The Volkswagen Crafter is a game-changing newcomer and picking up the awards it deserves, despite its disappointing fuel economy.
The Volkswagen Crafter is the biggest new thing to hit UK shores since the launch of the last Ford Transit in 2014 and, even before its official on-sale date, it was hoovering up awards across Europe.
We had already driven left-hand drive versions in Spain late last year and came back eulogising about the merits of this fresh contender – but the big question is: would right-hand drive versions on Britain’s uneven roads still be as impressive?
The answer is a resounding yes – and after spending a week with the medium wheelbase 140PS variant, we confidently predict prizes will keep accruing as 2017 progresses.
The old Crafter came off the same production line as the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, albeit with its own engines, and the big Merc is generally acknowledged as the best in class.
But in our book, the Crafter takes the heavy panel van sector to an even higher level in its new format and the opposition contenders now have a lot of catching up to do to match this awesome piece of machinery.
Our test vehicle is ‘middle-of-the-road’ in many senses, as it is a medium wheelbase model, in the middle Trendline guise (above Startline and below Highline), with a 140PS engine which sits between its 102PS and 177PS brothers. However, it’s far from a middle of the road offering for fleets
Even in base guise, the Crafter offers a nice amount of standard goodies.
Our van featured crosswind assist, a special driver’s seat with two-way lumbar support and armrest, cruise control with speed limiter, front assist with city emergency braking, electrically adjustable heated side mirrors, a wooden load floor and 270 degree opening doors.
As extras, our van was fitted with an overhead storage compartment at £156, climatic air-conditioning (£1,650), a navigation system (£840) and silver metallic paint (£1,284). Given the above prices we assume few fleets will order many of those items.
What our van didn’t have – and what I would have traded most of those extras for – was reversing sensors. These are an absolute must in any fleet manager’s safety armoury as they not only protect the van from damage but also ensure that passers-by will not be reversed into. Why the EU hasn’t made them a legal requirement is anyone’s guess.
Under the bonnet goes VW’s tried and tested 2.0-litre four cylinder common rail diesel unit which has been upgraded from the old Crafter to comply with Euro 6 emissions standards.
We reckon the 140PS on tap is just about right for this size of van, unless your business happens to be transporting feathers over short distances, while the 340Nm of torque is sufficient to put on a great display of grunt at low speeds.
The combined fuel economy figure of 38.2mpg is disappointing for a brand new van though.
The rival Citroën Relay at a similar power output, for example, manages 45.6mpg.
As with most German products, the Crafter is all about functionality rather than just looking nice.
Thus, when climbing aboard the cab for the first time, most drivers will be disappointed with what they see.
The dash is rather mundane looking, especially after the dazzle and bling of the ones in the rival Ford Transit.
But everything is in the right place and all the gadgets work well.
On the road, this van is a sheer delight to drive. It’s quiet, smooth, powerful and impeccable on the bends. It’s almost magically light for a van of this size, but still gives plenty of feel of what’s going on between the tyres and the road.
It is a superbly built van which will no doubt boost Volkswagen’s presence in the fleet market. We were, however, disappointed with the fuel economy figure and the eye-watering cost of some of the extras.
Model Tested: Trendline MWB 140PS 2.0 TDI 6sp manual FWD