Is this just another white box on wheels? Volkswagen answers that question with a resounding 'no' as it wheels out its advertising campaign for the latest generation Crafter van – a completely windowless white box on wheels.
Of course, the German brand is driving home its point with its parody that although a white box might be all we see vans as – even in the myriad of colours they now come - they can be so much more. And the time for seeing past that plain vanilla image has come with its all-new Crafter.
But given it looks mostly like its rivals it’s a tall order to beat that image, however, there are plenty of tricks underneath and inside which do make the Crafter stand out in the commercial vehicle segment.
If you need to haul freight, keep things dry or need a lot of customisable space, a van is what you want. Beyond commercial applications, the medium wheelbase box offers a big amount of space to create a campervan that’s still easy enough to drive.
The Crafter also comes in three more body styles, three heights, three drivelines and two transmissions that can all be configured in 59 different ways.
The main bodies are medium and long wheelbase vans and single or dual-cab ute bodies. All are large and offer better payload and capacity than before – which is from 1115-1417kg for the van and from 1329-2392kg for the ute. While the utes have the edge on payload, the vans offer between 9.3- and 16.4-cubic metres of capacity depending on the height of the roof, and high-volume variants now offer up to a 5.5-ton GVM.
The medium wheelbase front-wheel drive van is available with front-, rear- or all-wheel drivelines, 1258-2025kg payload capacity, 9.3 to 9.9-cubic metres of space and two different engine tunes.
The addition of all-wheel drive that brings a mechanical diff-lock and hill descent control will open up further opportunities for transport off the beaten track – and at a $4500 premium it’s currently about $20,000 more affordable than the nearest rival.
The front-wheel drive range starts from $48,490 plus on-road costs as a medium wheelbase, $51,990 as a long wheelbase, and $58,290 as a long wheelbase with overhang.
Standard equipment includes LED headlights, fabric trim seats, climate control, remote central locking, 270-degree opening rear barn doors and an 8.0-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Standard safety includes automatic emergency braking with frontal assist, side proximity sensors and a reversing camera, as well as optional lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, parking assist and rear cross-traffic alert.
A Trendline Styling package is available as a cost-option which brings chrome grille, chrome trims inside, fog lights and an additional 12v plug to join the two already available in the cabin.
A variety of optional cargo loading configurations in the rear including a universal mounting floor, sliding roof rails, bespoke cabinets and floor-mounted shelving provide tremendous customisation, and the new model can accommodate previous fit outs from older models. A second heat exchanger can also be optionally integrated into the water circuit for additional cargo ventilation – hot and/or cold.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.0/5
Beyond practical ability the range has been heavily updated. Where the previous Crafter was shared on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter platform, Volkswagen has opened-up its wallet and forked out $15 billion on a new facility and development of this model. No longer at the mercy of what its previous supplier would give them, Volkswagen has put more efficient engines and some of its latest technology into the new line-up.
The development also involved comprehensive consultation with third-party suppliers that fit out vans for a living – the result is that every hole and the universal cargo floor are designed to work with most combinations of gear and storage solutions you can think of.
For the first time, VW has also approved its dealers to directly sell third-party fit outs on the showroom floor, which means the van is delivered ready to go and all parts are covered under the same warranty.
The detail in the cargo space such as the myriad of factory-drilled and prepared mounting holes and points is impressive and will open up further possibilities without having to mangle the vehicle. And the front-wheel driveline drops the rear floor by 100mm, so it’s easier to get in and out.
This is one of the most practical vans you can buy if you need to move large quantities of goods, keep stock dry in winter or gut the back-end for a custom-built fit out. The addition of the second heat exchanger opens up even more possibilities for custom makers and the utes are massive, with a very hefty payload capacity for serious hauling.
Talking practicality, it’s some of the simple things like putting the rear heater on the floor and the air-conditioner in the roof that seem logical but not common in the segment.
There’s plenty of space and in its bare bones configuration the medium wheelbase will push capacity to 9.9 cubic metres.
The front cabin has a high roof with storage overhead, on the dash and in the dash itself. The centre seat folds down with a further three cupholders and a handy slot for keeping a mobile device or clipboard upright. There are also USB connections for the infotainment and two 12v sockets.
Inside the cabin, the 8.0-inch infotainment system is clear and crisp and brings a modern 21st century twist to the usual bland-feeling interior. It’s also practical for being on the move with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity though sat nav is optional or shown from a connected mobile phone.
The front seats are robust in construction but certified to stringent German ergonomic standards, promising less fatigue and strain on the body during long stints of driving. We sampled the 12-seater bus in the long wheel base version as well and there was tremendous headspace with reasonable knee room for all seats. Again, the seats in the back were sturdy but comfortable.
The steering wheel is tilt-and-reach adjustable and the driver’s seats has a surprising amount of adjustment for a van, so it accommodates a variety of body sizes well.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
The revised 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine is available in two different states of tune. It produces either 103kW of power and 340Nm of torque or 130kw and 410Nm depending on driveline configuration.
Front-wheel drive models get the milder engine output while all- and rear-wheel drive models are equipped with the beefier 130kW/410Nm engine.
The more powerful engine goes through either an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission while the front-wheel drive motor can be mated to the automatic only.
As far as vehicles to drive in the automotive world go the Crafter is not exciting, but it’s good at what it’s made to do. We drove with a 500kg payload and tugging along the weight the engine has enough torque to feel at ease. Acceleration isn’t quick but it’s good enough for getting around a city and cruising on the freeway we had enough grunt to get around slow traffic – the extra cogs in the auto help here too.
The ride is firm and good for holding up a heavy payload but it’s compliant and responds well to bumps in the road, as well as rotten pavement that can be found around the inner city.
In close quarters like alleyways slow speed manoeuvring wasn’t stressful and finding the last millimetre of space is possible because there isn’t any sudden jolt from the automatic transmission, either from a standstill or during slow speed revving. The close proximity sensors help here too but there’s no option for a 360-degree birds-eye view camera that its German foe brings.
Safety is impressive, such as AEB coming standard across the range, but it isn’t a VW exclusive with the new Sprinter offering the same safety kit on all models.
Optional tech includes adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist that can be fitted can-chassis utes – something that isn’t available in the popular dual-cab ute segment.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
At its core this is just another white box on wheels, but the trend towards vans over their cab-chassis siblings and stiff competition has pushed Volkswagen to develop a strong product.
The level of safety technology available and the flash infotainment system are more noticeable than tweaks to the rear compartment, at least until you let your imagination run wild. The price for kit and wide-ranging driveline options, however, are likely to be the most convincing argument for new buyers.
- Interested in buying Volkswagen Crafter? Visit our Volkswagen showroom for more information.