Capable, entertaining and sharp-looking, its easy to see why the Volkswagen Transporter is one of the highest-selling commercial vans in its class.
A staple of the German car maker's commercial line-up since 2003, the T5 Volkswagen Transporter remains one of the most popular options available in today's competitive Australian van segment.
The third highest-selling van in its class, the Transporter is still north of the likes of the Chinese-built LDV V80 ($30,800), Hyundai iLoad ($30,990), soon-to-be-replaced Renault Traffic ($32,990 driveaway) and reigning king of moving ‘stuff’ from one place to an other, the Toyota HiAce ($32,990) – the latter only available in long- and super-long-wheelbase configurations.
Packed with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, our $40,990 front-wheel-drive TDI340 test car delivers 103kW at 3500rpm and 340Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
Pipping both the HiAce’s 3.0-litre and Vito’s 2.1-litre turbo diesels by 3kW and at least 30Nm, the Volkswagen Transporter TDI340 also trumps the 85kW/290Nm 2.0-litre in the Renault Trafic and the 100kW/330Nm 2.5-litre in the manual-only LDV V80.
And while the Volkswagen does fall 10Nm shy of the 92kW/350Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel unit in the all-new sixth-generation Ford Transit Custom, the Blue Oval’s challenger is again exclusively offered with a six-speed manual transmission.
Helping the Volkswagen Transporter claim a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 8.2 litres per 100km, the seven-speed auto is also up by between one and three ratios on its main rivals – bookended by the single-clutch-equipped Trafic and four-speed Toyota HiAce respectively. As a result, only the Trafic (8.0L/100km) and the Transit Custom (7.1L/100km) claim sharper economy figures.
Coming standard with air conditioning, a two-speaker stereo, daytime running lights and 16-inch steel wheels, the entry-level automatic Transporter TDI340 misses out on the Bluetooth connectivity included on the Toyota, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Renault offerings.
Obtaining cruise control – standard on Vito, Transit Custom, Trafic and V80 – also requires a further $490.
Once settled into the narrow and flat but still comfortable vinyl-winged cloth seat base and gripping the soft-rimmed button-free steering wheel, the Transporter isn’t a bad place to be.
A little utilitarian among a sea of hard-wearing dash and door trims, manual climate controls and a basic audio unit, the scratchy yet durable centre console, air vents, grab handles and plastic floor liner are all offset by one-touch driver and passenger power windows (up and down), damped indicator and wipers stalks, and Volkswagen’s standard clear and simple instrument layout.
Limited to only Trip A and B kilometre readings – with no average fuel or average speed figures given – the gauges are joined in the cabin by a heavy-lidded but amply sized lockable glovebox and a netted storage pocket below it.
Aiding practicality are two flip-out cupholders, four in-dash cubby holes, a single overhead cut-out, a dash-top storage space for sunglasses and business cards and large split-level door pockets for both driver and passenger.
Less easy to learn to live with are the super-low floor-mounted hard plastic handbrake lever and high NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels highlighted by plenty of road, tyre and engine noise.
Comfortable and compliant riding on tall 65-profile Continental tyres, the Volkswagen Transporter bobs along in a controlled fashion over undulations, with acceptable – and expected for a commercial van – amounts of body roll present through bends.
Mowing flatly through ruts, potholes and road joins with an audible thump, the 1752kg TDI340 stays on track with little fuss, and calmly hums over tramlines.
Consistently light but responsive steering works together with an 11.9m turning circle and genuine handling agility to ensure punting through tight inner-city streets is a legitimately enjoyable experience.
Consistent, too, are the brakes – despite being attached to a mildly slack-feeling brake pedal, heavily contrasted by a tightly sprung throttle pedal.
The engine is also a gem. Happy to complete most tasks asked of it below 2000rpm – including freeway stretches at 100km/h – the grunty turbo diesel delivers sound cruising pace from as low as 1600rpm until things noticeably drop off around 4400rpm. It’ll even contently coast along at 60km/h doing 1400rpm in fifth gear.
Prone to some hesitation and jerkiness when responding to sporadic prods of the throttle in stop-start traffic situations, the DSG gearbox and its dash-mounted gear selector work well overall, delivering smooth ratio swaps once moving, with little to no interruption to drive.
Annoyingly, though, the transmission’s own gear indicator – located on the left-hand side of the selector’s base – is obstructed from the driver’s view by the DSG-stamped gear lever itself. A slight ergonomic oversight, the issue can be easily circumvented by relying on the gear display in the instrument cluster, which sits next to the time and above outside temperature, trip and fuel information.
Shifting goods is what the Transporter’s all about, though, and despite being shorter in length than the iLoad, Transit Custom and V80, the 4892mm-long Volkswagen’s 5800L load volume is only bettered by the HiAce (6000L) and V80 (6400L).
The Volkswagen Transporter’s 1268kg payload rating is also the pick of the bunch, while its 2000kg braked towing capacity can only be matched by the Vito and Trafic and topped by the Ford at 2500kg.
Sliding back the heavy passenger side door presents an area 2353mm long and 1692mm wide at its maximum. Slightly reduced due to our test van being fitted with a $690 mesh cargo barrier, the Transporter’s rear end space still offers plenty of stacking room thanks to its 1410mm floor-to-roof height and 1244mm minimum width (between rear wheel guards).
Providing excellent head clearance at 1305mm tall, the weighty 1486mm-wide tailgate creates a large aperture for loading items through, although some may find the six floor-mounted tie-down hooks more of a nuisance than convenient.
Oddly too, the Volkswagen Transporter is free of any side or roof strapping/tie-down points.
And while the tailgate gives drivers an uninterrupted view out the back – rather than a thick join line common to barn door-style rear doors – lower rear vision is made much more difficult, particularly when reverse parking.
But where a rear-view camera is standard on the HiAce, Transporter buyers looking to match the Toyota need to fit not only a $2490 sat-nav unit but additionally a $1890 package that includes front and rear parking sensors ($890) and a rear-view camera, for a total of $4380.
Fortunately, the standard heated power side mirrors provide excellent assistance and rear parking sensors on their own will only set you back $490.
Standard on the Mercedes-Benz Vito and Hyundai iLoad, a driver’s side sliding door is also an option on the Volkswagen Transporter, priced at $1190.
A driver and front passenger airbag, stability control and hill-start assist are all standard fair, and the German van is also covered under Volkswagen’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with three years 24hr roadside assist.
With capped-price services ranging from $435 to $508 over the first three 15,000km annual service intervals, the first three years of ownership in the Volkswagen Transporter TDI340 DSG will cost you $1577.
Between $530 and $377 dearer than servicing costs over the same time period for the iLoad, Trafic and Transit Custom – the latter including brake fluid replacement – only Volkswagen declares costs for replacing both the pollen filter and brake fluid (both required every two years).
With service intervals every 10,000km, however, the Toyota HiAce – with two services annually – still takes the crown, requiring $1020 over three years or 60,000km.
While the HiAce remains top of the sales pile, closely followed by South Korea’s iLoad, the Volkswagen Transporter combines European fit and finish, excellent dynamics and class-leading capability in a sharp-looking, if a little pricey, van, like few others.
*Note: Volkswagen Transporter supplied with thanks to Bayford Volkswagen.