2016 Volkswagen Transporter Review

Rating: 8.0
$36,990 $48,790 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
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The 2016 'T6' Volkswagen Transporter range is vast, and more than sufficient to outgun Euro rivals while chasing the top-selling Toyota and Hyundai
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The updated ‘T6’ Volkswagen Transporter family is now rolling into Australian showrooms, and the company is in an aggressive mood.

The Transporter van range comprises an at-times bewildering line-up comprising two wheelbases and at least seven general body-styles. In addition, there are the seven-seat Multivans and the nine-seat Caravelle (separate review soon).

That gives Volkswagen one of the most diverse ranges in the business, and is one reason why VW is number three in this segment. This should grow when you consider the T6 Transporter range is also a few grand cheaper across the board than before.

The targets? The dominant Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad, which between them make up about 60 per cent of this segment’s sales. Additionally, fellow strong Europeans, the Renault Trafic and Ford Transit Custom.

But while it fights these rivals on one flank, the T6 range also comprises single- and dual-cab chassis light trucks with mammoth trays that put your average ute to shame. Watch out, Renault Master and Fiat Ducato.

But let’s rewind for a second. New T6 range? What new T6 range? It looks just like the old one! Of course it does. This is Volkswagen’s modus operandi, and besides, if you want to install the fitout from your old Transporter into your new one, it needs to be basically the same.

Read full pricing and specifications on the entire T6 Transporter range here.

Under the bonnet of the base workhorses are two 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine options that offer the same outputs as before, though Volkswagen swears these EA288 units are brand new and about 1.0L/100km more efficient.

The TDI340 makes 103kW at 3500rpm/340Nm at 1750-2500rpm, and the TDI400 produces 132kW at 4000rpm/1500-2000rpm. Fuel use on the combined cycle is as low as 7.2L/100km with a six-speed manual gearbox, and about 7.7L/100km with the DSG.

Indeed, that seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic gearbox is vital, considering neither the Transit Custom nor Trafic come with a self-shifter at all. This gives VW a massive sales edge over its Euro rivals.

Like the Renault and Ford, but unlike the Toyota and Hyundai, the Transporter range defaults to front-wheel drive. But those doing heavy hauling might consider the 4Motion all-wheel drive option on the TDI400.

The likely top seller will be the base TDI340, which we drove with a manual gearbox at the Australian launch this week. The 103kW/340Nm outputs match the Trafic’s 1.6 twin-turbo (which is a little more economical, too), and like the French offering, the Transporter offers ample low-down crawling torque and a slick shift feel.

The 132kW/400Nm version, meantime, is potent for the class, and its relaxed nature means fuel use is almost identical.

The DSG lacks the straightforward linearity off the line of the 125kW/441Nm iLoad diesel’s five-speed torque converter. But once you’re on the move it’s crisp and decisive and, crucially, about 15 per cent more efficient.

In the daily grind, the Transporter remains one of the very finest. The suspension comprises MacPherson struts up the front and a semi-trailing independent rear axle with coils and an anti-roll bar.

Even unladen, the T6 settles after taking speed bumps and the like far better than a HiAce, while its ability to iron out corrugated surfaces is at least on a par with its highly credentialed European rivals. Perhaps better.

You can option heavy duty ($390) and rough road ($790) suspension upgrades for those doing regular serious labour. This setup will bounce around more without load.

The brakes are ventilated discs all-round, with dimensions of 308mm/294mm on the SWB and 340mm/294mm on the LWB and cab chassis, and rein the car in with good pedal feel and bite. That said, we need to drive one with a tonne in the back.

The hydraulically-assisted steering gives turning circles of between 11.9m and 13.2m depending on body style, and has 3.3 turns lock-to-lock. It’s light and easy to manoeuvre around town, and that commanding driving height and partial cab-over design make the T6 easy to place.

Indeed, that cabin is one of the T6’s best points. It’s much more resolved than a Transit, and feels a little better screwed together than a Trafic on first impressions.

The layout is typically low-key, but the plastics are tough and hard-wearing, the ergonomics generally flawless (unlike the almost criminally bad HiAce) and the nifty touchscreens and steering wheel add something to affairs.

There’s also lots of storage, with multiple big pockets in the doors, running along the dash above the glovebox and atop the instrument fascia. It makes for a nice mobile office.

In terms of equipment, all T6 Transporters get electric windows, cruise control, a rubber floor, 5.0-inch touchscreen, a Bluetooth audio and phone system that re-pairs quickly (but sounds predictably boomy sans bulkhead), USB/SD inputs and reversing sensors. All T6 models also get dual-front and side/head airbags as standard — not all rivals do — and multi-collision braking that stops secondary impacts after a rear-ender.

If we have one complaint, it’s some of the options. Volkswagen is really talking up a lot of the available features — and many of them are highly commendable — but they’re largely extra-cost.

A 6.3-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto costs $1190. Add another $1000 for sat-nav software. A reverse-view camera is $590. The package that gives you lane assist is $2560. A three-person front bench is $490. You get the gist…

Furthermore, the lack of a standard bulkhead with window like you get on a mid-spec Trafic or Transit means the base cabin is noisier, and you’re exposed in a rear-ender. Shell out the $590 Volkswagen charges, or at least option a cage accessory from your dealer.

Capacities are about identical to before. The design and dimensions of the Transporter are basically unchanged, meaning existing owners can transfer their fitouts (racks etc) easily.

The SWB sits on a 3000mmm wheelbase, while the LWB has an extra 400mm between the axles, and at 5290mm is 400mm longer overall. All are 2300mm wide. There three roof heights are 1990mm, 2177mm (for an extra $1190) and 2477mm (for an extra $2390, and only on the LWB).

The regular vans come with two front seats but can be optioned with a three-person bench as mentioned, while the crew van has a folding three-seat second row bench as well — albeit one without airbag protection.

Cargo volume is a high-for-the-class 5800 litres in the SWB low roof van, growing to 6700L in the LWB. The medium roof adds 900L or 1100L depending on wheelbase, while the LWB-only high roof has a huge 9300L.

Lengths of the cargo area are 2572mm (SWB) and 2975mm (LWB), while the fitment of a partition removes about 250mm. The crew van has 1600mm and 1967mm lengths depending on wheelbase. These figures are all again excellent for the class, though the HiAce is longer.

All are 1244mm wide between the wheel arches — a little narrower than a Trafic or Transit but wider than the Toyota — making them sufficient for a standard pallet. Payloads are listed as 1014kg on the 4Motion DSG through to 1236kg on the manual SWB.

The SWB’s cargo space gets six lashing rings, while the LWB gets eight. All versions get hardboard side panels and a 12-volt socket. Access is via a roof-hinged door (barn doors cost $490, or $690 with 250-degree hinges on the LWB), while a second sliding side door costs an extra $1190.

Meantime, the cab chassis versions come in single and dual cab forms, with three or five seats respectively. The dual cab can be made into a six-seater if you option the front bench. But none get moving rear windows or rear airbags.

The payloads vary from between 1172kg on the 4Motion dual cab through to 1416kg on the single cab, beating many conventional utes, while the tray dimensions are sizeable — 2939mm x 1940mm for the single cab and 2169mm x 1940mm for the dual cab.

Pricing is the final piece in the puzzle. As we mentioned earlier, pricing is down, with entry versions $1700 less than before, and this general number is mirrored throughout. That deserves a nod.

The $36,990 plus on-roads starting price matches a rival Trafic and just undercuts the Transit Custom. An equivalent HiAce is $1000 cheaper, an iLoad $500 (with twin sliding doors). The VW is a better offering than both of these top-sellers.

At $38,990, the LWB represents notably good value considering you get another 400mm of space. The $3600 premium for the TDI400 over the TDI340 is questionable for simple daily haulers, though the further $3000 premium for said TDI400 with 4Motion AWD is a bit of a niche.

The DSG-only Crew versions — $43,490 for the SWB and $45,490 for the LWB — are a few grand more than the equivalent Toyota and Hyundai.

The value equation will sharpen further when the familiar 75kW/350Nm TDI250 Transporter Runner with manual gearbox arrives in 2016, priced around $33K to match a base Trafic.

From an ownership perspective, all Volkswagen Commercials get a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing at 12-month/15,000km intervals.

All told, the T6 Transporter drives as well as ever, and is now more frugal for good measure. This, plus the austere but excellent cabin, the availability of more equipment and the vast choice of configurations mean user-choosers would be mad not to have a good hard look at this VW.

More: T6 Transporter pricing and specifications break-down here.

Note: Image above of Apple CarPlay is from Mutivan. Transporter unit the same but without the red highlights surrounding.