Volkswagen proved to the world with its Kombi in 1950 that although a van is a basically a box on wheels, it can still be innovative, stylish and fun to drive. The arrival of the sixth generation of Volkswagen vans and people movers not only stays true these principles, but with an all-new design it also promises to be a step forward in refinement and driveability for the segment.
The new generation hauler – also known as T6 - sees the retirement of the T5 which has been shouldering the load since 2003, and was treated to its most recent refresh a full five years ago.
As with the previous model there are three versions of the T6 – the cargo carrying Transporter, the nine-seater Caravelle and the luxo seven-seat Multivan.
While the Caravelle comes in Trendline trim only there is a multitude of Transporter and Multivan variants.
Pricing remains the same as the T5 apart from the Caravelle which is $800 less at $49,990 and the entry level Transporter van which has had $1700 lopped off at $36,990.
There’s 17 different types of Transporter with a choice of van or cab chassis bodies, short and long wheel bases, different roof heights and varying load compartments. This level of choice allows buyers to properly match the van or people mover to the job. The Transporter range tops out at $49,090 for the all-wheel drive long wheelbase dual cab.
That’s a quite a lot more than the entry prices for the segment-leading HiAce ($32,990) and Hyundai iLoad ($30,990), but a more affordable entry model is due in early 2016.
For Transporter money buyers get a higher quality feel and even the base model comes with an impressive amount of standard features and advanced safety kit. There’s a five-inch colour touch screen, CD player, Bluetooth connectivity, leather steering wheel, cruise control, rubber floor covering, load compartment roof light and load restraint rings.
Safety equipment includes front and side airbags, ABS, stability control, collision auto braking, driver fatigue detection, daytime running lights and a full-sized spare wheel.
Storage is excellent with two cupholders on the upper dashboard, a two-part opening glovebox, overhead shelf and deep door pockets.
The Caravalle is effectively a Transporter with nine seats and a standard reversing camera, while the Multivan verges into the limo domain with two fewer yet more comfortable seats and plusher surrounds.
There’s six variants of Multivan starting with the Comfortline trim for $49,990 and maxing out with the long wheel base Executive for $80,490. A limited edition Generation Six is also available for $74,990 and comes with two-tone paint and disc wheels as a bit of a hat tip to the lovable Kombi.
The Executive will ferry rock stars and CEOs to their gigs and meetings and comes standard with a 6.3-inch colour touch screen and satnav, Nappa leather seats (power adjustable and heated in the front), leather steering wheel, second row swivel seats and 17-inch alloys.
Storage is brilliant, too, with two dash-mounted cupholders, a bottle holder, centre console storage bin, door pockets and a sliding multi-function table with cup holders and magazine rack.
The Executive’s safety kit is extensive and along with the Transporter’s equipment also adds blind sport warning, forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking.
Three 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines power the line-up. Carried over from T5 is the 103kW/340Nm TDI 340 and the 132kW/400Nm TDI 400, which are both now fitted with stop-start. New to the range is the twin-turbo 150kW/450Nm TDI 450. A six-speed manual and seven-speed dual clutch auto are available.
The Transporter comes with the TDI 340 and TDI 400 powerplant with a choice of manual or auto. The Caravelle has the lower output engine and is auto only. Multivans are also auto only, and come powered by the TDI 340 in Comfortline spec, while the Highline and Executive get the new TDI 450.
The Executive will ferry rock stars and CEOs to their gigs and meetings
For an extra $3500 Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive is available on the Multivan Highline, and an additional $4500 more on the Transporter van.
On the road
I have a confession to make. The Highline and Executive versions of the Multivan come with a function called Digital Voice Enhancer, which pipes the voice of the driver through the speakers so they can be heard by those in the back.
That’s not the confession. This is: when faced with more than 20 different T6 variants to drive at the Australian launch, yours truly made his choice based purely on the opportunity to hear his own voice… while singing to the radio. Yes, in-car karaoke. Not really what Volkswagen had in mind.
But, after much ‘testing’, with nobody sitting in the back it was difficult to tell if it was working.
Yours truly made his choice based purely on the opportunity to hear his own voice
Moving on, the Highline Multivan’s other strengths became more obvious. Such as the TDI450 engine, which is a hands-down masterpiece. It’s a totally new engine for the range and the smaller of the two turbos kicks in before a larger turbo to reduce lag. That means all 450Nm of torque is on tap from just off idle at 1400rpm.
Combine this with the dual clutch auto and you’ve got a smooth operating team that worked so well on our drive route of both hilly inner city streets and highways. The way the transmission shifts down into corners on an incline is so intuitively spot-on, too.
The Multivan’s ride feels hardly commercial at all – far more comfortable and car-like with independent suspension at all four corners.
The cabin again has taken a giant leap forward from the T5, with high quality feel materials, an instrument cluster and steering wheel which would be at home in a premium car and a dash that’s stylish and functional.
The second and third rows seats are comfy, supportive and even the third row has ample space for this 6ft 3 correspondent.
The only other variant we had the chance to drive was the Transporter. Despite being the entry level it revealed the same refined ride. The Transporter’s rack and pinion power steering may not be quite as smooth and easy as the speed-sensitive unit in the Multivan, but it is still excellent.
The Transporter’s load-focused cabin still permits a degree of droning road noise, but not on the same level as many other commercial vans.
Again the cockpit of the Transporter is impressively refined, while still retaining a tough ruggedness that might not mind a hose out if there’s an iced coffee spill.