Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2018 review
On the commercial side of the Mercedes-Benz business, a new Sprinter van is talked about in the same revered tone as a new S-Class.
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The person who delivers your new golf shoes or stretch denim jeggings isn’t just a nameless delivery driver – they’ve got families and friends to go home to, as well.
Their offices are often exposed to more danger than most, though, so Volkswagen decided to build its all-new Crafter commercial range to offer the same level of safety – and similar levels of comfort – as its passenger car range.
|Volkswagen CRAFTER 2018: 35 TDI 400 MWB|
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Price from||No recent listings|
Sitting above the Transporter in size, the Crafter will actually become the single most complex range in VW’s local line-up, with up to 59 variants set to go on sale by January 2019… so there’s a lot to look at.
In basic terms, it’ll come in three main chassis types, comprising medium, long, and long-with-rear-overhang (basically, there’s more van behind the rear axle). That’s then divided into unibody vans and cab-chassis variants, while the latter is divided further into single- and dual-cab models.
The price list starts at $48,490 for a six-speed manual-equipped medium wheelbase van, and covers 36 price points all the way through to a long-with-overhang high roof van with dual rear wheels, a twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel and eight-speed ZF auto, as well as range-topping 5.5-tonne GVM (gross vehicle mass, or maximum weight of Crafter and cargo) limit, at $71,490.
Of those 36 price points, seven are offered with a single-turbo EA288 Nutz (VW’s designation for commercial engines) 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel, while the rest feature a twin-turbo version of the same engine. Seven are also offered in six-speed manual guise.
All models are equipped with single-zone climate control, tilt- and reach-adjustable steering column, daytime running lights, an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, voice control, a four-speaker sound system and Bluetooth.
There is also lots of USB and auxiliary connectivity, rubber floor mats, cruise control, heated and powered external mirrors, power lumbar support for the driver seat, and front power windows.
There are also a host of options for the driver’s compartment, including upgraded multimedia, automatic wipers, better seats and more driver aids, while LED headlights, GPS sat nav, wooden floor coverings and plywood panelling for vans are also on the long options list.
If you’re looking for accessories like a nudge bar, bullbar, awning or a light bar, you’ll need to source them yourself, and the same goes for leather seats.
When it comes to colours, there’s a surprisingly wide variety on offer, including black, blue, white, orange, silver, red and grey.
VW will also sell the Crafter with an optional Trendline styling package, but it won’t include a body kit, rear spoiler, side skirts or front spoiler. Instead it offers chrome garnishes for the interior, an additional 12-volt socket and hub caps.
Interior dimensions are vast even in the medium-wheelbase version, with familiar controls across the dash and steering wheel plucked from VW’s passenger car range. The van can be ordered with a regular or high roof, as well as with a so-called super high roof version.
The rear barn doors can also be upgraded to versions that open to 270 degrees on the medium- and long-wheelbase versions. They come standard on the biggest version.
The Crafter comes in two styles, three lengths and three powertrains, and will eventually expand to a range of 59 variants by the time all models come on stream by early 2019.
The van comes in a three-seat single cab chassis style, while the dual cab is only offered in a seven-seat dual cab version.
A variety of roof heights is also offered, and it’s worth noting the higher roofs lower the roof rack load limit of 300kg on the standard height van.
VW is making a lot of the fact that it has worked the Crafter over from the ground up with feedback from real tradies, right down to making sure that there’s enough light in the cargo area for parcel couriers to read labels in the dark.
The interior, too, is festooned with storage compartments small and large right across the dash and through the cabin.
The new FWD version offers a 100mm lower loading area than the AWD and RWD models, too.
Load capacity, of course, varies from model to model. In the medium wheelbase van line, it’s the more powerful TDI410-powered rear-drive model with dual rear wheels that can carry the most across all vans at 2024kg, while the entry level Runner can carry 1384kg.
In the cab-chassis line, single-cab dual-wheel TDI410 takes the overall crown with 2392kg of payload ability.
If you want to add a towbar, the Crafter can tow up to 2500kg.
Overall, the ergonomics are quite good. It goes without saying there is a load of headroom, and there are small storage containers above the driver and passenger area.
Other hidey holes for day-to-day gear are scattered through the cabin.
The windscreen is massive, though the sealed off driver compartment does restrict visibility through the rear vision mirror. The Crafter also features aids like hill-start assist as well as hill-descent assist.
Crafters also feature a bench seat arrangement in the single row versions that can seat three people. The centre seat back can be folded down to form a tray table with two cupholders as standard. There's also an additional pair of cupholders on the dash, and huge door pockets on either side that can accept large bottles or Thermos flasks.
Other hidey holes for day-to-day gear are scattered through the cabin, including small trays in the doors and on the dash itself.
The steering wheel is polycarbonate, as is the gear shift knob. Don't forget these vehicles are built for hard work, not necessarily for luxury. A higher brake and accelerator pedal placement is quite a common feature of vans, and it places the foot at a slightly unusual angle if you're used to driving a regular car.
It's a more upright seating position, and does take a little bit of finessing to get the best fit. The sealed driver's compartment in our medium van tester allowed the seat to be ratcheted back to suit this 187cm driver, although we wonder if an XL-sized owner would be able to comfortably fit behind the wheel given the restriction of the rear bulkhead.
An 8.0-inch multimedia system has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as standard, and it can be controlled from the steering wheel. You can also have two phones connected at the same time via Bluetooth. If you’re hanging onto the 1990s, unfortunately there’s no CD player any more, nor is there a DVD player… but the DAB radio is pretty good.
VW claims the Crafter’s 'App Connect' is a first for the category. Volkswagen also fits a 'Customer-Specific Functional Control Unit' (CFCU) to each Crafter. For example, the lights and siren on an ambulance can be controlled through the on-board CFCU, or if you have a digger unit on the back, the car can be programmed not to move while the digger arm is in motion.
There is nothing aboard that makes it difficult for the average operator to jump in and use it. It's really just like a regular car to drive, except for its sheer size.
Ease of use is vital for a van that's often used on the road for 12 hours a day, or more. And the Crafter has been designed from the ground up to make life as easy for its driver as possible.
Climbing abroad, the ability to adjust the steering wheel for reach, and height instantly gives you the impression the Crafter is going to be a very user-friendly device.
Volkswagen has worked hard to make the standard seats as comfortable as possible, and there is the ability to option them to an even higher level.
The medium wheelbase automatic we tested also featured automatic parking, which, for a large van in an urban environment, is an absolute bonus. And it works amazingly well. There's nothing like a five metre-plus van reverse-parking itself as the driver holds his hands in the air to make passers-by gawk in amazement.
Throttle response is linear and easy to manage, as is the electrically assisted steering, though you have to wind on a bit of lock to get around a corner. Disc brakes all round give the Crafter a good middle pedal feel, too. A brief drive in a manual reveals a light clutch and shift action.
The ride is well controlled even when it’s unladen, if verging on a little stiff – but it’s possible to uprate the suspension to suit loads of up to 2.4 tonnes, depending on variant, so a spin around Auckland’s CBD aboard a Crafter with 500kg of low-slung weight isn’t going to tell us too much.
We can tell you that if you’re looking for a 4x4 with air suspension and off road-ready all-terrain tyres that’s begging for a lift kit, this is not the place. The Crafter only comes with steel wheels, and its 0-100km/h acceleration speed isn’t especially important.
Two specs of the same engine size are offered in the Crafter. The (EA288 Nutz) 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel comes in both single and twin-turbo configurations; the single spinner is known as the TDI340, puts out 103kW/340Nm, and the TDI410 twin huffer grunts out 130kW/410Nm.
It’s best to check your manual for oil type and capacity, while injector problems haven’t been noted as an issue in the Nutz (commercial) version of the EA288. It uses a timing chain rather than a timing belt for longevity. VW has fitted the driveline with an AdBlue system, along with a diesel particulate filter.
No petrol version of the Crafter is available. There are no reports of injector problems.
The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission is a key upgrade to the Crafter, and it dates back to 2008.
The AWD version uses a Haldex system, a mechanical diff lock and hill descent assist, and offers a 4000kg GVM as well. It’ll cost $4500 more than the FWD system, which VW claims is a quarter of the cost of similar systems from its key competitors.
A six-speed manual gearbox has been the only option up to this point, but VW believes the market for vehicles like the Crafter will swing from 90 per cent manual to 80 per cent automatic within a couple of years.
The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission is a key upgrade to the Crafter, and it dates back to 2008. A derivative of the unit used in the Amarok (and the Bentley Continental GT, as it happens), it’s available on all three drivelines. Automatic gearbox problems aren’t an issue with the ZF.
A second battery and/or alternator is also available from the factory, to help power any and all devices you might want to mount.
Our drive program was far too brief to comment meaningfully on fuel economy figures, but we noted a figure of 10.2 litres per 100km after a 65km test period around the streets of Auckland aboard an auto TDI410-equipped van.
Volkswagen doesn’t supply fuel consumption figures because of the sheer variance in size and spec across the range. None of its competitors do, either.
All Crafters have a fuel tank capacity which measures 75 litres in size.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
VW has taken standard safety for a commercial vehicle to a new high. Front, side and curtain airbags for front-row passengers, 'Front Assist' with AEB, post-crash multi-collision braking, crosswind assist, front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera are all standard. It would be great to be able to turn on the rear view camera just to check what is behind the Crafter without reverse engaged, but that's a minor quibble.
Optional systems include park assist, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, active lane keep assist and sensor-based side assist. You’ll have to leave the youngest tradies at home, though – there are no ISOFIX points in the Crafter.
Service intervals of 20,000km or 12 months are recommended, and Volkswagen’s fixed service program applies. The first five services to 100,000km will cost $3279 in total; just keep the owner’s manual up to date.
A three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is offered, along with three year’s free roadside service.
The medium commercial space is set to heat up in the next few years, and Volkswagen’s uncompromising approach to the Crafter should stand it in good stead. It’s a bit hard to get a read on the car after such a brief test, so we’ll add to our knowledge base in the coming months.
There’s a Crafter option for every application, though, and VW claims its service network will stand behind the product right across the country… which it will need to do if it’s to take the fight to arch-rival Mercedes-Benz.
|35 TDI 300 LWB||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||No recent listings||2018 Volkswagen Crafter 2018 35 TDI 300 LWB Pricing and Specs|
|35 TDI 300 MWB||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||No recent listings||2018 Volkswagen Crafter 2018 35 TDI 300 MWB Pricing and Specs|
|35 TDI 300 RUNNER MWB||2.0L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN||No recent listings||2018 Volkswagen Crafter 2018 35 TDI 300 RUNNER MWB Pricing and Specs|
|35 TDI 340 4Motion LWB SUP H/R||2.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||No recent listings||2018 Volkswagen Crafter 2018 35 TDI 340 4Motion LWB SUP H/R Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||8|
|Engine & trans||8|