Tradies’ Delight

Can Volkswagen’s Transporter replace the common Japanese-styled ute

Not so long ago the decision to choose between utes of Japanese or European origin was pretty clear cut, largely because Europe didn’t produce anything suitable within a bulls roar of the pricing of the Japanese alternative.

Sure, there are Japanese-styled utes manufactured in Europe as evidenced by some Navara models being produced by Nissan in Spain. But, in general terms, when a tradie went looking for a ute they ended up with Mazda, Ford, Nissan, Toyota or Isuzu, all controlled by the Japanese, even if manufactured for our market in Thailand.

Tradies who don’t buy SS Commodore or XR8 Falcon two-wheel drive utes tend to go for the belt and braces approach of decision making, which keeps them safe from getting bogged on a building site. Consequently, they choose a 4WD version of whichever model they select.

Manufacturers and importers have reacted to the popularity of all-wheel-drive utes by optioning up the specification levels until some resemble what would have been considered as a luxury car interior just a few years ago. Leather trim, sophisticated audio systems, a strong, go-anywhere stance and bright colours have all added to the appeal. But one thing remains pretty much unchanged. They all share similar interior dimensions, and they are all a bit squeezy if you are looking for space. Similarly, the tray never seems to be quite big enough, or the payload quite high enough, to make it absolutely ideal for the job it has to do. That is, until VW brought the Transporter Crew Cab with 4Motion all-wheel-drive to the Australian market.VW-T5_P1

We’ve already evaluated the 2WD version of the Transporter T5, but after some cajoling, on our part, with Volkswagen Group Australia’s commercial vehicle division, the company fronted up with a brand new T5 Crew Cab, complete with the all-wheel-drive transmission that it calls 4Motion.

Working on the principle that most Tradies don’t want to climb the highest mountain or ford the deepest rivers on their way to work. We believe that buyers are quite content if their ute will cross a steep slope on a wet grassy paddock, or, at the very worst, clamber out of a muddy bog that will suck in a standard 2WD vehicle until a passing backhoe comes to the rescue.

Driving in 2WD with the 4Motion means power goes to the front wheels, as with all Transporters. When the electronic control systems detect wheel slip or loss of traction, the 4Motion system apportions drive to the rear wheels as well, then selectively sending drive to whichever wheel has traction, and controlling slip on those that don’t. There are no levers or buttons to press, the system just does what it is supposed to do, basically digging itself out of the hole that you put it in.

Delivery put the 4Motion Crew Cab through its paces on wet grass, light mud and steep inclines and declines. What we found is that the T5 combination is basically unstoppable. It does lack an ultra-low ratio first gear, and there are some circumstances where the driver is going to have to slip the clutch to get the required amount of power through. But, in the majority of situations, the T5 with all-wheel-drive just went wherever we wanted it to go.

There’s going to be an obvious comparison between the Transporter and the Amarok, which makes its appearance on the Australian market round about April of 2011. As Amarok compares more directly to other traditionally Japanese-sized utes, what we have to do is to recognise the unique strengths of the Transporter, and here it’s all about size and space.

There is no comparison between a typical ute and the Transporter Crew Cab when it comes to interior space. The lift up rear seat affords storage for chain saws, coats, boots and tools, keeping them all out of sight of prying eyes. The rear seat can accommodate three burly blokes, and, with bucket seats in the front, there’s plenty of available space for big people with space remaining between the front seats. There’s also plenty of additional storage space in the door pockets, and there are the now mandatory cup holders for the front seat passengers.VW-T5_2

With a GVM of 3000 kg, the Crew Cab tray will take a payload of 1,093 kg with the six-speed manual transmission, dropping by 15 kg if you choose the DSG automated manual gearbox. With a custom-built tray, you can run to dimensions of 2,212 mm in length and match the overall body width at 1,904 mm, or go a little wider and make use of the extended length wing mirrors. The rear chassis rails are 1,000 mm apart, which leaves plenty of space to include a roll-out Trundle Tray, as produced by bodybuilders such as TipTop. There’s also space for side lockers, under the tray, if you are looking for all available stowage space.

In terms of overall length, you’re looking at dimensions of 5,292 mm to the rear closing member and rear light location, and you’ll need an access height of more than 1,963 mm to get into underground car parks. The maximum towing limit for a braked trailer is 2,000 kg.

But what we need to remind ourselves here, all comes down to off-road ability and overall vehicle versatility.

It’s not the vehicle to buy if you want to go rock hopping, but, driven with common sense, it will get into and, more importantly, get you out of most off-road circumstances. With disc brakes front and rear, it stops as well as it goes, and with ESP, EBS, ABS, ASR, MSR, EDL and Hill Holder, it will control traction, prevent slip, maintain full control under maximum braking without wheel lock-up, and not roll back on hill starts. Driver and front passenger airbags are standard.

The decision to run with an independent front suspension, using McPherson struts with coils springs and gas dampers, and once again coil springs at the rear, means it will walk over off-road obstacles without picking up a wheel and losing traction. When on the highway it’s also quiet and sure-footed in its handling abilities.

VW-T5_4You can expect a combined fuel consumption figure as low as 8.1 l/100 km, and you’ll find that with a more cautious approach and a gentle right foot you’ll see these consumption figures reduced to just over 7.0 l/100 km.

If you are wondering if all this ability comes with low power, then think again. Under the hood is the latest Transporter four-cylinder, common rail injected diesel that boasts twin turbochargers and a power output of 132 kW at 4,000 rpm. Peak torque of 400 Nm is rated at 1,500-2,000 rpm.

The interior trim is basic, and VW still looks on this model as being aimed at function rather than luxury. There are no leather trim seat options or carpets on the floor, and the interior fabrics are basic grey, throughout, matching the plastics on the dash and door trims.

As the whole basis of buying a Crew Cab 4Motion is to add off-road versatility, we’d suggest ordering the optional electric differential lock and specifying tyres for on/off road use, rather than the standard on-road tyres that come with the Transporter. It’s usually possible to do a deal with the local tyre supplier before taking delivery, saving you extra expense.

Other spec options include a bench front seat, to give you seating for a total of six, and we’d probably advise fitting a locally built tray to match your own exact requirements. Other additions include dusk sensing headlamps, rain sensing wipers, an auto dimming rear vision mirror, driver and passenger head and thorax airbags and leather covered steering wheel with multi-function controls. The imported tray has a composite floor and is very well built, but you may want a steel tray or possibly add a tipping tray in its place.

In overall terms we think the Transporter Crew Cab 4Motion is one of the best kept secrets in the ute market. It offers so much more to a tradie than a standard ute, and, with a genuine competitiveness on pricing, it’s something that should be considered.

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