Volkswagen is already sitting at number two in the sales charts, behind Ford, and bosses are hoping that this fresh set of vans will see the firm closing the gap between it and the leader.
The Transporter needs no introduction to van fleet operators. It’s an iconic van, tracing its roots back to the VeeDub ‘Splitty’ of the early 1950s.
Since that time, it has achieved a legendary level of respect for its rock-solid build quality and reliability and has the honour of producing the highest residual values of any van on sale at present in the UK.
So what exactly have the Volkswagen engineers done to take this vehicle on to the next level?
One item that hasn’t changed much is the exterior. Like many other German products, Volkswagen believes that function very much takes precedence over form and has stuck to its tried-and-tested appearance. And we can’t blame them as, in our eyes, the Transporter looks fine.
But apart from the cargo area, which remains the same, just about every aspect of this van has been improved: there are new engines, a completely redesigned cab, better ride and handling and a whole host of new safety features that take the Transporter to the top of the league in this area. Some of these will be paid-for extras, which means fleets will need to weigh-up the cost versus the benefit of potentially fewer crashes.
In the engine department, a single 2.0-litre unit is on offer in Euro 5 format, with power outputs of 84bhp, 102bhp, 140bhp and 180bhp, while a Euro 6 compliant variant will be offered with a power output of 102bhp. All the engines have been tweaked for better fuel economy, while promising no sacrifices in driving dynamics. These engines offer up to 15% better fuel economy.
Additional Euro 6 engines will be rolled out over the coming months, working towards the September 2016 date when all engines have to be Euro 6 compliant.
But the big news is that Volkswagen is bringing back its petrol-engined version, meaning that the T6 will be the only medium panel van on sale in this format. This move has been made as more and more questions are being raised about NOx emissions from diesel powerplants.
The two engines on offer will be 2.0-litre units and have power outputs of 150bhp and 204bhp. So far, prices for these models have not been revealed, although generally petrol-engined vans are cheaper to buy than diesel ones, making them less costly to run over lower fleet mileages.
Diesel versions all get a BlueMotion badge on the back, which means stop-start comes as standard, together with regenerative braking and low rolling resistance tyres, which brings the combined fuel consumption figure up to 47.9mpg on the Euro 6 engine – although against the savings, the cost of filling an AdBlue tank has to be subtracted.
Prices for the first tranche of models go from £17,746 ex-VAT to £31,275, comparing favourably with the rival Ford Transit Custom, which starts at £18,295. There is a huge array of models on offer, including long and short wheelbases, low, medium and high roofs, kombis and four-wheel drive options. Load volumes go from 5.8 cubic metres to 9.3 cubic metres, with payloads up to 1,331kg.
From the driver’s point of view, there are some welcome changes. The dashboard is all-new, bringing the cab rather more up-to-date than the spartan affair in the T5. The driver and passenger seats have been made a little softer, replacing the slab-like ones in the T5.
We were also pleased to note that an extra 12-volt power socket has appeared on top of the dash, which means that drivers can plug in their own sat-nav units without having wires trailing all over the place.
As with the recently launched Caddy, there are a whole new set of safety features, including adaptive cruise control (Euro 6 engines only), a side scanner to help prevent side swipes and high beam assist.
These will be paid-for options but every T6 gets automatic post-collision braking, which helps prevent secondary collisions; a driver alert system, which gives a visual and audio signal if it thinks the driver needs a break; brake assist, which adds extra brake pressure if needed in an emergency; and hill-hold assist.
Three spec levels will be available: Startline, Trendline and Highline. All get Bluetooth connectivity, digital radio, five-inch touchscreen, CD player and USB port.
We tested both the 102bhp Euro 6 model and the Euro 5 140bhp and both tackled the motorways and twisty country sections or our route with that quiet efficiency we have come to expect from Volkswagen. The 102 offered plenty of power for fleet purposes, even on the hills, and is expected to be the biggest seller.
If ride and handling aren’t best-in-class, they are certainly near it. The various tweaks take this van to another level of sophistication.
A stunning new model from Volkswagen that will do nothing but improve the fleet credentials of the German manufacturer. Already nipping at Ford’s heels in the van sales charts, with models like this on offer we could well see VW inching nearer and nearer the blue oval in the coming months.