Is the 2019 Volkswagen Transporter still the cult-king?
Think back to the 1960's and beyond, Volkswagen had an utter command on the multi-use van scene. Splitscreen vans (then the later bay window vans) were the most popular on the road because whilst useful for the yard during the week, they could then take your whole family to the seaside at the weekend. Practical, affordable - as such they developed a strong following.
Still to this day those era of Volkswagen vans are stupidly popular, ever increasing in price. So, what's the problem with having such a popular vehicle? Replicating it. After all the years of popularity, Volkswagen had to recreate it - a bit like a second album for an artist, hit or miss.
The new Transporters are somewhat different to their ancestors, with the engine in the front and tonnes of safety features as standard. Multiple engines and drivetrains are also on offer, with a 4-MOTION powered by a 2.0 petrol (200bhp, remap potential up to 380bhp - yes, Golf R block heavily detuned) being the fastest and a 90bhp diesel being the slowest.
The utility is still of massive importance though, speaking to owners of new T6's they use it for work during the week and stick their surfboards on the roof at the weekend. To them it's still as useable and capable as the historically significant Splitscreen was to the people of the time.
From the outside the Transporter still has the very typically 'Volkswagen van' aesthetic. In the last few years the design has changed slightly, with most improvements being in light-clusters, wheel designs and grilles. Asides from those bits, the design has mostly remained the same - the biggest update was a few years ago but you can still see the resemblance of the previous generation.
All that said and done, it's a very good design. Making a van good looking is difficult but without fail, Volkswagen have pulled it off. Strong lines along the van link in with the nicely rounded front end to give you the end result of a somewhat (almost) beautiful commercial vehicle. Beautiful and commercial don't usually end up in the same sentence, but for VW they do.
The 16" Clayton alloys finish the exterior look off, alongside the (almost £700) metallic paint choice of Acapulco Blue (yep.. that's the real name).
It's not very often you get in to a commercial vehicle and say to yourself, "well this is nice isn't it?". With Volkswagen making such a range of vehicles now, it's easy for them to port bits from passenger cars in to commercials, that's a really good thing. Whilst some of the systems are slightly older (think 2017 Passat), they're still useful and extremely forward thinking for a commercial vehicle.
The finish is very premium, until it's suddenly not. You go from a seriously well put together interior straight to a harsh commercial plastic interior very abruptly, there doesn't seem to be any slow gradient out. Asides from that, it's a very nice place to be - the Discover Media (£1,134) is extremely handy and easy to use and the standard speakers are loud with good dynamic range and clarity. Quiet and generally* comfortable, easy to drive and great visibility.
I have only two criticisms. 1) *The front seats - which weren't the most comfortable (£144 to have 2 seats instead of the normal 3 bench) and on my test van they creaked a lot (however Google later showed me a 3-minute fix). 2) The rear seating area, where Volkswagen have forgotten to put anything. I couldn't find a cup holder, a vent.. anything. Your rear seat passengers get nothing, you get everything.
Performance wise the Transporter does well, 150PS/340Nm and does 0-62 in 12 seconds with a 112mph top speed. Not slow for a van, helped by the DSG being an accurate and responsive box to accompany the 2.0 diesel. Throttle response was swift too, around town you'll never have any issue pulling out. Handling wise it rolls a little, the steering feel is slightly lacking and the pedal feel could be better - however it's a commercial vehicle so it's not meant to have performance characteristics about it.
Economy was the big let down, VW claim 45.6mpg combined.. and you'll be lucky if you get that on the motorway really. Realistically you'd see 35mpg combined, 43mpg on the motorway and 28-30mpg around town - with no load in the back. Whilst I'm sure the DSG box has accounted slightly for the lower figure, it means the engine is really behind the competition.
The 2.0 PSA engine in the Expert can return up to 50mpg real world if you're careful, annoyingly Volkswagen can make super frugal engines but with all the euro-engine compliances they've made a cleaner running one than the competition, but with less economy. Whilst this means you can drive the Transporter in central London, you'll be using a lot of fuel when you do it.
So, is the Transporter still the cult-king of the multi-use van world? Judging by the immense sales, level of owners I met and countless YouTube videos showing you how to convert them.. I'm going to say 100% yes. Yes, the Transporter is an expensive van - but the residual values are also much higher. No it's not the most efficient, but you could remap it to help significantly - e.g. Celtic offer up to 10mpg more. It drives decently and is comfortable on longer journeys and city driving, which is exactly what it will get used for.
It's a fun van, which is capable and adaptable - can be used for serious work during the week then take you and your family away at the weekend - with surfboards on the roof. You know what that means? The original concept hasn't changed, it's still as useable as the original Splitty was 50+ years ago - there are countless modifications to be done to make a Transporter unique so you don't have to have a van like anyone else out there either.
Simply put, VW managed to capture the spirit of the original and put it into the new one - something most manufacturers fail to do - but VW did it with ease.
Test vehicle: Transporter Kombi T32 SWB Highline 2.0 TDI 150PS 7spd DSG - Price as tested: £43,139 (OTR incl. VAT).