Volkswagen Crafter 2011 UK Launch
Volkswagen’s large panel van contender has undergone a serious makeover with changes to the front-end styling and the cab interior, as well as the introduction of a whole new range of four-cylinder Euro 5 diesels.
The heavily revised rear-wheel drive Crafter range is a lot less aggressive-looking than its predecessors which were introduced five years ago. This is thanks to the redesigned front-end, with a shallower grille sandwiched between new headlamp clusters which feature daytime running lights as standard.
Weights & Measures
Crafter remains available at three gross vehicle weights — 3.0t, 3.5t and 5.0t — and can be had as a short-, medium- or long-wheelbase; there’s also a Maxi option which adds a 400mm extended rear overhang to the long-wheelbase.
There’s a choice of four panel van load lengths ranging from 2,600mm to 4,700mm and maximum width is 1,780mm, dropping to 1,350mm between the wheel boxes; this is reduced to 978mm for twin rear wheel 5.0-tonners. Combined with the three roof heights on offer (1,650mm, 1,940mm and 2,140mm) this results in load volumes between 7.5m3 and 17.0m3 while gross payloads start at 1,044kg and go up to 2,693kg. Cab occupants are protected, and the load secured, by a full-height steel bulkhead as standard.
A 1,040mm-wide nearside sliding side door is fitted as standard on short-wheelbase vans. Move up to a medium- or long-wheelbase model and it expands to 1,300mm, easily enough to cope with a Europallet.
Despite the previous generation five-cylinder Crafter engines meeting Euro 5 emission levels — albeit with the addition of AdBlue — and surpassing them in some cases, VW has consigned them to the annuls of history. They have been replaced by a four-strong line-up of four-pot 2.0-litre TDI diesels which bear an uncanny resemblance to those powering the Transporter, recently introduced Amarok pick-up and even the odd Caddy derivative.
Available at power outputs of 109hp, 136hp and 163hp (twin turbo BiTDI) and developing peak torque of 300Nm, 340Nm and 400Nm respectively, they will be joined by a 143hp variant in November when the torque figure will be announced, but expect it to be in the region of 370Nm.
Not only do all these engines meet Euro 5, they also qualify for Enhanced Environmentally Friendly Vehicle (EEV) status out of the box; and without an AdBlue reservoir in sight.
Even when compared to the previous diesels in fuel-saving BlueMotion Technology models, the new line-up shows a significant improvement in fuel consumption, and consequently CO2 emissions. As an example the 109hp 2.0-litre returns 11.6 per cent better fuel economy for the Combined Cycle than its Blue TDI 2.5-litre predecessor. This increases to 24.3 per cent for the 163hp BiTDI.
Speaking of BlueMotion, VW is promoting it heavily for the new Crafter. Available in conjunction with all the engines bar the 136hp, Blue TDI models carry a price premium of just £300 over the non-Blue equivalent.
BlueMotion brings with it an automatic Stop/Start system, longer rear axle final drive ratio, cruise control and battery regeneration from the recovery of braking energy. Once the battery is fully charged the voltage of the alternator can be reduced or shut off completely whenever possible, so reducing engine load which saves fuel and improves efficiency.
A 109hp Blue TDI medium-wheelbase 3.5-tonner has a Combined Cycle figure of 34.0mpg; that’s 3.7 per cent better than the non-Blue version.
All Crafters come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and at the time of writing there is no news of an automatic option. The automated manual ShiftMatic ’box has been discontinued.
Service intervals for these new Crafters are very much dependent on usage. On-board diagnostics monitor the van’s well-being and let the driver know when it requires attention. This can be as many as 25,000 miles or as long as two years.
Drivers familiar with the first generation Crafter will immediately feel at home in its successor. Slightly darker upholstery has been employed to keep it looking smarter for longer and the instrument binnacle has been updated to match that of the Transporter.
It benefits from clear white graphics on a black background for maximum readability and includes a gearchange indicator arrow, as well as informing drivers what gear they are in currently.
Apart from these changes it’s business as usual with a twin passenger seat, dash-mounted gearchange, bags of storage space and the driver gets a height-adjustable seat. An adjustable steering wheel, however, is an optional extra, as are electric heated door mirrors. Remote central locking, with independent control for the cab and load area, and electric windows are standard items.
Bluetooth connectivity can be added to the MP3-compatible radio/CD player for an additional £335 and is just one of the extensive list of extras to be found on the options list.
Behind the Wheel
Climb into the new Crafter and it’s like revisiting an old friend. The cab interior is still on the dour side, but it’s ergonomically sound and there’s no denying the fit and finish, and the quality of the materials used. Fire up the engine and it’s a different story. Gone is the thrum of the five-cylinder diesel, replaced by a much quieter and smoother experience altogether. Not exactly silence, but a much more relaxing place to be nevertheless.
We tried two 3.5-tonners, one a 109hp medium-wheelbase, the other a 136hp long-wheelbase. They both impressed with a good delivery of torque spread over a suitably wide rev-range. The former engine will undoubtedly be the most popular, but if the job entails hacking up and down the motorway with substantial loads on board we would advise opting for the latter, or even moving up to the 163hp; especially in Blue TDI trim at such a low additional cost.
Gearchange quality could be smoother, but it’s by no means a hindrance. Ride and handling are well up to that of the competition and the power steering is well weighted with sufficient feedback. Braking is excellent thanks to all-round disc brakes — ventilated at the front — and as standard all Crafters are fitted with Bosch’s latest generation, all inclusive, ESP system for maximum safety.
As well as a panel van and seven-seater crew cab van Crafter can be had as a window van, chassis cab and chassis crew cab. The latter two can be used as the basis for a range of off-the-shelf conversions, including dropside, tipper and Luton bodies. Volkswagen approved converters can also offer a variety of other conversions like minibuses and refrigerated vehicles.
For peace of mind all new Crafters come with an unlimited mileage, three year bumper-to-bumper warranty. The first two years with no mileage restrictions are manufacturer operated, while the third year — up to 100,000 miles is a Van Centre warranty. In addition, there’s 12 year anti-corrosion cover, a three-year paintwork warranty and a three-year comprehensive recovery and assistance package for the UK and Europe.
Crafter’s mid-life makeover can be counted as a real success. The new four-cylinder engine line-up brings with it greater levels of refinement, improved fuel economy and reduced maintenance costs. Add to these well-priced BlueMotion models and Crafter is a serious large panel van contender.
Click here for a PDF of the full price list of the model line-up.
We caught up with Volkswagen's David Foster, product manager for the Crafter in the UK, at the Press Launch.