Volkswagen is leaving nothing on the table with its new Crafter van. While the old Crafter was a re-badged, re-engined Mercedes Sprinter, this ground-up new design is all Volkswagen.
Getting this new Crafter designed, built and onto showroom floors is not a cheap exercise: 10 billion Euros. Volkswagen is banking on this new van selling strongly and making all of that money back as it grows market share.
The new Crafter comes with a big variety of wheelbases, lengths, bodies, drivelines and GVMs available, with prices ranging from $48,890 up to $65,580 (before on-road costs).
What we have here is a 2019 Volkswagen Crafter 35 TDI410 with a medium wheelbase, eight-speed automatic and 4Motion all-wheel drive. Decoding that mouthful: 35 refers to a 3550kg GVM, while a Crafter 50 gets an increased GVM and dual rear wheels.
TDI410 refers to the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel motor under the bonnet, which makes 130kW at 3600rpm and 410Nm at 2000rpm. Your other option here is a TDI340, which has 103kW and 340Nm from the same engine, but is mated up to the six-speed manual gearbox.
You can choose between a medium wheelbase (3640mm) and long wheelbase (4490mm), while the latter can also be had with an extra-long body.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but you can opt for four driven wheels. The floor gets raised up slightly to help accommodate the very long tailshaft, as well as the rear differential.
The all-wheel-drive system bears the Volkswagen nomenclature ‘4Motion’, but rather than having similarities to a Touareg or Amarok, the Crafter uses a fifth-generation Haldex AWD system, which is also used by the Golf R.
The engine and transaxle are transversely mounted, with the majority of the Haldex smarts hanging off the pinion of the rear differential. It's an electronically controlled clutch pack – a mechanism that allows the Crafter to dial in a varying amount of drive to the rear end, depending on what the car and driver are up to.
Our short stint of off-roading showed it to be an impressive system, calming it down on fast dirt and giving plenty of grip on low-traction surfaces. Combined with an electronically controlled centre differential, the Crafter drives and feels like a permanent all-wheel-drive system.
The system doesn’t feel slow or reactive. Even full-throttle applications on loose dirt see the front and rear ends hook up for a seamless, spin-free getaway. And while the suspension and ground clearance of the Crafter negate it from any serious four-wheel driving, it’s happy to lift a wheel and soldier on with surprising confidence.
No, it’s not a rock crawler, but it’s pretty good. For those wanting better capability on wet grass and muddy tracks, the Crafter’s 4Motion driveline will be a handy asset. All that I feel it’s missing is an ability for the driver to lock it into 4WD mode, which would help make the Crafter even more capable off-road.
Punching down a dirt road in the Blue Mountains, I started thinking about the ability to transform this Crafter into a bit of a recreational weapon. The good all-wheel-drive system means it’s a perfect candidate for a semi-off-road mobile home. There is a gargantuan space in the back for your own take on a living quarters. All I think you’d need are some light-truck tyres and maybe an additional fuel tank. Then, hashtag to your heart’s content.
The diesel engine is typical Volkswagen fare: smooth, refined and punchy in the right places. It’s enough engine for the van, especially when combined with all of the traction the 4Motion system gives. It's reasonably efficient, as well. My commute to and from work knocked the numbers around because it's mostly highway speeds.
The eight-speed gearbox is also smooth and responsive, feeling urgent enough on gear changes to help get the big van moving. There’s a sport mode for some reason, as well as a manual gear selection available. It’s a torque converter gearbox, not a dual-clutch automatic as found in the smaller Volkswagen Transporter van range.
It adds up to what is overall a very car-like experience from behind the wheel. Albeit, a very tall car with a massive load space. Electric steering lightens the feel at low speeds, allowing you to easily access the impressive 13.6m turning circle (for such a big vehicle). The steering feel gradually firms up as your speed increases, leaving you a composed feeling, even with some nice feedback.
While visibility through the Robocop-grade rear window grate isn’t fantastic, it’s made up by the big twin-mirror side units. And for reversing, the high-mounted camera does a good job of showing what might be hiding behind you.
The ride sits on the firm side of things, when unloaded. The way it slightly bucks over decent road bumps tells you that the springs and shocks are tuned for laden performance, rather than our unladen driving.
From a basic standard fitment, the Crafter comes with a big variety of options. Adaptive cruise control is available ($1590), as well as lane-keep assist ($800). Or, bundle up lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, folding mirrors and side protection for $1390. A few other nice-to-haves: automatic headlights and wipers ($390), and digital radio ($290).
Where a lot of your options and real possibilities lie, however, is with fitting it out for your end purpose. Extra doors, partitions, heavy-duty suspension, high roofs, beefed-up battery and alternator systems, swivel seats and GVM upgrades.
As standard, the Crafter’s seats have manual adjustment with electric lumbar support. Considering those driving these vans will be doing long stints behind the wheel, the addition of adjustable thigh support and an armrest will be appreciated. Although, the passenger gets diddly squat.
There are no ISOFIX points in the Crafter, nor is there anywhere to fit your top tether point. It’s a rare requirement for vehicles of this ilk, but could be a handy addition for those running a small business out of their van, and needing it to pull occasional double duty on family errands.
The infotainment display is 8.0 inches in size and called Volkswagen’s ‘Composition Media’ system. Those who know the system in most other Volkswagen vehicles would be familiar with this system and its layout. It’s easy to use, with touchscreen functionality and some flanking buttons. And for ease of use, there is Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality.
Spend up and get Volkswagen’s next-generation infotainment display called ‘Discover’. It’s the same 8.0-inch size, but has a cleaner look, new operating system and inbuilt satellite navigation.
The amount of storage pockets and nooks in the Crafter’s cabin is a beautiful thing to behold, and something I wish the increasingly car-like 4x4 ute would learn from. I know a big parcel shelf like the one in this Crafter wouldn't fit, but having slots above the dash, a shelf on the dash for nooks and cupholders is just downright practical. Each door is loaded with three different spots for stowing gear, and there are some additional spots below the infotainment display.
While you might only see a solitary 12V power outlet facing you on the dashboard, look closer on top and you’ll find an additional 12V socket, along with a USB and auxiliary audio point.
Fold forward the passenger seat squabs, and you’ll find a big space for storing bulkier gear, as well as accessing a fuse panel. Fold down the centre backrest for some additional storage and cupholders.
Another nice touch is the vehicle jack – a big red hydraulic unit that’s stored behind an easily removed panel in the passenger footwell. It’s a small detail, but it means it’s never going to be buried underneath loads of goods, gear or shelving in the back. Call me weird, but I love a beautiful big bottle jack always at close reach.
The back of the Crafter is a raw, blank canvas awaiting the owner’s plans and designations. You can bolt down, run wiring and affix whatever you want to the floor and walls depending on what you need. That being said, there are two lights, two 12V sockets and a bunch of tie-down points already fitted.
The Crafter's warranty weighs in at five years and unlimited kilometres, along with a one-year membership to Volkswagen Assist.
Servicing intervals are every 20,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first. Each visit has a set price of $475, $762, $557, $894 and $614, which takes you up to five years and 100,000km.
When you consider the Crafter is more of a business tool than anything else, there’s an impressive amount of refinement and car-like comfort built into the platform. Those looking to buy will need to factor in the options required to complete the picture, and whether the final bill still stacks up as the best option. Ford’s Transit and Fiat’s Ducato vans size up to be cheaper, but the Crafter does undercut the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van in most configurations.
Competition aside, looking at the Crafter on its own is compelling. It’s comfortable enough for full days behind the wheel, and is made versatile by the huge amount of body styles, options and configurations.