While the Australian market is undoubtedly 4x4 ute crazy, Volkswagen will globally place a lot more stock on its Crafter over the Amarok as a commercial vehicle.
And while the Amarok soldiers on with an old platform for the segment, Volkswagen has unloaded both barrels on a new Crafter, which debuted back in 2018. It’s an all-new design, and the end product of a 10-billion Euro development program.
Unlike the previous-generation Crafter, this isn’t a platform-sharing or badge-engineering exercise. Instead, it’s a ground-up development owned wholly by Volkswagen.
Our test model, in particular, is a 2020 Volkswagen Crafter 50 LWB TDI410 in single-cab-chassis format with a passenger-licence-friendly 4490kg gross vehicle mass.
With an asking price of $59,890 before on-road costs, our tester is listed at $64,180 including the Scattolini tray. Augmented by a reversing beeper (with deactivation switch, $480), heavy-duty suspension (including the stabiliser bar, $690) and painted ladder holder ($1305), you're looking at $66,625.
|2020 Volkswagen Crafter 50 cab-chassis|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||130kW at 3600rpm, 410Nm at 2000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel consumption, claimed||N/A|
|Fuel use on test||11.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Untested|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years / unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, Isuzu NLR|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$66,625|
This Crafter is carrying similar mechanical hardware to the Amarok, although drive is only going to the rear wheels. Volkswagen’s ubiquitous 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine finds yet another home in the Crafter, where it makes 130kW at 3600rpm and 410Nm at 2000rpm. That runs through a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, not unlike a four-cylinder Amarok. Although in this instance it’s going exclusively to the rear wheels.
While small, it does a stellar job of rushing up through the gears and up to speed around town. The gears are shed quickly and smoothly, leaving you in fifth gear by 50–60km/h.
While eight ratios are handy to have, the Crafter is geared in a way to help its high GVM and load-lugging characteristics. An indicated 110km/h leaves you sitting over 2500rpm, close to 2750rpm. It’s not a problem necessarily, but it shows the gearing that Volkswagen has put into this thing.
Why gearing? Because despite having a big GVM and commensurate payload (2346kg as a cab-chassis), it’s powered by a relatively diminutive 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine. Although, a visit to the weighbridge pointed out our payload to be closer to 1800kg as tested.
When loaded with 1.7 tonnes of pavers, the driveline remained impressive, although you can start to feel it working quite hard when punting down the highway. When needed, the gearbox and engine are happy to engage high revs for some acceleration without too much fuss.
Naturally, with such a big payload, there is a firmness to the suspension as it drives around town unladen – bumps transfer noticeably into the cabin. Those aside, it’s a comfortable and easy vehicle to drive. A 16.2m turning circle needs to be stomached when you’ve got a big 4490mm (178-inch) wheelbase, but visibility is top-notch from the driver’s seat.
Perhaps most importantly, the load was handled by the Crafter’s suspension with aplomb. The steering felt unaffected, and there wasn’t any big loss of composure through bumps or rough sections.
Our tester had a reversing camera fitted up to the Scattolini tray, but that is an extra cost.
Fuel consumption sat at around 11.5L/100km during our test. High revs and pushing a lot of air mean it’s not logging efficient numbers on the highway. Consumption around town is about the same.
When loaded, the Crafter’s suspension proved its worth with plenty of damping and control left over to handle the pavers in the back, which were loaded over the rear axle. Steering, braking and engine performance around town were all seemingly unaffected. Only at highway speeds did the Crafter start to huff and puff a little.
Two great strengths of the Crafter, along with the comfort and ergonomics of the interior, are its practicality and storage. I’d love 4x4 utes to have as much storage as this, with an endless list of nooks, compartments, shelves and cupholders. The glovebox and parcel shelf are both noticeably big, and there are slots ready to take a UHF radio.
Underseat storage is also plentiful, and the big bottle jack hidden in the passenger footwell is easy to access if needed.
There is room for three across the front, and dual armrests for the driver would be a welcome addition during long stints at the wheel. Equally, a great driver’s seat with plenty of car-like ergonomics and adjustment (including my favourite – thigh support) makes this a good candidate for full-time usage.
Some elements like halogen headlights, a urethane steering wheel and basic air-conditioning point at the more utilitarian bent of the Crafter, but in typical Volkswagen style, the base specification still feels good and presents well. If you so desire, some options like a premium steering wheel ($345) and LED headlamps ($1690) are amongst a wide variety of boxes to tick.
In standard guise, we do miss out on automatic headlights, automatic wipers and digital radio, but once again this can all be remedied through the options list. Although, Apple Carplay and Android Auto is standard.
While the air-conditioning is a more rudimentary set-up without climate control, it’s very powerful for the single-cab and you’ll rarely need to use it at full tilt.
The tray, made by Italian company Scattolini, is a good design. The masonite floor limits loads from sliding around, and the flush integrated tie-down points work well. While that headboard design does limit visibility, we at least had a reversing camera (an optional extra) and good side mirrors to make up for it.
With services required every 12 months or 20,000km, you’re looking at a total of $3201 for the first five years or 100,000km.
|Service Intervals (kilometres)||Service Cost|
In a strange way, my time with the Crafter got me thinking about Project Clampy: an old Toyota HiLux rock crawler owned by well known (and all-round good guy) American 4x4 writer Fred Williams. While many high-powered off-roaders get all the likes with their spinning wheels and big noises, this hugely capable crawler, despite huge 39-inch tyres, gets by with an incredibly modest four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet, with a 2.2-litre 22RE being replaced by a 2.7-litre 3RZ.
How does such a small engine spin such big tyres up and over rocks? Gearing. It’s a good reminder that an engine alone doesn’t make a car, and good use of gearing goes a long way to make one work for the application.
With a reasonably higher asking price, some might prefer the diesel V6 of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter for a hard-working and load-lugging machine. Otherwise, offerings from Isuzu and Hino will also need to be considered.
However, this Crafter is compelling in its complete and comfortable nature. The core discipline of load lugging is solid, despite the relatively small engine under the bonnet.