July 21, 2019

Classic Crafter completes line-up

VW’s new Crafter is now available with rear-wheel drive, the traditional choice for heavy vans. Dan Gilkes reports.

In the heavy van market, manufacturers could never be accused of not offering choice. Driven wheels, engines, transmissions, body lengths and heights, panel vans and chassis cabs, the decisions that a customer can make are seemingly endless.

Volkswagen’s latest Crafter van, its first since the split with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, is a case in point. At launch, the van came in front-wheel drive or VW’s 4Motion all-wheel drive, which uses the front-driven chassis as a base. Those models have now been joined by the traditional rear-wheel driven vans and chassis, completing the line-up, at least until the electric e-Crafter arrives next year.

Whichever wheels you choose to power, there are still plenty of choices to make. All three drivelines can for instance be had with six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions, though not in combination with every engine.

Talking of which, all Crafters at present are powered by VW’s 2.0-litre TDi engine, in various states of tune. The base 102hp engine that is offered in the front-wheel drive Crafter is not available in the typically heavier rear-drive chassis, which starts with a 122hp version of the engine.

At least, it does if you are buying a 5.0-tonne CR50 twin-rear wheel model. The more popular CR30 and CR35 models come with a choice of the 140hp engine that we have here and a range-topping 177hp motor. Likewise, while the six-speed manual is standard, the eight-speed automatic can only be had in combination with the 177hp engine.

Two wheelbases

The rear-drive van is offered with two wheelbases, medium or long, though the longer chassis is available with a choice of two body lengths, making three overall lengths in total. Medium wheelbase vans get a choice of a low or a high roof, while the longer models come with the high roof as standard. However, you can then order the longer van with an optional super high roof, for maximum volume. The smallest rear-drive van can carry up to 9.9m3, rising to 16.1m3 for the long with super high roof. The long wheelbase, high roof van that we tested offers a healthy 14.4m3 capacity, with a potential payload of 1,151kg.

One area where Volkswagen has made things simple for buyers is in trim levels, with just Startline and Trendline on offer. That said, buyers can add a Business Pack to the Trendline van. This includes climatic air conditioning, parking sensors front and rear, an alarm with interior monitoring, overhead storage and a pair of remote-control folding keys. Ticking the Business Pack option box will set you back an additional £1,518, but that is a hefty £1,345 less than you would pay for those extras as individual options.

On the road, with a half load in the back, the 140bhp engine has more than enough power to move such a large van along smoothly. The six-speed manual gearbox is relatively slick and the gears are well spaced to suit varying driving conditions, from stop/start urban to motorway cruising. In normal road driving you’d be hard pressed to tell which wheels are actually doing the hard work and the Crafter manages that trick of feeling smaller than it actually is when on the move.

Drivers will notice that the van is rear-wheel drive when loading and unloading though, as the floor sits around 100mm higher in a rear-drive van to clear the drive axle. Rear-wheel drive vans are also around 100kg heavier than comparable front-drivers, cutting into the available payload, though this is unlikely to be a deal-breaker for those that prefer rear-drive.

Even the fact that the rear-driven vans consume slightly more fuel and produce a little more CO2 than their FWD counterparts, will probably have little effect on buyers that need a rear-drive model. Indeed, that is perhaps the point of the greater choice that manufacturers like Volkswagen are offering. There really is a van to suit the individual needs of each customer within the line-up.

The problem, or some may say the opportunity, for both dealers and operators, is to define the actual needs of the buyer. Are you going to be towing, or tackling rough ground? Will the van regularly be running completely laden or frequently empty? These are all questions that should be asked before a decision is made. The good news however, is that whatever the answer to those questions, there should be Crafter to meet your needs.