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Volkswagen Transporter 2021 review: TDI340 LWB GVM test

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The VW Transporter has been in production for more than 70 years, as its bloodline can be traced back to the original rear-engine split-window ‘Kombi’ launched in 1950. So, during those seven decades, the German manufacturer has no doubt learned a thing or ten about building light commercial vans.

The current T-series of Transporters was launched in 1990, which was the first of six generations culminating in the current T6 range, that comprises not only work-focused vans but also people-mover, campervan and cab-chassis variants.

VW recently released a 6.1 version of vans and people-movers. That decimal point brings significant upgrades of standard safety equipment, headlined by City Emergency Brake (CEB), plus new variants. We recently put a Transporter 6.1 to work for a week and discovered a very capable mid-sized (2.5 to 3.5-tonne GVM) van with few flaws.

Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Our test vehicle is the long wheelbase variant with standard roof height, TDI340 turbo-diesel engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission for RRP $47,990. This compares to higher-selling mid-sized turbo-diesel rivals like the Ford Transit Custom LWB 340L with six-speed auto ($47,590), Hyundai iLoad with six-speed auto ($42,710) and segment-leading Toyota HiAce LWB with six-speed auto ($45,240).

Our test vehicle had 16-inch steel wheels and 205/65R 16C tyres. Our test vehicle had 16-inch steel wheels and 205/65R 16C tyres.

It's basic and work-focused as you’d expect, from its 16-inch steel wheels and 205/65R 16C tyres with full-size spare to its cloth seats and tough rubber floor covering in the cabin. However, that doesn’t mean you miss out on some useful and welcome creature comforts, like a leather-covered steering wheel with height/reach adjustment and infotainment controls, driver’s seat adjustable lumbar support, halogen daytime running lights (DRL), rain-sensing wipers, heated tailgate window with washer/wiper, multi-function driver’s display, four-speaker infotainment system with 6.5-inch touchscreen and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto plus lots of standard safety tech.

There’s also heaps of factory options available to help tailor a Transporter to suit an owner’s specific requirements including different cargo bay door and window configurations (including twin rear barn-doors), front passenger bench seat with under-seat storage, higher-spec infotainment systems and lots more.

Design – is there anything interesting about its design?

Our test vehicle’s 3400mm wheelbase is 400mm longer than the standard model, resulting in a corresponding increase in overall vehicle length to 5304mm and a 300mm increase in turning circle to 13.2 metres.

Its 1904mm width is an easy fit in most loading zones and the standard roof’s 1990mm height means it can access most underground and multi-storey carparks which typically cap vehicle heights under 2.2 metres. It comes standard with a kerbside cargo bay sliding door and single-lift tailgate.

Our test vehicle’s 3400mm wheelbase is 400mm longer than the standard model. Our test vehicle’s 3400mm wheelbase is 400mm longer than the standard model.

The well-developed front wheel-drive chassis is simple and robust with MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-trailing arm coil-spring rear suspension, the latter equipped with stout rubber cones inside the spring coils to provide a second stage of support under heavy loads. Optional heavy-duty and rough road suspension packages are also available. Brakes are four-wheel discs.

You can always pick a van designed for hard work by the amount of black plastic in body areas prone to high wear and/or scrapes, chips and dents and the Transporter has most of those covered, including the front and rear bumpers, lower rear pillars, hubcaps, door handles and mirrors.

The cabin has a back-to-basics look and feel as highlighted by numerous plastic caps blanking dashboard slots where switches are fitted to higher-equipped models. However, it has most of what you need and none of what you don’t for this working role. Even so, the lack of fold-down inboard armrests and a driver’s left footrest are notable omissions and both would be welcome for long stints behind the wheel.

Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

This engine and transmission combination is the jewel in the Transporter crown with its energetic, flexible and efficient performance. The 2.0 litre, four-cylinder, direct-injection TDI340 turbo-diesel meets Euro 6 emissions using AdBlue and produces 110kW between 3250-3750rpm and 340Nm of torque across a 1500rpm-wide torque band between 1500-3000rpm.

The 2.0 litre turbo-diesel has energetic response. The 2.0 litre turbo-diesel has energetic response.

The closely-spaced ratios in the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic are tailored to get the most out of this willing engine, with crisp and virtually seamless shifting. It also offers the choice of manual sequential-shifting, when hauling heavy loads in hilly terrain or simply for those wanting a more ‘sporting’ driving experience, but the seven-speeder usually does its best work when left to its own devices.

Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?

We covered 283km (with auto start/stop disabled) which included about one third of that distance with a maximum payload. The dash display was claiming an average combined consumption of 8.1L/100km when we stopped to top-up the 80-litre tank. Our own figure calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings came in even lower at 7.7 and both undercut VW’s official combined figure of 8.3L/100km. Needless to say, that’s outstanding real-world economy, which based on our figures should deliver a huge driving range of 900-1000km from its sizeable 80-litre tank. Possibly even further with auto start/stop enabled.

Practicality – How practical is the space inside?

With its 1865kg tare weight and 3000kg GVM, our test vehicle has a genuine one-tonne-plus payload rating of 1135kg and up to150kg of that can be carried on the roof. It’s also rated to tow up to 2500kg of braked trailer but that would require a sizeable 583kg reduction in payload to avoid exceeding the 4917kg GCM or Gross Combination Mass, which is how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time. Or you could keep the full payload and reduce the towing limit instead, from 2500kg to 1917kg, which may be a more useful compromise depending on work requirements.

The cargo bay, which offers 5.0 cubic metres of load volume, is 2975mm long, 1700mm wide and 1410mm high with 1244mm between the rear wheel housings. That means it can carry two 1165mm-square standard Aussie pallets, or up to three 1200 x 800mm Euro pallets, secured by a choice of eight load-anchorage points. However, the single-lift tailgate could make rear forklift access tricky, depending on forklift design and reach. The sliding door has a generous 1017mm opening for kerbside loading.

The cargo bay offers 5.0 cubic metres of load volume. The cargo bay offers 5.0 cubic metres of load volume.

Although the load floor is bare and there’s no standard cargo protection for driver and passenger (optional rubber load floor mats and cargo barriers are available), the cargo bay walls and doors are lined to mid-height and the roof is also lined, with two roof lights providing ample illumination.

Cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder and huge storage bin in each front door, with a narrower second-tier storage shelf above which is ideal for holding smaller items like wallets, keys etc.

The dash provides another small-items cubby to the right of the steering wheel and the top dash-pad has small-bottle/cup holders at each end plus a steeply-angled open tray on the driver’s side which is ideal for storing clipboards, paperwork etc.

Cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder and huge storage bin in each front door. Cabin storage includes a large-bottle holder and huge storage bin in each front door.

There’s no overhead sun-glasses holder but the passenger side of the dash offers two tiers of open storage and a large glovebox, plus another small-bottle/cup holder to the left of the gearshift console. An overhead storage shelf would be handy, given that there’s no centre console.

What’s it like as a daily driver?

Four-coil suspension provides a noticeably supple unladen ride quality, which is impressive for a commercial vehicle with a one-tonne payload rating. It also feels sure-footed and well planted on the road, particular on the many wet roads we encountered during a rain-affected week of testing.

With its upright steering wheel angle and nicely-weighted steering feel, it offers a comfortable almost car-like driving experience. The driver’s seat has height, backrest rake and lumbar adjustment; there’s no rake adjustment for the base cushion but it doesn’t really need it. There are also clear eyelines to all mirrors, a nicely-positioned gearshift and an uncluttered dashboard/instrument layout that’s easy to read and operate.

The cabin has a back-to-basics look and feel. The cabin has a back-to-basics look and feel.

The 2.0 litre turbo-diesel has energetic response in its peak torque band between 1500-3000rpm, where most city and suburban driving occurs. Snappy, seamless up-shifting occurs between 1500-2000rpm, providing brisk acceleration with excellent fuel economy. At highway speeds, good gearing ensures the engine needs only 1800rpm to maintain 100km/h and 1900rpm at 110km/h.

We only have two criticisms. One is the size and limited wide-angle effect of the left-side mirror, given the huge blind-spot that a solid-walled long wheelbase van like this creates over the driver’s left shoulder. Although the Transporter is (thankfully) equipped with blind-spot monitoring, a larger kerbside mirror with a more convex shape to increase its angle of view would be welcome.

The other is high internal noise levels at highway speeds emanating from the rear wheel housings. On some grades of coarse bitumen it can sound like the roar of a jet engine, which is too loud for sustained periods and could be a deal-breaker if you do a lot of highway work. We have recently tested rival vans without cabin bulkheads which have appreciably lower cargo bay noise levels at similar speeds (most notably a Chinese brand), so it can be done.

What’s it like for tradie use?

The Transporter’s suspension offers the best of both worlds, as its ride quality is commendable when unladen or fully loaded. Using extended tangs we forklifted 975kg into the cargo bay through the tail, which with driver equalled a 1075kg payload. With a full tank of diesel, which added 60kg to the tare weight and therefore payload, it was right on the 1135kg limit.

Using extended tangs we forklifted 975kg into the cargo bay through the tail, which with driver equalled a 1075kg payload. Using extended tangs we forklifted 975kg into the cargo bay through the tail, which with driver equalled a 1075kg payload.

The rear suspension compressed 55mm and the nose dropped 12mm, but the rear still had more than 40mm of static bump-stop clearance which was impressive. As expected, it glided over bumps and other road irregularities with ease and there was minimal effect on engine performance, braking and handling.

It also easily pulled this load to the top of our 13 percent gradient 2.0km set climb but relied heavily on the four-wheel disc brakes on the way down due to minimal engine-braking, which was not unexpected given its relatively small displacement and the one-tonne-plus load it was trying to restrain. Like most 2.0 litre-ish turbo-diesels, it has plenty of pulling power but limited engine-braking.

Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

There's no ANCAP rating but the Transporter 6.1 adds to an already extensive list of active and passive safety with the following features now standard: front assist with city emergency braking (aka low-speed AEB), crosswind assist, side-assist including blind-spot monitoring/rear cross-traffic alert and multi-collision brake. There’s also driver and passenger front and side curtain airbags plus lots more.

Ownership – What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The Transporter boasts a level of mechanical refinement, engine performance, ride quality, heavy load-carrying ability and general driver comfort that sets a high benchmark in this category. If not for its lack of an ANCAP rating and unacceptably high internal noise levels at highway speeds, it would be hard to fault.

$47,500 - $63,878

Based on 21 car listings in the last 6 months


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