Van test: Volkswagen Crafter

Winner of the International Van of the Year 2017 award, the second generation Volkswagen Crafter aims to provide improved styling, comfort, smoothness, safety and handling. Our van tester, Mike Smyre, spent a week with the Crafter and files this review.

Mike Smyre

Whichever way you look at it, the VW Crafter is an imposing van, and the medium wheelbase high roof model that we had for a week is not even the largest in an extensive range of body styles. It’s certainly the most spacious we’ve had on test, and probably larger than most engineers require, but if you’re looking for something with 5m3 plus change, listen up…

The very size of this machine brings me to the first of my very few gripes with the van. Like most test vehicles, the manufacturer provided us with the mid-range spec, and for the most part this was pretty comprehensive. But when you have 12 feet of van and a solid bulkhead behind you, I would expect a reversing camera or at the very least reversing sensors, but these only come as standard on the top-of-the-range model. While somewhat mitigated by the excellent mirrors, this omission made reversing up to a hazard an uncomfortable experience.

About the size of it
Step up into the cab and you’re again aware of the van’s size. It’s a big step up, and you have a commanding view of the road. There are three full-size seats which will comfortably accommodate the driver and two hefty passengers, not like some so-called three-seaters which will actually seat two plus an anorexic super-model – or your lunch box. The driver’s seat is firm and has a fantastic range of adjustments that allow you to get your driving position exactly as you want it, so remaining comfortable and alert over long drives is not going to be a problem.

Height, rake, lumbar and thigh supports, the dual armrests and headrest can all be adjusted either manually or electrically.  If that’s not enough, seat heating and even a massage function are available as options.

Integrated systems
Even more impressive is the dashboard. This is a sophisticated van, with more features than a week’s use had time to reveal, yet VW have managed to make the dash simple, ergonomic and intuitive to use. Vehicle information, satnav, music system and phone have been integrated into one seamless system that can be operated almost entirely from the steering wheel. First time in the cab, one press of a button will import your entire mobile phone directory into the van’s memory, allowing you to make and receive calls with both hands on the wheel. Sure, there are arguments that any call in a moving vehicle is a distraction, but until we reach the point when all calls are illegal, this has to be the safest system available.

The excellent sound system is equally easy to use. Every station you could possibly want is pre-programmed in to the DAB radio and you scroll between clear, large icons to reach your preferred choice. Sound quality is great too, with no distortion even at high volumes. However, this is not standard on the mid-range Trendline and costs a hefty £840 extra.

Heating controls are on three large dials which, like all the controls, have a reassuringly solid Germanic feel to them. Our test week was during the fortnight we laughingly call ‘summer’ in the UK, so the air conditioning was greatly appreciated. Not a standard feature even on the top-of-the range Highline, aircon will set you back an additional £1650.

Loading zone
As said, our test model was the medium wheelbase version (actually the shortest version of this model) with the high roof. This gives an overall length just shy of 6m and a height of nearly 2.6m. This might exclude a lot of car parks, but gives a load area which will take four Euro pallets and a capacity of 10m3 and up. Still not enough for you? The LWB and LWB plus will take six pallets with a maximum volume of 18.4m3.

The load area floor is nearly 3.5m long and 1832mm wide, narrowing to 1380mm at the wheel arches. The wooden floor has a tough plastic covering and six well-located strap hooks, but there is no insulation or panelling on the walls. Access is by a large side door (1311 x 1822mm) or by the 50/50 split rear doors, which will open 270º and secure to the side of the van magnetically. No fumbling with greasy catches on this van.

In motion
On the road the Crafter continues to impress.  The 2.0 litre turbo-charged in-line four diesel engine is not what you’d call exciting but

is perfectly adequate to the task. It moves you swiftly away from the lights, and while you get some induction roar if you push it through the gears, at motorway speeds all you hear is a bit of wind noise from the large mirrors and some muted thumps from the suspension. No rattles, no buzzes and no vibration. The six-speed gearbox driving through the front wheels is slick and precise; the clutch is light enough and the brakes and steering are nicely weighted. The tuning circle is 3.6m, which is not bad at all for a 6m long front-wheel drive van.

Driver assist
There is a comprehensive electronic package to assist the driver. As well as ABS, the Crafter comes with load-adjusting Electronic Stability Programme and cross-wind assist, a driver alert system that chastises you if you change lanes without indicating, hill start assist and a function that turns on your hazards if you have to brake hard. Get too close to someone while you have the cruise control on, and the Crafter will back off the throttle to maintain a two-second gap. If that is not enough, it will even apply the brakes for you. All clever stuff.

Overall, it’s a very pleasant drive, and you quickly get used to the size of the vehicle.

Fuel economy
VW claims fuel consumption figures of 34.0 mpg urban, 40.9 extra-urban and 38.2 combined. This seems perfectly consistent with the 37.2 mpg I registered over a week of mixed driving. The auto stop/start certainly helps the urban figures, with a claimed saving of 10% in this cycle. This is a Euro 6 rated engine, and the small blue cap under the diesel filler might be a new concept to some users. This is for AdBlue, a fuel additive consisting of urea and water that is injected into the exhaust gases to help reduce nitrous oxide emissions. The 18 litre tank will need filling every 5000 miles or so, but more and more filling stations now have a pump, reducing the need to mess around with funnels and containers.

Tallying up
This is not a cheap van. The range starts at £29,737 OTR inc VAT and with the media and aircon, plus the metallic silver paint and Titanium Black upholstery as extra, our test model tips the scales at just the wrong side of £40k. But is it good value?

Factor in the 100k miles/3 year warranty, good economy and low depreciation plus 3 year’s VW assist (which you’re not likely to need!) and it seems a lot more reasonable. Leases start at £291 per month, so if you need something a bit larger than the average installer does, the Crafter may be worth a closer look.

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