Volkswagen has been steadily rolling out all the variations of its latest Crafter since its April 2017 UK Commercial Vehicle Show debut.
Front-wheel drive (FWD) models appeared first and rear-wheel drive (RWD) has now emerged as VW continues its attempts to chip away at Mercedes-Benz Sprinter registrations.
Crafter is also marketed as a 4x4, and an electric e-Crafter has been developed, but will not be available in right-hand drive until mid-2021. That seems rather too long for fleets to wait given that rival electric Renault Master is available now.
Grossing at either 3.5- or 5.0-tonnes, and produced in van, chassis cab, and chassis double-cab guise, RWD Crafter is powered by a longitudinally-mounted 2.0-litre TDI diesel at 122PS, 140PS or 177PS. Customers can opt for either a six-speed manual or a superb eight-speed fully-automatic gearbox.
Van payload capacities range from 1,006kg to 2,819kg while load volumes extend from 9.9cu m to a cavernous 18.4cu m.
Two trim levels are available – Startline and the more-upmarket Trendline – and can be supplemented by an optional £1,265 Business Pack that includes air conditioning, front and rear parking sensors and an alarm. Some of these items should really be included with Trendline specification given the vehicle’s near £34,000 price tag.
The manual 140PS Trendline RWD long-wheelbase high-roof CR35 3.5-tonne van we tested had the Business Pack plus a variety of other optional extras, including a rear-view camera and a Discover Media navigation system.
The modest 300kg test load sitting over the back axle had no impact on its road performance, which featured strong acceleration through the gears and the ability to keep up with high-speed traffic with little effort.
A slick gear change made it easy to get the best out of the engine and the suspension coped with the usual selection of patched and potholed UK road surfaces. Build quality is exemplary and rear-wheel drive made it just that little bit more manoeuvrable than front-wheel drive.
Combined fuel economy is 36.2mpg; in contrast, the FWD option is 37.2mpg. Another factor in the FWD’s favour is payload – it’s 250kg higher than the RWD, which is not overly-generous.
However, if you need to tow, the RWD has greater capabilities – as long as you choose the 177PS engine. The 140PS we tested has the same three-tonne limit as the FWD model; however, the 177PS can tow 3.5 tonnes.
VW treats safety as a high priority and Crafter is fitted with Crosswind Assist and Front Assist, including City Emergency Braking System.
Drawbacks? In-cab noise levels were a touch too high and the designers need to take another look at the dashboard. While it is practical – important in a van – it is unimaginatively-styled.
Crafter is covered by a three-year unlimited-mileage warranty while service intervals are set at a maximum two years/30,000 miles.
A sensible, well-put-together package backed by a highly-proficient dealer network, the RWD Crafter is a worthy alternative to rival models, in particular from Ford and Mercedes-Benz.