THE 2016 VOLKSWAGEN TRANSPORTER 340TDI SINGLE CAB CHASSIS MAY NOT BE THE FIRST VEHICLE THAT COMES TO MIND IF YOU'RE THINKING OF 'A BIG UTE' OR 'A SMALL TRUCK'.
But that's exactly where it sits. This $45,000-plus Volkswagen we’re testing here combines the practicality of the similarly-priced Amarok ute, the liveability of a Transporter van, and the tray of a small truck.
Cab chassis competitors are few, limited to the Fiat Ducato that sells for around the same money, or the larger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Renault Master that blow over $50K once a mandatory-for-registration tray is added.
So what is the appeal of a Transporter with a tray on its back, and why wouldn’t you just follow the tradie crowd into an Amarok? Stay with us, because there are compelling reasons.
Vehicle Style: Ute / Pickup
Price: $45,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 103kW/340Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl turbo-diesel | 7sp dual-clutch automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.2 l/100km | tested: 8.6 l/100km
Pricing of the Transporter 340TDI Single Cab Chassis looks steep. On the one hand it gets a fairly basic interior with three seats when, for around its $45,490 (plus on-roads) ask, ute competitors offer plusher cabins with extra features.
But this Transporter costs $4500 less than the Renault Master, for example, and its tray, at 5.48 metres long, is quite a bit shorter than the Renault’s 6.75m tray. Closer in price - the Volkswagen is $1500 more - is the Fiat Ducato, also with a larger tray.
There are silver linings and they start with the size and intelligence of the optional tray, before extending to the manoeuvrability benefits of being smaller than rivals.
- Standard Equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry
- Infotainment: 5.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio and CD player with Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB input and voice control
- Options Fitted: Dropside Tray ($2500)
If you prefer a high driving position, then the Volkswagen Transporter is part of an unsurpassed posse of 'tradie' vehicles. Visibility is excellent and the seating position is as comfortable as it is commanding.
The Transporter shares with passenger cars, such as the Golf, its lovely leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel with illuminated audio and trip computer controls, and manual air-conditioning dials. Crucially for a working man or woman on the run, everything is ergonomic and dead simple to operate inside, though optional automatic on/off headlights/wipers grates for almost $50k (on road).
There is plentiful storage, although the three-across front bench absorbs what would otherwise be a centre console unit in most vehicles.
Big trays in the tall doors are the highlight, although the dashtop-mounted cupholders affect what is otherwise superb forward visibility.
Unfortunately you don’t get side-impact airbags, but stepping up and into the cabin at least means the undercarriage and chassis will cop the biggest brunt in a side accident.
Looking behind the driver, the optional dropside tray is huge and it highlights a prime benefit of choosing van-based ute over anything else.
How big? Try a tray length of 2.94 metres and width of 1.94m, compared with an Amarok single cab’s 2.21m/1.62m tray respectively. (Unfortunately Amarok's cab chassis dimensions aren’t provided, but the cab chassis is even shorter than the single cab…)
The Volkswagen tray feels well made, and has secure pins for lowering or raising each slab-side of the unit as well. With a height of 392mm it is deeper than many cab chassis models too.
In this day and age, the do-it-all ute breed of Amarok/Toyota HiLux/Ford Ranger dual cab ute hold the lion's share of sales in the 'working ute/truck market, but each compromise tray space severely. This 340TDI Single Cab Chassis doesn’t, and, if yopu've got a job to do, it’s all the better for it.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 103kW/340Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, semi-independent coil spring rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear disc brakes
- Steering: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering, 11.9m turning circle
- Payload: 1339kg
It isn’t just tray space where the Transporter 340TDI Single Cab Chassis has an advantage over the similarly-priced Amarok ute, but rather its 1416kg payload eclipses the 1165kg rating of its 'Rok' stablemate, the TDI420 4WD automatic, providing a three-tonne gross vehicle mass (GVM) in total.
As the badge indicates, the Transporter has 340Nm of torque and 103kW of power from its 2.0-litre single turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine.
The Amarok's TDI420 badge gives a nod to its healthier 420Nm complementing the 132kW from a twin-turbo version of the same-sized engine. The four-wheel-drive Amarok also can be steered off road, whereas the Transporter is front-wheel driven.
You can get a 132kW/400Nm twin-turbo diesel engine in the Transporter, but it means spending $49,290 (plus orc) on the four-door crew cab version that adds a back seat but shrinks the tray by a significant 770mm. And, to us, the whole point of looking at the van-based Volkswagen cab chassis - and not a regular ute - is tray size.
The Transporter 340TDI Single Cab Chassis has a kerb weight of 1584kg versus the portly 1875kg Amarok single cab, but the drop in engine outputs isn’t enough to recover the difference in performance terms.
Put a load in the back, and you'll notice it on road. Our load test, that included a good run over some steep hill sections, had the 340TDI feeling a little breathless.
That said there is terrific low-down torque as expected from a diesel, and the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic suffered little from the surging effect at low speeds of earlier ‘DSG’ passenger car gearboxes.
The auto is also superbly intuitive, detecting engine labour early and shifting back then holding gears resolutely. It also jumps back several gears when travelling downhill to assist with engine braking.
Despite riding on chubby 65-aspect tyres, this Volkswagen’s unladen ride quality is rather jiggly and firmer than we recall of its Master rival and the benchmark (van only) Ford Transit.
While the Transporter can’t go off-road, those tyres in addition to decent ground clearance should make for an easy climb over worksite kerbs and mounds.
The short front overhang of the Transporter also contributes to excellent manoeuvrability. Without rear sensors or a reverse-view camera even available optionally, we’re at least thankful that the driver can see clearly where each corner of the trayback ends at all times.
Despite its sizeable external dimensions, this ute turns if not on a dime (rivalling some passenger cars and SUVs). Its turning circle radius is one metre tighter than an Amarok.
Although the steering is quite loose and vacant, this Volkswagen has very disciplined and sturdy road manners. Even with the jiggle that comes with a light load or when unloaded, it always feels quite stable on road, becoming more so with a load in the back.
Some extra finesse to that ride and a little more power from the TDI diesel would go a long way, but economy of 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres proved excellent on test.
ANCAP rating: The Volkswagen Transporter has not yet been tested.
Safety Features: Dual front airbags, ABS and ESC
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: three years/unlimited km.
Servicing: Volkswagen’s capped price servicing program covers the first six years or 90,000km, with checks annually or every 15,000km at a higher-than-average cost of $622.33 each.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ducato is compelling value, but the Volkswagen’s ergonomics could be reason enough to pay the extra. The larger Master is for those seeking ultimate size, but otherwise it’s probably not worth the extra. Likewise with the Mercedes Sprinter.
The Amarok, meanwhile, sits in another category (though it is a capable worker, especially with a cab-chassis tray) and offers off-road prowess and a smarter interior... and, in dual cab, you can your family along for the ride.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The van-based' small truck segment is not as big in Australia as it is in other markets, but the Volkswagen Transporter 340TDI Single Cab Chassis is a good option in this niche segment. And, in fact, that tray back has it all over the more popular 'tradie ute' for load and practicality.
There are some considerations on the debit ledger however. At nearly $50k it isn’t glamorous, it can’t seat beyond three, it is basic inside, it can’t go off road and its engine performance and ride comfort are average at best. It also desperately needs side airbags, a rear camera option and more kit.
Equally, however, this Transporter succeeds most where a ute arguably should, with easy driveability, great visibility, a huge tray and solid payload – all ‘big ticket’ items.
The likes of a Renault Master are even larger for not a whole lot more, but then a $4500 saving here is a decent-sized 10 percent one. This Volkswagen worker strikes a solid balance between the smaller tray of the Amarok class and the hefty dimensions of the larger van-based brigade.
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