The Volkswagen Crafter has been around for quite some time. Until recently, it wasn’t really a VW – it was a co-developed commercial vehicle alongside Mercedes, from which their Sprinter and the Crafter were born.
Essentially a Mercedes wearing a VW badge, the Crafter was never quite as popular as its sister, the Sprinter, which has been the most common sight on our roads in the hands of the vast courier companies who put them through their paces with non-stop daily abuse.
The reason for this lack of preference towards the VW Crafter was mainly down to the fact that the Sprinter came with an incredible finance and roadside assistance package, which suited the fleet user to perfection.
However, it is now time for the Crafter to excel, with pricing of this all-new model against the latest Sprinter being rather like-for-like. It’s now up to Volkswagen to shout loud and finally put their stamp on this segment in Northern Ireland.
A month or so back, I collected this candy white, medium wheel base, high roof Crafter from Donnelly Group NI, to see what it was like over a few days of mixed driving and I’ll admit, this all-new MKII Crafter, is far removed from the model of old.
Being designed, developed and screwed together solely by VW in a purpose built factory in Poland, this latest van incorporates all the car-like aesthetics of the smaller vans from the German maker, whilst inside, the Crafter has never come equipped with as much tech, all of which has been borrowed from the car-range of the ever-popular brand.
From the outside, the general shape hasn’t changed a great deal. I mean, how could it? A large van is a large van after all, but what VW has done is add stylish lighting and a front end that actually looks good.
A single sliding side-door features with twin rear-doors, making the loading and unloading of whatever you are carrying incredibly easy. And for those long winter days, the load area is equipped as standard with functional LED lighting.
Heated, electrically adjustable wing mirrors will save you a few minutes each morning before leaving the yard and from the mid-level trim upwards, the load area comes floored with a durable wood. As with any van, there is a plethora of anchoring points around the floor to secure loads.
Inside the Crafter is where the biggest change is to be noticed. OK, the materials around the cabin are still very durable, but between the colours of plastic used and the layout, the Crafter feels incredibly car-like. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s the most pleasant van cabin I have experienced.
It doesn’t feel cheap inside, like many rivals, and the use of infotainment and steering wheel etc from the car-range gives it a nice feeling. It has a 20-way adjustable driver’s seat which I found comfortable, with its armrest a nice addition, and the two passenger seats offer decent storage underneath.
Further storage is in abundance around the door cards and dash as well as overhead storage bins above the driver and passenger, offering plenty of room for the endless amount of energy drinks, sausage rolls and a newspaper – that’s the staple diet of a van driver, right?
Unlike many rivals, who boast hundreds of variations from several trim levels, VW has kept things simple. There are just three trim levels, three body lengths and three body heights on offer with the panel van. Two other body styles can be chosen but trim levels on these are restricted.
A ‘Chassis Cab’, available in single-cab or double-cab, starts from £32,243 and would be ideal as a starting point for a car transporter build, whilst the highway maintenance favourite, the ‘Dropside’ can be had from £36,569 and comes in either single-cab or double-cab, the latter starting from £38,273.
Panel van trim levels include the ‘Startline’, which starts from £30,611 OTR incl. VAT. This model comes equipped with front assist, including city emergency braking system, driver alert system, cross wind assist, dual passenger seat in cab with folding back rest and under seat storage as well as convenient mobile phone interface.
Next up, and as tested, is the ‘Trendline’, which adds a media system including DAB+ with 8″ touch-screen that allows app connectivity, voice control, USB media input, Bluetooth calls and streaming as well as a comfort single driver’s seat, multifunction steering wheel, multi-function display/on-board computer and cruise control with speed limiter along with 270-degree opening rear doors. This model starts from £32,279 OTR incl. VAT.
This Trendline we tested was fitted with an optional ‘Business Pack’, available on the two previously mentioned trims, which incorporates front and rear parking sensors, air conditioning, alarm and remote central locking. The price of this pack is £1250+VAT.
Finally, the pinnacle model of VW vans, and from £37,157 OTR incl. VAT, is the ‘Highline’. This provides adaptive cruise control (including speed limiter), a heated windscreen, parking sensors front and rear as well as front fog lights with cornering function.
Engine wise, things are kept every bit as simple as the trim levels with all models featuring a 2.0 TDi unit and three performance options, starting with a slightly sluggish sounding 102hp version which produces 221lb/ft whilst the most popular choice is a 140hp unit as tested and produces 250lb/ft.
For those doing long-haul miles, the engine to opt for would be the twin-turbo, 177hp unit with a whopping 302lb/ft.
Over a couple of hundred miles, I got to grips with the more than sufficient 140hp engine, returning low 30’s mpg when paired to a six-speed manual gearbox which drove, in this instance, the front wheels. Options of an eight-speed automatic ‘box along with rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive are all there.
The driving experience was better than expected; vans can be very cumbersome on the road, but the Crafter proved smooth and easy to drive. For me, the DSG automatic ‘box would be well worth the extra couple of £k for super-lazy cruising.
Safety comes aplenty with the Crafter as it features cruise control, front assist, city emergency braking and automatic post-collision braking making it one of the safest vans on the road today.
With attractive contract hire, the VW Crafter could be more affordable than you think and with a 3-year unlimited mileage warranty, and bi-annual or 30,000 mile servicing intervals (whichever comes first), what’s not to like about this Crafter?
Words and Photos: Graham Curry
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