Volkswagen re-enters the large-van segment with the all-new Crafter range – Report by Stuart Martin.
The brand kicking goals with Amarok and Transporter has launched a barrage into the large-van segment with the return of Crafter.
No longer shared with Mercedes-Benz, the Volkswagen workhorse is back in the pricelist with an automatic transmission, a requisite feature in the LCV van market and one that was missing to the detriment of sales in the previous model.
With key standard active safety features and cab/chassis models to bolster the ranks to 59 variants within the next 18 months, it is apparent why VW Australia LCV’s Carlos Santos is excited about the future for Crafter.
A pair of diesel engines mated to a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox (for the first time since 2013) will propel front, rear or all-wheel-drive models on three wheelbases, sporting three roof heights and a cab/chassis single or dual-cab duo.
The new model range, from a purpose-built 10 billion Euro factory in Poland, will (when complete) offer single and bi-turbo diesel EA288 four-cylinder engines, all Euro-6-compliant with high-pressure exhaust gas recirculation, a particle filter and SCR catalytic converter with AdBlue.
Running common-rail direct-injection, the engines also have variable inlet manifolds and will offer 103 kW at 3500 rpm, or 130 kW another 100 rpm higher in the bi-turbo. Peak torque will be 340 Nm or 410 Nm at 2000 rpm.
Standard fare across the range (vans and cab/chassis models where applicable) includes remote central locking, halogen headlights, daytime running lights, a left-hand side sliding door, rear barn-style doors, power windows, 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, rubber floors, Bluetooth, trip computer, LED cabin lights, cargo bay lighting, and bulkhead with window between cargo bay and cabin. Also standard is a touchscreen-controlled infotainment system with full smartphone integration, while integrated satellite navigation and digital radio reception are among the options.
Volkswagen has included an array of active and passive safety features, with automatic emergency braking as standard, as is the multi-collision brake system, the useful crosswind assist (standard on the van range) and front, side and curtain airbags.
Stability, traction and, where applicable, trailer sway control (using four-wheel disc brakes), driver fatigue detection, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing rear camera are also standard.
LED headlights, active cruise control, blind spot warning, active lane departure systems and rain-sensing wipers are on the options list. Auto-parking, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert and sensor-based side-assist are also options, the latter worth considering given the Crafter’s size.
The range starts with the ‘35’ TDI340 medium-wheelbase six-speed manual front-drive Runner edition, which has been quietly on sale since December from $48,490, rising to $52,490 for the TDI340 auto or a TDI410 manual guise, rising to $55,490 for the eight-speed auto. Adding the Haldex-based 4MOTION AWD system ups the price by $4500 and the eight-speed auto is a $3000 impost.
Stepping up to the dual-rear-wheel ‘50’ mid-wheelbase removes the manual gearbox and 4MOTION choice – the 4.49-tonne version is priced from $62,490, or add $3000 for the 5.5-tonne version.
Stretching to the long-wheelbase models of the aforementioned adds between $3000 and $3500, and opting for the ‘rear overhang’ LWB models also removes the manual gearbox and 4MOTION choice, adding a further price increase of between $3000 and $3500.
The 35 TDI340 is priced from $58,490, the TDI410 is $61,490, $68,490 buys the dual-wheel 50 4.49-tonne version, and the 5.5-tonne is priced from $71,490.
The Crafter cab/chassis range starts with the single-cab front-drive TDI340 auto from $48,290, rising to $51,290 for the TDI410 FWD and $55,790 for the AWD model.
The Crafter single cab/chassis is also available in the two weight ranges with the dual-rear-wheel RWD guise – from $56,790 in mid-wheelbase and from $58,290 in the long-wheelbase variant.
The only manual cab/chassis models are the RWD TDI410 variants, priced from $52,790 for the single and from $56,290 for the dual-cab.
Fleet operators and aftermarket suppliers will be able to integrate their systems as the brand is determined to work with customers and aftermarket manufacturers.
Getting into the new model, the cabin has inherited much of its dashboard from the passenger car range, as well as the Amarok and Transporter models.
Industry consultation during development resulted in the inclusion of brighter LED cabin lights and more comfortable seating with electric lumbar support, with three seats in the van and single cab/chassis models. The middle seat folds down to provide a ‘desk’ with cupholders and a useful flat area for paperwork. Disappointingly, only manual air conditioning is offered as standard, with options for air conditioning system upgrades.
The driver gets a plastic steering wheel with audio, phone, cruise and trip computer controls, as well as a USB input within the dash top storage as well as a 12-volt outlet on the passenger’s side. There’s ample overhead storage that has integrated grab handles, as well as a handle on the A-pillar.
Cabin entry in the wet needs care given plastic floor surfaces, but the grab handles on the A-pillar and integrated into the overhead storage compartment help.
Good fore, aft and height adjustment on the manual driver’s seat will – with reach and rake adjustable steering – result in a comfortable driving position with forward vision.
The blunt nose drops away sharply, but the presence of parking sensors front and rear (teamed with the reversing camera) is reassuring. Fold-down armrests on both front seats are welcomed by this driver, but the outboard armrest sits close to the top of the door trim anyway, and doesn’t need to be folded out of the way. Deep door pockets storage and a second smaller area provides decent oddment storage, kept secure by separate cabin and cargo locking systems.
The rear load height is among the Crafter’s key upgrades, which has dropped by 100 mm (down to 570 mm on FWD models), and that will no doubt be music to the ears of those who have to load them. The cargo area has also been equipped with rigging tracks as well as tie-down points in the floor to secure cargo.
The centre mirror looks through a grille-covered bulkhead window to the standard rear barn doors – there’s not much of a view, but you’ll be looking out the useful side mirrors more often anyway.
The new Crafter gets underway in good order, with the eight-speed auto demonstrating more smarts than previous incarnations.
There’s a manual lever shift option but no paddles – the amount of low-down torque compensates with solid flexibility, demonstrated on a steep sixth gear 60 km/h climb at around 1500 rpm, with no issue accelerating up the hill from 60 km/h.
Ride quality from the MacPherson strut front and parabolic leaf-sprung rear in an unladen van was on the firm side of comfortable. Repeating the same drive route in a mechanically-similar model with 500 kg (split in two loads at the front and rear of the cargo area) settled the suspension into a more compliant mindset.
Fuel economy rose with the 500 kg load to 11.8 l/100 km at a 25 km/h average speed, compared to the unladen version that achieved 10.2 l/100 km, albeit at a traffic-restricted 20 km/h, helped by the smarter auto’s ability to start in second gear and slotting into top gear by 80 km/h.
Engine noise is subdued but still obviously a four-cylinder diesel, while tyre noise from the Continentals was apparent, particularly on rougher bitumen.
A conventional handbrake lever is buried between the seats – the brand does electric park brakes elsewhere in its range and could do worse than add it to the Crafter’s features list.
Volkswagen has been waiting for a long time to get an automatic in the Crafter, and it’s a vital piece of equipment in our auto-addicted market – a market trend to which even the heavy commercial vehicle operators are fast succumbing. The lower load floor on the front-drive models will stand it in good stead, as will the value-for-money 4WD option.