Look deep into the annals of Volkswagen’s history, and there is one model that goes some way to match the original Beetle for time served and brand recognition. The original Type 2 Volkswagen was literally, the second model developed and built by the then fledgling carmaker in post-war Germany, as Volkswagen embarked on expanding into global markets.
And in 2021, the distant descendant of that 1950 model has been refreshed into T6.1 form. This includes a tweaked new look, new and updated diesel powertrains at its disposal, and a host of new technology.
We got a chance to sample a few variants of the new 2021 Volkswagen Transporter range at its recent launch in Australia, to see how it stacks up.
Priced from $38,990 to $60,490, and covering a variety of different configurations and powertrains, the Transporter range has a broad spectrum of load spaces, occupant and payload capacities to suit different users. And now that 4Motion all-wheel drive is available across a broader range of models, it could be more enticing for Australian buyers.
|Capacity (cc)||2.0-litre (1968cc) single-turbo diesel 4cyl||2.0-litre (1968cc) single-turbo diesel 4cyl||2.0-litre (1968cc) bi-turbo diesel 4cyl|
|Power||81kW @ 3500rpm||110kW @ 3250-3750rpm||146kW @ 4000rpm|
|Torque||250Nm @ 1250-3100||340Nm @ 1500-3000rpm||450Nm @ 1400-2400rpm|
|Claimed fuel economy||6.9L/100km||7.5-8.3L/100km||7.3-8.4L/100km|
|Automatic transmission||N/A||Seven-speed dual-clutch||Seven-speed dual-clutch|
Safety is as important as ever, and the inclusion of some active safety technology does go some way to bringing the Transporter up to speed. There is Volkswagen’s own take on pre-collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, although the latter (they call it City Emergency Brake) only works up to 30km/h.
And depending on the model, there is also blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, multi-collision brake and cross-wind assist.
The current model Transporter is yet to be crash-tested by ANCAP, with the latest record being a four-star rating in 2008. The new model is a safer prospect no doubt, but we can't be certain how well it might hold up in a crash.
The interior carries similar hard points over from the T6 Transporter, but T6.1 does get a nice refresh inside that does a lot of good for this commercial vehicle. The steering wheel, leather wrapped and – typical of Volkswagen – feeling good in the hands, adds a premium touch to an otherwise utilitarian but aesthetically pleasing interior.
A dashboard-mounted shifter clears up room between driver and passenger up front, as does the absence of a centre console. You lose somewhere to stash your day-to-day gear, but space here does allow you to walk through to the back (mostly) unimpeded.
|2021 Volkswagen Transporter T6.1 van pricing||Price SWB/LWB (before on-road costs)|
|TDI250 five-speed manual||$38,990|
|TDI340 six-speed manual||$41,990 / $44,990|
|TDI340 seven-speed DSG automatic||$44,990 / $47,990|
|TDI340 seven-speed DSG auto 4Motion||$47,990 / $50,990|
|TDI450 seven-speed DSG automatic||$50,990 / $53,990|
|TDI450 seven-speed DSG 4Motion||$53,990 / $56,990|
Storage is good otherwise, typical of this class of vehicle. Rather than a flat-topped dashboard, you’ve got handy recesses in front that would be good for paperwork, clipboards and knick-knacks. The small glovebox in front of the passenger is supplemented by a couple of shelves, and the door card storage is huge.
There are one or two 12V outlets in the front of a Transporter, depending on your specifications and options, but be warned: get onto the USB-C bandwagon or add in an adaptor. Instead of any of the more ubiquitous USB-A, you get two of the newer, more oblong-shaped ports for your phone connecting and charging.
The seating position is high and nicely adjustable, with visibility very good overall. Sitting forward, big windscreen, good mirrors. There is naturally a little bit of a blind spot in vans without much side glass, but blind-spot monitoring does improve things in this regard.
Infotainment comes via a a 6.5-inch ‘Composition Colour’ display, which works well, especially with the inclusion of a volume dial for easy control on the move. And of course, there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring. A digital radio and native navigation is missing however, reserved for the larger, more expensive 9.2-inch system.
|2021 Volkswagen Transporter Crewvan T6.1 van pricing||Price SWB/LWB (before on-road costs)|
|TDI340 seven-speed DSG automatic||$51,490 / $54,490|
|TDI340 seven-speed DSG auto 4Motion||$54,490 / $57,490|
That’s backed up by a multifunction display in front of the driver, flanked by an analogue speedometer and tachometer, which has faithfully served in the binnacle of many Volkswagens over the years. It’s not exactly bleeding-edge, but it does the job, and importantly includes a digital speed readout to keep those state government donations to a minimum.
Unladen, the Transporter is quite good for a commercial vehicle. We weren’t able to load up these vehicles on our first drive to see how the suspension and drivelines performed, but we were pleased with initial impressions.
You can tell the damping is tuned to account for extra weight when the Transporter gets loaded up, but it doesn’t feel too brittle or stiff when negotiating speed bumps and potholes around town. The longer wheelbase did yield a slight improvement, but neither is what you’d call bad.
And speaking of different specifications, I was taken aback by the drive and performance of the – on paper – least impressive powertrain. Sporting only 81kW/250Nm and five ratios in the manual gearbox, I presumed that this variant might be a bit of a slug.
But I was wrong. Manual-geared vehicles often have a good knack of feeling perkier than their automatic-geared brethren, but Volkswagen’s trick of lowering diff gearing to improve torque at the wheels does the trick nicely. You’re never left feeling like you need more power in the entry-level van. Unladen, that is.
The trade-off here is that often, the short gearing will lead to over-revving on the highway. I was doing just shy of 2500rpm at 110km/h, and the Transporter felt quite happy at that gait. Once again, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
The base model might not suit long highway stints, and its laden performance is yet to be surmised. But if you’re looking for a cheaper entry into the Transporter range for hauling gear around town, and you’re happy to row your own gears, the TDI250 did feel good to drive for the $38,990 (before on-road costs) asking price.
The other variant we sampled was the TDI340, running through a seven-speed ‘DCT’ dual-clutch automatic gearbox to the front wheels. This was in long-wheelbase format, and also unladen.
If you want an automatic gearbox, this is where you’ll need to start looking. And although dual-clutch transmissions can get a bad rap for their low-speed manoeuvring, this one proved to be easy to live with. Crucially, there isn’t any neutral-esque rolling in between drive and reverse, and no need for left-foot braking as the clutch operation comes on. It’s smooth, and fast enough to not annoy.
With plenty of torque available anywhere near the 2000rpm mark on the tachometer, along with a smart-shifting gearbox, the 340Nm Transporter is plenty powerful enough for the application.
And otherwise, the benefits of a dual-clutch transmission allows for better fuel economy over a torque converter. Although, our short test drive loops and multiple variants to drive did preclude us from getting any meaningful fuel economy figures.
All we can go off then, are the claimed fuel figures, which range from 6.9 litres per hundred kilometres for the least powerful engine, all the way up to 8.0 for the twin-turbocharged 450TDI engine in bigger vans with higher specifications.
Another element of fuel economy saving is the new electromechanical steering system, which replaces a hydraulic system. This yields a noticeably light steering feel, both at speed and at a stop. It doesn’t fall into the trap of feeling vague, and leaves the Transporter feeling easy to move in small spaces and twirl through town. It’s nicely balanced, and suits the application nicely.
Vans don’t suit everybody’s tastes (especially Australians), and Volkswagen has included single cab-chassis and dual cab-chassis variants in the Transporter range for this purpose. It’s an interesting one, because it could be a serious alternative to the ubiquitous ute that so many Australians use for work, play and family duties.
|2021 Volkswagen Transporter Cab-chassis T6.1 pricing||Price (before on-road costs)|
|Transporter single cab TDI450 seven-speed DSG automatic||$55,490|
|Transporter single cab TDI450 seven-speed DSG auto 4Motion||$58,490|
|Transporter dual cab TDI450 seven-speed DSG automatic||$57,490|
|Transporter dual cab TDI450 seven-speed DSG auto 4Motion||$60,490|
In terms of work, a 945kg payload for the dual-cab variant certainly cuts the mustard and our testing of 500kg in the back yielded good performance around town. And the tray is big, outstripping the size available from your average dual-cab ute: 2939mm of length and 1940mm of width is great for a single-cab and the dual-cab is also good at 2169mm x 1940mm.
However, the second row of a dual-cab Transporter does feel like an afterthought. Aside from seats and seatbelts, there is nothing else in the back for occupants. No power, no air. Even the windows don’t open, which could be a real pain.
Cab-chassis variants are only available with the most powerful engine, with 145kW and 450Nm running through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and the option of 4Motion all wheel-drive. This helps with the big payload, and if you're planning on using the 2500kg towing capacity. Although, the low 100kg towball capacity is limiting.
That amount of torque, available between 1400 and 2400rpm, makes the engine feel bigger than two litres when in the sweet spot, and quite effortless even when lugging up hills. Another interesting thing to note with this variant is that because of its body style, it goes without AdBlue selective catalytic reduction.
The 4Motion all-wheel drive system, which works with an electronically controlled clutch pack on the rear differential, is very fast to react when needed. You'll notice it gripping up on loose and slippery surfaces, even when accelerating through tight bends. It will make your Transporter good off-road, provided you don't run out of ground clearance.
And if you want to go a bit harder, an optional off-road pack with locking rear differential and hill-descent control is worth ticking.
It won't keep up with a 'proper' dual-cab ute off-road, but that's not the aim of the game for the Transporter. If you don't need serious off-road ability, and would prefer a bit more load capacity in the tray, then the Transporter is worth a look.
The new T6.1 Transporter is polished and well sorted overall. But it needs to be, in a segment that isn’t short on new and compelling options. Two that pop into my mind first are the Peugeot Expert and Toyota HiAce, both vans being recently released and updated.
However, the Transporter range has the benefit of a wide range of powertrains, body styles and all-wheel drive at its disposal. And providing you're happy to go without an automatic gearbox, the base-level Transporter van proved to be much better to drive than the specs sheet might suggest.