2018 Volkswagen Transporter TDI400 LWB review

The Volkswagen Transporter remains a versatile and compelling proposition for bombing around town delivering goods. Here, we put the long-wheelbase version through its paces.

It has a history dating back nearly 70 years to the original Type 2 – an idea conceived by Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who saw potential in a panel van with decent payload.

The story goes Pon visited Wolfsburg in 1946, where he saw a modified Type 1 (aka Beetle) being used to transport parts around the VW factory. Believing he could come up with a better solution, the Dutchman sketched his first design for a van with a payload of 690kg and the driver positioned at the very front of the vehicle to maximise storage. Handily for historians, he dated his sketch, 23 April, 1947.

Pon’s timing was perfect, as the newly appointed boss of Volkswagen, Heinz Nordhoff, looking to expand the company’s line-up of vehicles beyond the Type 1, approved production in May 1949. The first production model, now officially designated Type 2, rolled off the line on 12 November, 1949.

Now, some 69 years later, the Volkswagen T6 Transporter continues that lineage – the sixth-generation delivery van serving as a workhorse around the world.

Interesting historical side note: Although originally dubbed the Type 2, early generations of the ‘Kombi’ were retroactively renamed T1 to T3, but only after the introduction of the T4 in 1990. Confused? Yep, us too, but what you need to know is this is the sixth-generation Volkswagen Transporter that first appeared on our roads in 2015.

On test, we have the 2018 Volkswagen Transporter TDI400 T6 LWB Auto 4Motion. That’s a lot of designation – so much you’d need a Transporter to fit them all in. Let’s break it down, though.

Powered by a 2.0-litre, twin turbo, in-line four-cylinder diesel, the Transporter is good for 132kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 400Nm of Sir Isaac Newton’s torque (hence the TDI400 designation) between a very usable 1500–2000rpm.

Transmitting that power and torque to all four wheels (yep, the 4Motion designation) is VW’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto. In that basic trim, it can be yours for $50,490 plus on-road costs. But, before you get too carried away hitting your bank manager up for a $50K small business loan, our Transporter came with around $10,000 worth of extras, bumping the as-tested price to a not insignificant $60,850 plus on-roads.

Perhaps the most significant, and easily most visible addition, is the medium-roof option that adds $1220 to the bottom line, but more crucially, 1.1m3 of load volume – a lift from 6.7m3 to 7.8m3.

That extra roof line is not the most expensive option, though. That honour is reserved for the twin power sliding doors (one for each side) that ask for $2440. Note, though, you’ll need to option the RHS door (only kerbside is standard) for $1220 before adding the power option. Adding further cost to those twin doors are fixed window options (as against the standard solid doors) that will set you back $410 a pop. We’d venture adding that glass is $820 well spent, affording an easy visibility for day-to-day running, particularly in this, the long-wheelbase model (that’d be the LWB designation).

Other option highlights include a rubber floor in the cargo area ($510), armrests for both seats ($410), lumbar support for both passenger and driver ($110), rear-view camera (essential! $610), and App Connect ($420).

The cabin is by no means luxurious, but neither is it utilitarian. It’s clearly last-gen Volkswagen, but in this application it works, and works well. The two seats are comfortable, as they need to be considering how much time will be spent in them. Those optional armrests are essential.

There’s plenty of storage too, if a little inconveniently placed. There’s a massive dashtop cubby augmented by a further seven little hidey-holes and spots to put your stuff. There are also bottle holders in the deep door pockets, while the roof also features another storage area.

With no centre console, cupholders have been promoted to the dashtop. Those cupholders house a pair of removable ashtrays to complement the old-school cigarette lighter nestled into the dash. Volkswagen must think delivery drivers are also smokers.

Infotainment is provided via VW’s Composition Media system featuring a 6.33-inch colour touchscreen with App Connect, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. No sat-nav, though, so you’ll be smartphone mirroring all the way. It’s an $850 option and well worth the spend over the standard-fit 5.0-inch colour touchscreen that misses out on smartphone mirroring and sat-nav. If you prefer your navigation to come via an inbuilt system, you’ll need to plump for the Discover Media System, a $1900 option.

Spending anywhere from 8–10 hours per day bombing through city streets delivering your chosen goods, you’ll want to be comfortable, and the T6 delivers, pardon the pun. The seats are comfortable, supportive and offer a nice high-riding position with excellent visibility all ’round. The leather-wrapped steering wheel adds a touch of class to an environment not known for it; in fact, the cabin is surprisingly semi-premium, although some of those many storage options aren’t in the handiest of places. Still, overall, there are worse places to spend your workaday life.

But, a truer measure of a van’s worth is in how much stuff it can carry. And the answer is, a lot. At just under 3m long (2975mm), and with the medium-roof option offering 1635mm of height (some 225mm over the standard roof), and with a maximum width of 1700mm (1244mm at the wheel arches, easily wide enough for a standard Aussie pallet), the T6 can swallow a claimed 7800 litres of stuff.

But don’t think you can haul 7800L of water (1L equals 1kg… Isn’t metric marvellous!) or 7572L of milk (1.03kg) or even 8297L of vodka (0.94kg) because there is a catch. The maximum payload of the LWB T6 in 4Motion all-wheel-drive trim is 1014kg – a payload penalty of 110kg over the front-wheeler that can lug 1124kg.

Delivery vans aren’t really about hauling weight, though, with usable space the premium measurement. With 7.83 metres of available space, the Transporter lags behind similarly specced offerings from Ford and LDV, but trumps the volume-selling Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad, as well as German rival Mercedes-Benz.

Access to the cargo area is a cinch, especially with the optional twin side doors that offer an aperture of 1017mm wide and 1264mm high when fully opened. The rear tailgate opens up to expose a width of 1473mm with a height of 1299mm – easily enough room to swing a pallet into the guts of the cargo area. Plenty of tie-down points, too, to keep your precious cargo secure.

One option our test vehicle didn’t have, but which we would highly recommend, is the partition dividing the cabin and the cargo area. It’s $610, though well worth the spend for not only sound insulation, but also protecting your noggin from any flying cargo should you have to brake suddenly. Newton’s first law of motion in the real world can prove painful. Get the divider.

Being a delivery van, and especially a 5290mm long-wheelbase hauler, you’d expect the T6 to be cumbersome. And you’d be wrong. That 2.0-litre turbo-diesel is at once refined and peppy, with plenty of poke down low thanks to those 400Nm available from 1500rpm.

Amusingly, VW even provides performance figures, with this version completing the 0–100km/h sprint in 10.6 seconds. We’re assuming that’s unladen; a cargo bay full of vodka might impact those performance claims. Still, the T6 is remarkably spritely, moving off from a standstill with no hesitation and getting up to cruising speed effortlessly. Even at highway speeds, the T6 responds well to throttle inputs, surging forward with a minimum of fuss.

Fuel consumption is rated at 8.3L/100km for the combined cycle, and pleasantly we returned a figure of 8.8L/100km during our week with the T6. Admittedly, we weren’t hauling 1000kg of whitegoods or vodka, but we’d venture that VW’s claimed figure was also of the unladen variety.

The seven-speed DSG auto behaved impeccably too, with none of the hesitation or lag we sometimes experience with dual-clutch transmissions, the T6 simply chugging along with ease.

The steering is nice and light too – crucial we’d venture for a vehicle of this type. And despite its overall dimensions, the T6 is surprisingly not exactly agile, but certainly easy enough to manoeuvre around town. Sure, you’ll need to be careful in tighter lanes and smaller streets, and yes, parallel parking takes an extra measure of attentiveness, but once you overcome your initial trepidation at the sheer size of it, the Transporter starts to shrink around you. Those swathes of (optional) glass help too.

One area that continually surprised us during our time with the T6 was just how nicely it rode around town. Certainly, without a load in the back, the Transporter offered a reasonably refined ride, absorbing Sydney’s bumpy and lumpy roads with minimal fuss. Road noise? Well, it’s a van, and especially when empty there’s a booming quality that’s on the mild side of annoying. Cranking up the tunes through the admittedly rudimentary four-speaker sound system mitigates this somewhat, but for our money, the divider would be an essential option.

Considering how much time vans spend on the road, it’s a little surprising there are not more safety features, even at this end of the spectrum. This generation of Transporter carries no ANCAP rating, while the previous T5 wore a four-star rating. That’s because other than the compulsory safety features such as ABS and TCS, and the usual array of airbags for driver and passenger, there isn’t a lot to add to the T6’s safety dance card. Cruise control, but not of the adaptive type, a driver fatigue detection system, brake assist, and hill-start assist join a multi-collision braking system that triggers only after a collision to avoid or minimise a secondary impact.

Cost of ownership is always a consideration for small and big business alike. Servicing schedules for the Transporter are 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first, and that distance interval is a tad optimistic considering the amount of time these types of vehicles spend on the road. The first 75,000km of servicing ask for $485, $705, $686, $1210 and $485 for a total of $3571. Warranty? Volkswagen’s standard and increasingly below-par three years/unlimited kilometres.

The original Type 2 was born of necessity; the solution to a question only Ben Pon was asking. In the intervening decades, it has achieved cult-like status with prices sometimes exceeding six figures.

Today’s Transporter is unlikely to ever reach six-figure cult status, but as a utilitarian vehicle designed for one thing, and one thing only, it remains a compelling proposition. With decent cargo space and a level of comfort not usually found in delivery vans, the T6 Transporter is a versatile vehicle that’s surprisingly fun and easy to drive.

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