With the 2016 Volkswagen Transporter, VW seems to be of the notion that one size doesn't necessarily fit all.
The German brand’s new-generation ‘T6’ Transporter has arrived on the market with a mass of variants and versions available for buyers to choose from, some of which seem to push the boundaries of the mid-size van segment.
This approach was similar with the T5 Transporter range, and on first glance, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the T5 and the T6. However, VW have seen fit to include some major advancements to the efficiency and interior quality of the van, not to mention new safety gear, new technology and a vast array of other options to choose from.
The model we have here is the Transporter TDI340 short-wheelbase manual, priced from $36,990 plus on-road costs. It’s not the cheapest Transporter you can buy, as there’s a Runner entry-level model that comes with a lower-output diesel engine and is priced at $32,990 drive-away.
This model on test is the second limb up the Transporter tree, which is quite a huge tree indeed. There are 19 variations to choose from including short-wheelbase, long-wheelbase, front-drive, all-wheel-drive and cab-chassis (single and dual-cab) models, with the range topping out at $48,290 plus costs. If you need to move people rather than packages, there are also two spin-offs for those needs – the Caravelle, with nine seats, and the Multivan, with seven seats.
Within that range, there are three engines to choose from – the entry-level TDI250 with a five-speed manual gearbox; the mid-range TDI340 with six-speed manual or seven-speed ‘DSG’ dual-clutch automatic; and the range-topping TDI400, with a six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG.
As mentioned earlier, our test vehicle was the TDI340 manual, with the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo unit producing 103kW of power (at 3500rpm) and, as the name indicates, 340Nm of torque (from 1750-2500rpm). Adding a DSG adds $3000 to the price.
This front-drive manual van offers one of the most refined drive experiences of any van on the market, despite the fact that this isn’t the new engine we sampled in Europe last year. That particular TDI350 version (with 110kW and 350Nm) has lower emissions and claimed fuel consumption, drinking between 5.8 litres and 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres, whereas the TDI340 uses between 7.2L and 7.7L/100km. On test we saw 8.7L/100km across a range of driving scenarios.
VW clearly didn't think it was necessary to include the more efficient engine at this point in time, possibly either due to our more lax emissions laws or costs.
Rant aside, the drivetrain is still better than almost all of the other diesel manual offerings in the segment. Admittedly, it isn’t as strong as, say, the Hyundai iLoad (the automatic version of that van is a beast) but the VW doesn’t have as much lag down low in the rev range as many rivals. The way it builds speed on the move is almost un-diesel-like, with smooth delivery in the low to mid range.
Our test van’s six-speed manual gearshift was slick, and while it may not be as easy to live with if you’re in and out of the van all day, for light-duty operators it could be the pick of the range. The clutch is light, the shift action has a nice weight and short throw.
Ride compliance and comfort is important for vans, and the VW again impressed with its manners. With weight on board the ride was very good. The suspension was brilliant at isolating those in the cabin from bumps on the road at pace, but it tended toward firm at lower speeds when empty.
The steering of the VW was excellent, being precise and with a natural weighting and directness that made it feel car-like to drive. The VW did exhibit some minor torque steer – where the steering wheel tugs under acceleration – but you’d have to be pushing hard to notice.
Although we hadn't loaded the Transporter heavily, the VW’s brakes felt very strong. There’s an element of grabbiness at lower speeds, but the pedal offers good gradual travel under harder braking.
Van operators may be more interested in the measurements than the road manners, and the VW stacks up favourably here, too.
Compared with some rivals the VW isn’t long (4890mm from nose to tail) or narrow (1904mm), but it is tall (1990mm). Watch the roof, yeah? There is also a high-roof version of the SWB model that adds a further 187mm of height (2177mm tall).
The Transporter’s cargo area spans an exceptionally good 2572mm along the floor, though if you option the steel bulkhead (priced at $590, while competing Renault and Ford models offer it at no cost) that drops to 2324mm of usable area. The low-roof space is 1410mm tall, which is better than most, while the mid-roof cargo bay height is 1635mm and the long-wheelbase, high-roof model has 1940mm of room.
The load space is broad at 1700mm wide and 1244mm between the wheelarches, so there’s enough space for an Aussie pallet to fit (they measure 1165mm by 1165mm). As with all vans in the class, you’ll have to load through the back if you want to fit pallets in, and that’ll require a swap from the tailgate option to barn doors ($490).
Like most competitors (the iLoad being the exception) the Transporter comes with a single sliding door on the kerbside. It can be optioned with dual sliding doors ($1190), and if you need them glazed it costs $390 per side. For visibility's sake, the kerbside window really helps with over-the-shoulder vision from the driver’s seat.
Given its diminutive exterior dimensions, the Transporter offers excellent load capacity at 5.8 cubic metres. That’s notably better than the iLoad (4.4m³), but not as good as Toyota's claimed 6.0m³ capacity.
The load space has six tie-down points on the outer edges of the cargo, which isn’t as many as some competitors, but it does have a better payload than most at 1236 kilograms for the manual (1216kg for the DSG) in short-wheelbase guise.
In terms of equipment, the VW is not the most impressively specified. Indeed, the cheaper, entry-level Runner model has an almost identical list of gear for less money, but we found the engine in that model to be a bit sluggish when we tested it at the international launch.
The VW misses out on auto lights and wipers (part of an optional pack if you want them), but comes as standard with a leather steering wheel that houses the audio controls and cruise control – the entry-level T5 model missed out on those bits.
There’s a new 5.0-inch media system offered across the T6 range with a colour touchscreen, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, SD, USB and auxiliary inputs. This screen also works as a visual aid for the standard rear parking sensors.
The system is simple to use and easy to learn, but it doesn’t live up to the larger media screen offered in the Multivan and Caravelle ranges. Thankfully that higher resolution 6.3-inch unit is available for $1190, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto extended smartphone capabilities. Satellite navigation is another rung up that option ladder, priced at $2190.
One plus for professional drivers is the digital speedometer that forms part of the driver information screen. There is a detailed trip meter system and multiple fuel use readouts, too.
Storage throughout the cabin of the T6 is excellent. There are dual open dashboard bins, a lockable glovebox, two other small item cubbies and a pair of cupholders on either side of the top of the dashboard. It also has copious door pockets with bottle holders mounted down low, and a 12-volt outlet positioned alongside the gearshifter that has a small storage box next to it.
Safety was a big focus for the German brand when developing the new-generation Transporter, but strangely no T6 model comes with a rear-view camera as standard. You can option a camera for $590 but only on versions with liftback tailgates. Barn door models miss out.
The updated version also meets class standards of airbag coverage, with dual front and front-side airbags as standard. Electronic stability control is included, and the T6 range also has a driver fatigue detection system as standard, so workers will be able to tell the boss that the van told them to take a break for a coffee.
For those in the market for a van as a mobile billboard, there are 12 colours to choose from if you buy a Transporter, including some outlandishly bright ones such as Luminous Orange, Grape Yellow, Cherry Red and Deep Ocean Blue. You’ve also got the standard white, two greys, black, silver, green and another blue.
Long-term ownership for the VW could be an expensive prospect, though. Volkswagen requires that the Transporter be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. There’s a capped price service program over a six-year/90,000km period, and the average visit over that time will cost $651, which includes consumables. If you buy the TDI340 DSG, you’ll average $714 per visit.
VW also has three years of roadside cover, and a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
The fact the 2016 Volkswagen Transporter has such a depth of options available is likely to appeal to fleet buyers who need vans of different shapes and sizes but don’t need to step up to the next size bracket.
They could do a lot worse than to choose the VW T6. Optioning up to the right spec may be a costly exercise, but you wouldn’t by a business shirt that’s too small because it’s cheap, would you…?
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Mitchell Oke and Christian Barbeitos.