When the Volkswagen Transporter T5 was launched six years ago, there were those – including myself – who preferred the looks of its predecessor.
Don’t get me wrong – the T5 is an awesome performer. In fact, it recently won the Fleet Van Medium Panel Van of the Year award for the second year running.
But its looks were rather brutal and ugly compared to the more delicate and attractive features of the older T4.
It seems that more than a few people shared my thoughts because in its mid-life refresh the front end of the new T5 – which has been on sale in the UK from last month – has been resculptured into something much more handsome.
Volkswagen director of commercial vehicles Simon Elliott was keen to point out that the new model, although keeping its T5 moniker, is much more than a facelift.
In addition to the new looks, there are improvements to comfort and safety plus a new set of 2.0-litre Euro V common rail diesel powerplants which offer more power and up to 20% in fuel savings.
Elliott told Fleet Van: “This new van will allow us to increase our market share in 2010.
“Its launch coincides with our increased fleet focus, which now sees us with 63 specialised LCV dealers and 12 authorised repairers.
“We will shortly be appointing more dealers who will help fleet buyers with the specialist knowledge they need.”
The biggest change to the T5 is under the bonnet, where the old 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre PD diesel engines have been dropped in favour of a single 2.0-litre common rail TDI powerplant offering either 84bhp and 162lb-ft of torque at 1,500rpm, 102bhp and 184lb-ft of torque at 1,500rpm, 140bhp and 250lb-ft of torque at 1,750rpm and a blistering 180bhp and 295lb-ft of torque at 1,500rpm.
There will also be a 4MOTION four wheel drive version and a seven-speed DSG auto gearbox will be available for the first time, in place of the older fully automated version.
The improved engines are quieter and more powerful than the ones they replace and also offer significant fuel savings and lower CO2 emissions.
Volkswagen says 10% fuel savings are achievable across the board.
On the safety front, an improved ESP traction system is standard on all models, including trailer stabilisation and hill-hold assist, and the brake lights now flash on and off under extreme braking to warn drivers behind.
There will also be the option of Side Assist, a system which warns of vehicles in the van’s blind spot, a reversing camera and tyre pressure monitors.
There is also a new dashboard with clearer instrumentation and the seats have been improved with extra padding. A new set of sat-nav units is available and maintenance costs have been reduced.
A Caravelle version will also be available. With all the various option packs, a total of 460 variants will be on sale. Prices range from £15,700-£24,340 ex-VAT.
Behind the wheel
Anyone who’s driven a Volkswagen Transporter T5 will probably remember the experience well – hewn-from-rock build quality, a quiet upmarket cab ambience and impeccable road manners – and that’s just the old model.
After testing this updated version on various road routes around Rome, I was left wondering just how much better commercial vehicles can actually get?
The new T5 isn’t exactly a quantum leap forward from the old one, but you’ll certainly notice the difference between the two, both in looks, drivability and running costs.
We’ve covered the looks in the main article and I don’t intend to bang on about them any more.
After all, many fleet buyers don’t give a damn what the vehicle looks like – practicality counts for much more in their eyes.
Climbing aboard, the driver’s seat immediately grabbed my attention for being much more comfortable than the old one, which was a little like a slab.
This new one is a dream, hugging the figure from neck to the back of the knees and offering plenty of lumbar support.
The black and white instrument panel also made all the information stand out much better.
I was a trifle disappointed in the number of cubby holes available, however. There are two cup holders and very small bottle bins on each side but none of the flip-up document compartments and little fold down desks that you find in, say, the equivalent sized Ford Transit.
The new dashboard looks smart and practical, although I can’t say I ever found a problem with the old one.
The back end of the van hasn’t been altered, probably because it was quite efficient and acceptable as it was.
A load volume of 5.8 cu metres is available in standard format and there’s a high roof version too which bumps that figure up to 9.3 cu m.
First vehicle we tested was the 104bhp, which we reckon will be the ideal fleet choice.
The 180bhp version may seem a little over the top, but this vehicle will also be bought by the general public as a large MPV and even a camper van – and some of those buyers may want better performance.
The engine fired up quietly and smoothly and thanks to an improved power steering system the wheel can almost be turned with a single finger.
An incredibly slick dash-mounted gearchange meant the general driving experience was excellent and my passenger and I were able to converse in quiet tones, even though this version didn’t have a bulkhead.
What it did have, though, was a half-load of concrete in the back, but it hardly impeded the van’s lively progress.
In fact, it was so lively that we wondered if we’d been given a 140bhp version by mistake.
The secret lies in the torque, which has been cranked up to 184lb-ft at a very low 1,500rpm, which translates to a right kick in the pants at lower speeds. Even on a twisty mountain section of the drive, the T5 didn’t struggle.
We also managed a shorter drive in the 85bhp version and once again we were surprised by the amount of power on offer. In fact for short-haul fleets we’d say this lower-powered (and lower priced) model would suit perfectly well.
Gross vehicle weight (kg) 2,600-3,200
Power (bhp/rpm) 85/3,500-180/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm) 162/1,500-295/1,500
Load volume (cu m) 5.8-9.3
Payload (kg) 838-1,438
Comb fuel economy (mpg) 34.03-37.1
CO2 emissions (g/km) 199-205
Prices (ex-VAT) £15,700-£24,340
The best medium panel van on the road has just got even better. Now boasting the looks this van always deserved, it can only go from strength to strength. Fleets will be saving too with those more fuel-efficient engines.
Volkswagen Transporter T5
29/03/2010 :in Van Reviews