First drive: Updated Volkswagen Transporter could be the new mid-size van of choice

What is it?

Many might consider the Polo, Golf and Passat as Volkswagen’s longest-serving nameplates on sale today, but it is in fact the Transporter van that holds this accolade – offering an astonishing 70 years of service to breakdown firms, couriers and independent businesses.

New styling touches appear on the sides of a van
(Volkswagen)

We’re now in the Transporter’s sixth generation, hence the T6 – a logical nameplate, for a change – with over 12 million being sold since 1949. It’s also Volkswagen’s best-selling van by some distance, and the fourth most popular overall van in the UK.

Four years after the T6 first went on sale, here we have the facelift T6.1, but can it deliver?

What’s new?

The days of vans being backwards next to cars are long over, and this latest Transporter shows this vividly – predominantly in the cabin.

A new dashboard gives the Transporter an ever more car-like feel, while VW has bolstered connectivity levels through the standard 6.5-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and VW’s ‘We Connect’ range of online services.

The rear of the van has been given an update too
(Volkswagen)

Safety has also been enhanced significantly, with the Transporter coming as standard with new driver assistance features, such as autonomous emergency braking and crosswind assist – the latter automatically applies brakes if the van becomes unstable.

The Transporter has also been given a trademark ‘nip and tuck’ facelift, but more on that later.

What’s under the bonnet?

Volkswagen ditched petrol engines a couple of years ago in the Transporter (they accounted for just one per cent of sales, says VW) so diesel completely rules here, and it’s the infamous 2.0 TDI that accounts for all versions.

To meet tight emissions regulations, there has been a few changes to the line-up – some engines becoming more powerful; others less. In the new engine range power outputs of 89, 108, 148 and 196bhp are now offered.

The Transporter is one of the most popular vans in the UK
(Volkswagen)

Our test van is the 108bhp version, which is paired to a five-speed manual gearbox. This level of power doesn’t sound much, but a plentiful 250Nm of torque means that this engine is surprisingly eager to get up to speed.

Next year Volkswagen will also introduce an all-electric version of the Transporter – broadening the van’s appeal further.

What’s it like to drive?

The Transporter has always had refinement on its side, and this facelift has thankfully not changed that.

It remains one of the best vans to drive on sale today – offering a comfortable and supple ride (ideal for delivery drivers bouncing over seemingly invisible speedbumps). As with any van, when it’s unloaded, the lack of sound insulation is noticed immediately, but once fully loaded (we tried both) it helps to iron out the issue.

The Transporter is available in a variety of load lengths
(Volkswagen)

The relatively light steering is also a bonus around town – making the Transporter no more difficult to manouevre than a typical hatchback, albeit opting for rear parking sensors and a reversing camera would likely be a worthy investment to make from the options list.

How does it look?

The cynical might compare the styling of the new T6.1 (the ‘.1’ meant to resemble an iPhone-style update) to the T5, which debuted in 2003. However, a lot has changed in that time – it’s just hard to go too outlandish with a commercial vehicle’s design.

The most notable changes are at the front, which is headed up by new twin headlights (LEDs on range-topping models), along with revised daytime running lights. A redesigned front bumper is another feature on the facelift, along with a new grille with a more imposing chrome strip.

Choosing between the trim levels can hugely affect the van’s looks, as opting for the entry-level Startline brings black plastic bumpers and steel wheels, while those wanting something a bit classier to look at should choose the Highline – bringing alloys and painted bumper trim.

What’s it like inside?

Step inside the T6.1, and purely looking at the dash you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Polo or Golf – the quality is that good. The plastics all feel solid and built to stand the test of time, with the switchgear also being easy to use.

A large load area is immensely practical
(Volkswagen)

A big difference on this update comes in the form of the now standard 6.5-inch touchscreen – known as ‘Composition Colour’. While not coming with satellite-navigation, it brings smartphone mirroring and We Connect, which adds a host of online connected services. These include access to emergency call and a parking locator.

The interior of the Transporter is more car-like than ever
(Volkswagen)

Up front there is also a decent amount of room for adults to sit three abreast, while the load bay is also a generous size, with buyers able to choose a long-wheelbase version – adding an additional 40cm of room. Unfortunately, VW has not yet announced details on the payload of the Transporter.

What’s the spec like?

Volkswagen has made big strides when it comes to the standard equipment of the Transporter, with features such as electric windows, electric mirrors, Bluetooth and a 6.5-inch touchscreen all now being added to the list of kit included. The Startline is the base model, with provisional prices expected to start from £21,635. Full pricing will be revealed when order books open in November, though it’s expected to be slightly more than comparative rivals.

An updated infotainment system features on the T6.1
(Volkswagen)

From launch the only other grade available on the van will be the Highline, which gains alloy wheels, painted bumpers, cruise control, rear parking sensors and a heated windscreen. It’s the best-selling trim – being most popular with independent businesses and one-man-bands, with the Startline being the fleet favourite.

The Transporter van annoyingly misses out on certain features found on other T6.1 derivatives (Caravelle, for example) – such as digital dials and the Volkswagen Group’s latest 9.2-inch MIB3 infotainment system.

Verdict

The Transporter has long been regarded as one of the best vans on sale today, and that continues with the T6.1. It is now more connected than ever, and comes with a much lengthier list of standard equipment.

These improvements have only enhanced the Transporter, which will likely continue to make this model one of the best-selling vans on sale in the UK. However, it’s only when full pricing and technical data is announced when we’ll know if the T6.1 is class-leading.

  • Model: Volkswagen Transporter 2.0 TDI 110 Startline
  • Price: £21,635 (exc. VAT)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel
  • Power (bhp): 108
  • Torque (Nm): 250
  • Max speed (mph): 102
  • 0-60mph: N/A
  • MPG: N/A
  • Emissions (g/km): 190g/km
  • Rivals: Mercedes Vito, Ford Transit Custom, Peugeot Expert
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