has made big strides when it comes to the standard equipment of the Transporter, with features such as electric windows, electric mirrors, Bluetooth and a six-inch touchscreen all now being added to the list of kit included. The Startline is the base model, with provisional prices expected to start from £21,635. Full pricing will be revealed when order books open in November, though it’s expected to be slightly more than comparative rivals.

From launch, the only other grade available on the van will be the Highline, which gains alloy wheels, painted bumpers, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a heated windscreen. It’s the best-selling trim – being most popular with independent businesses and one-man-bands, with the Startline being the fleet favourite.

The Transporter van annoyingly misses out on certain features found on other T6.1 derivatives (Caravelle, for example) – such as digital dials and the Volkswagen Group’s latest nine-inch MIB3 infotainment system.

What’s under the bonnet?

Volkswagen ditched petrol engines a couple of years ago in the Transporter (they accounted for just one per cent of sales, says VW) so diesel completely rules here, and it’s the infamous 2.0-litre TDI that accounts for all versions.

To meet tight emissions regulations, there have been a few changes to the line-up – some engines becoming more powerful, others less. In the new engine range, power outputs of 90, 110, 150 and 200hp are now offered.

Our test van is the 110hp version, which is paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. This level of power doesn’t sound much, but a plentiful 250Nm of torque means that this engine is surprisingly eager to get up to speed.

Next year Volkswagen will also introduce an all-electric version of the Transporter – broadening the van’s appeal further.

What’s the Volkswagen Transporter like to drive?

The Volkswagen Transporter has always had refinement on its side, and this facelift has thankfully not changed that.

  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 road test 01 | The Van Expert
  • Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 road test 02 | The Van Expert

It remains one of the best vans to drive on sale today – offering a comfortable and supple ride (ideal for delivery drivers bouncing over seemingly invisible speed bumps). As with any van, when it’s unloaded, the lack of sound insulation is noticed immediately, but once fully loaded (we tried both) it helps to iron out the issue.

The relatively light steering is also a bonus around town – making the Transporter no more difficult to manoeuvre than a typical hatchback, albeit opting for rear parking sensors and a reversing camera would likely be a worthy investment to make from the options list.

Verdict

The Transporter has long been regarded as one of the best vans on sale today, and that continues with the T6.1. It is now more connected than ever and comes with a much lengthier list of standard equipment.

These improvements have only enhanced the Volkswagen Transporter, which will likely continue to make this model one of the best-selling vans on sale in the UK. However, it’s only when full pricing and technical data is announced when we’ll know if the T6.1 is class-leading.

Similar vehicles

Citroën Dispatch | Fiat Talento | Ford Transit Custom | Mercedes-Benz Vito | Nissan NV300 | Peugeot Expert | Renault Trafic | Toyota Proace | Vauxhall Vivaro

Key specifications

Model: Volkswagen Transporter 2.0 TDI 110 Startline
Price: £21,635 (exc. VAT)
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Gearbox: Five-speed manual
Power: 110 hp
Torque: 250 Nm
Top speed: 102 mph
0-60mph: TBA
Fuel economy: TBA
CO2 emissions: 190 g/km

Ted Welford
Ted Welford
Articles by Ted Welford are provided for The Van Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association), including news, new LCV reviews and other automotive features.

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