Most vans come in a few different shapes and sizes, but not the Volkswagen Transporter. It's one of the most versatile mid-sized models on the market in Australia.
No other van in its class offers all-wheel drive as an option, and while many have different roof heights or body lengths, the Volkswagen Transporter 2018 offers more versatility than you might expect.
The best-value T6 Transporter remains the entry-level Runner, which is sold in spurts as a limited-run model, but we recently had some time in a highly specced 4Motion AWD model with a mid-roof and a long wheelbase. It's a bit ungainly, but the fact is it's an example of what's possible from the German brand's medium van.
Every Transporter has a more appealing interior than the plane-Jane exterior may suggest. (image: Matt Campbell)
This particular test model looked even more ungainly thanks to being fitted with the mid-roof option, which allows you extra stand-up/storage space in the cargo area, but looks very much like an afterthought - particularly when there aren't barn doors fitted at the back.
I personally like the look of the regular-roof T6 Transporter model, especially the short-wheelbase version. In that guise, it's easier on the eye. If you're curious about the exterior dimensions of our test vehicle, it is 5290mm long, 2177mm tall and 1904mm wide.
But thankfully, every Transporter has a more appealing interior than the plane-Jane exterior may suggest. Sure, it's still a work-focused space, but with nice bits including a leather steering wheel and an optional media screen with the latest smartphone tech, there's a bit to like in the cabin. And it has heaps of thoughtful storage.
There's a bit to like in the cabin. And it has heaps of thoughtful storage. (image: Matt Campbell)
How practical is the space inside?
If car cabins were built-in wardrobes, the Transporter's would be a walk-in robe with custom-made nooks and crannies for every item.
The dashboard has multiple storage areas for items of different shapes and sizes, including a very handy folder holder on the dash. The door pockets are huge, too, and while it's a bit of a stretch to get your bottle from the low-mounted bottle holder, there are cupholders on the dash top and in the centre console if you need them.
If car cabins were built-in wardrobes, the Transporter's would be a walk-in robe with custom-made nooks and crannies for every item. (image: Matt Campbell)
There's no central storage area, per se, but that's not too big of a deal because the floor is low and flat (and grippy), so you can put things there instead.
And the cargo area? Well, in this spec the volume is a huge 7.8 cubic metres for this mid-roof LWB model. For comparison's sake, the SWB regular-roof model has 5.8m3, and the high-roof LWB tops the range at 9.3m3.
The floor length is 2724mm (or 2975mm if you slide the passenger seat all the way forward), with 1700mm of usable width in the back (and 1244mm between the arches, making it broad enough to deal with Aussie pallets). The height in the mid-roof model is 1635mm - a good improvement over the regular-roof version (1410mm).
The floor length is 2724mm (or 2975mm if you slide the passenger seat all the way forward). (image: Matt Campbell)
The cargo zone has D-shaped hooks to secure your load, with four on either side of the cabin. There are lower lining panels to stop you from denting the metalwork if things fall over when you're driving, but up high there are gaps that could fall victim to ding marks. The little square patches you see in the pictures are designed to lessen cabin noise. The rubber floor definitely helps in that regard, too.
And there's a small shelf above where the regular cabin roofline sits, allowing for further loose item storage. It's ideal for tie-down straps/ropes/jockey straps.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Volkswagen Transporter buyers have plenty of choice available to them, because of the 'choose your own adventure' nature of the vehicle's range of options. The Transporter T6 range can be had as a van, a crewvan (with a second-row seat) and both single cab and dual cab cab-chassis models.
Plus there are two wheelbase lengths, three roof heights, and multiple door layouts to choose from.
It's hard to offer up a price list for each individual model you could potentially configure, because there are 38 different iterations to choose from. Go have a look at the configurator on VW's site to see what I mean.
Composition Media brings an upgraded 6.3-inch media screen and an obligatory upgrade to include App Connect smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. (image: Matt Campbell)
The thing with the extensive option list, though, is that you can find yourself ticking a lot of boxes, and adding a lot of extra cost to your van. Like our test vehicle, for instance, which started life as a $50,490 (plus on-road costs) LWB TDI400 automatic model, but had a swathe of optional goodies added. Enough to push the price as tested to $60,850...
The work-focused optional extras fitted on the van you see here include right side sliding door ($1220); power sliding doors ($2440); fixed windows in both doors ($410 each side); medium/mid height roof ($1220); rubber flooring in cargo area ($510); and a power latching tailgate (note: the tailgate is still manual, but will latch electronically. It's $300). You can get barn doors if you want, but it's also at an optional cost (the tailgate door is standard across the range).
Convenience options include: Composition Media - an upgraded 6.3-inch media screen, the regular version has a 5.0-inch screen ($850), and when you upgrade to that, there's an obligatory upgrade to include App Connect smartphone connectivity with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto ($420); then voice control adds $310; a reversing camera is $610; the Light and Sight pack (auto headlights with coming home function, and auto wipers) at $510; armrests for both from seats, at $410; lumbar adjustment for passenger seat $110; height adjustment for the passenger seat (standard for driver) at $110; and a comfort package (sunvisors with mirrors for both sides, A-pillar handles, sunglass compartment, extra sound deadening, a 12-volt plug and a door-mounted bin) for $510.
A full-size spare wheel comes as standard. (image: Matt Campbell)
So, what's standard? Every Transporter has a digital driver info display with digital speed readout, a leather-lined steering wheel with height and reach adjustment, driver's seat with height adjust and lumbar support, air-conditioning, a colour media screen with USB and Bluetooth phone connectivity, cruise control, power windows, heated exterior mirrors, and a full-size spare wheel.
You also get rear parking sensors, hill-start assist, halogen daytime running lights, and an array of safety equipment. See below for more on that.
So, it's expensive if you tick a lot of boxes - there's no doubt about that. But the fact there are so many options to choose adds to the appeal for a new van buyer, particularly one who needs specific elements for a fleet of vehicles.
The mid-roof option allows you extra stand-up/storage space in the cargo area. (image: Matt Campbell)
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
There are two drivetrains available in the Transporter T6 range, and both of them are diesel.
They are both 2.0-litre engines, with the single-turbo entry-level TDI340 version sporting 103kW and 340Nm, and the twin-turbo TDI400 version tested in the van you see here grunting out 132kW (at 4000rpm) and 400Nm (from 1500-2000rpm).
Our test vehicle had the TDI400 drivetrain that grunts out 132kW (at 4000rpm) and 400Nm (from 1500-2000rpm). (image: Matt Campbell)
No other van in the segment has all-wheel drive available, even optionally. So that's a big plus.
How much fuel does it consume?
The claimed fuel consumption figure for the Volkswagen Transporter T6 TDI400 4Motion automatic is listed at 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres. And that doesn't take into account van buyers will typically run around with a few hundred kilograms (or more) of stuff in the back.
During my time in the Transporter I did some running around with a load on board - not hundreds of kilos, though... - as well as quite a bit of highway/freeway driving and the usual stop-start peak hour business. And I was very impressed with the displayed consumption figure - 7.6L/100km.
What's it like to drive?
If you sit in a van for hours on end, you need to be comfortable and feel like everything is ergonomically well thought-out. And in the VW Transporter, that's the exact feeling you get.
The storage and comfort elements aren't typically what you might consider hugely important when it comes to the way a vehicle drives, but for van drivers, it's crucial.
And thankfully, there aren't many points to complain about when it comes to the drive experience.
The steering is nicely weighted - ideal at city speeds and when parking, and well sorted at highway speeds, too. And the ride is very good; there's more impact in the cabin from the noise of the suspension dealing with the bumps, rather than actual harshness being felt by the occupants.
If you need a van, you will be able to find one that fits your needs in the Transporter family. (image: Matt Campbell)
The drivetrain has one or two quirks - as you may have read in the past, dual-clutch transmissions aren't the darling of some reviewers, including this one. The thing you need to know is that at low speeds, they can be a little bit fidgety, with some lagginess evident, which can make for some annoying moments, particularly when you're reversing uphill. Cold weather can call forth some low-speed shunting, too.
But once you're at speed - on the highway, or even dealing with arterial roads - the transmission comes into its own. The shifts are smooth and rapid, and you won't often find the gearbox in the wrong gear at the wrong time.
Plus the bi-turbo diesel engine makes for swift progress when you need to get around someone quickly, even if the peak torque band is pretty narrow (1500-2000rpm), with the transmission doing a great job of keeping it in the sweet spot.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The Volkswagen Transporter has not been crash-tested by Euro NCAP or ANCAP. That's a bit surprising, given how popular the vehicle is on a global level (more than 500,000 of the current-gen T6 models have been built).
The standard safety equipment list for the T6 Transporter range includes dual front airbags and front-side airbags. Curtain airbags aren't available in the van, crew van or cab-chassis Transporter variants.
Other kit includes the expected ABS (anti-lock brakes) and ESC (electronic stability control), plus a system called Multi-Collision Brake (that will apply the brakes in the event of an impact to stop further damage), and a driver-fatigue monitoring system. Auto emergency braking (AEB) isn't available, and there's no forward collision warning or pedestrian detection system, either.
Van models come with rear parking sensors as standard, and a reversing camera is optionally available, but only with models fitted with a tailgate. Barn-door-equipped versions can't be fitted with a camera.
It seems clear, though, that if you want the most safety-focused, value-for-money van in the segment, you need to have a look at the updated 2018 Ford Transit Custom, which has an optional Technology Pack ($1600) with AEB, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam lights, auto wipers, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Plus that van gets a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors as standard, too. A Mercedes Vito could be a good option, as well.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
Volkswagen covers its vehicles with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. That's not bad, particularly if you're going to do a lot of driving in your Transporter. But there are better plans out there for potential van customers, like the five-year/unlimited-kilometre plan that Ford recently introduced (good news for Transit Custom buyers) which matches the Hyundai warranty plan that iLoad buyers have taken advantage of for years.
The brand also has a capped-price servicing plan that spans five years/75,000km, with maintenance visits due every 12 months/15,000km. The costs are high compared with rival vans - the first visit will cost $485, the second $705, the third $686, the fourth $1210, and the fifth $485.
So, you may get a premium product, but you have to pay a big premium on maintenance costs.
With so many options to choose from, there is no better choice for buyers out there who need a specific length, height or configuration for their mid-sized van than the Volkswagen Transporter T6. That said, if your needs aren't as specific, you could find yourself saving a lot of money by considering one of its competitors.
Would you choose a VW Transporter over its competitor vans? Let us know in the comments section below.