June 1, 2020

Transporter refreshed

It’s been a busy start to the year for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles with the surprise launch of an all-new Caddy coming hard on the heels of the latest Transporter. Dan Gilkes got behind the wheel of the T6.1 Transporter for the first UK drive.

Volkswagen has given its T6 Transporter van a mid-life update, resulting in what the company is calling the T6.1. The styling has been sharpened up, with a new radiator grille and front bumper, updated tail lights and an overhauled interior. There have also been changes under the metalwork, including the adoption of electro-hydraulic power steering assistance, which brings with it the option of numerous driver assistance and safety systems.

Front Assist becomes standard, along with Manoeuvring Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control and a speed limiter. New options for T6.1 include Tyre Pressure Monitoring, Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Keeping Assist, Rear Traffic Alert and Park Assist. Transporter can also be ordered with the unusual trailer manoeuvring system first seen on Crafter, whereby the driver can steer the reversing van using the wing mirror adjuster on the driver’s door.

The vans continue to be powered by Volkswagen’s 2.0-litre diesel engine, in four power outputs. There will also be a full electric e-Transporter over the coming months, built by converter Abt. The fleet-friendly 90hp and 110hp engines get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the 150hp engine can be had with a six-speed manual or a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission. There is also a 199hp engine, that comes with the DSG box as standard. All Transporter models send drive to the front wheels, though the 150hp and 199hp engines can also be specified with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system.

Other than styling points, the body remains unchanged, with the same loadspace and similar payloads. The range starts with the T26 model in short-wheelbase only, while the T28, T30 and T32 can be ordered in short or long-wheelbase. The long-wheelbase vans can also be partnered with a high roof for maximum load volume. Payloads across the line-up are 713-1,309kg.

Volkswagen is moving into the connected vehicle space, with a new generation of mobile online services called We Connect and We Connect Fleet. All Transporter models come with an e-SIM, providing access to a range of We Connect features, including remote locking and unlocking of the van, service scheduling, an online anti-theft alarm and an online points of interest search using a smartphone app or a web-based portal. Additional services will be added throughout the year.

Alexa function

We Connect Fleet provides fleet managers with a digital fuel logbook, GPS location and route tracking, access to maintenance schedules and a fleet driving efficiency application. VW will add an Amazon Alexa function to the existing voice control system later this year, along with We Park and We Deliver options. The vans also have a Function on Demand feature, that will allow customers to add functionality to the van after purchase, through online connectivity.

The styling changes are not limited to the van’s exterior, with new infotainment and a revised layout inside the cab too. Volkswagen has streamlined the range, dropping the middle Trendline specification, so the choice today is Startline or Highline. There will also be a high specification Sportline trim, but not from launch.

The infotainment starts with a 6.5” colour screen, that comes with App Connect, eCall and USB Type-C connectivity. You also get We Connect for the lifetime of the vehicle and We Connect Plus for the first year. Higher up the range, the Discover media system comes with an 8” screen, with wired or wireless App Connect. Passenger-carrying Caravelle models can also be equipped with VW’s Discover media Pro, with a 9.2-inch screen or with the firm’s Digital Cockpit.

First Drive

While a new Transporter with almost 200hp and a seven-speed DSG box is a wonderful thing, the fact is that most drivers are more likely to find themselves behind the wheel of a 110hp T28 with a five-speed manual. That’s not a bad place to find yourself of course, particularly if the fleet manager has ticked the Highline trim box.

Ignoring our test van’s rather odd Copper Bronze Metallic paint scheme, it’s certainly a good-looking vehicle. The designer’s pen has sharpened the lines nicely and the interior is even better. Of course, it helps that VW has added a few choice options to the van, though the 8” Discover Media Navigation system is not the easiest to use, even with voice control.

As mentioned, there is no Trendline mid-range trim any more. However, even Startline models come with a 6.5” touchscreen with DAB radio and various connections for mobile equipment. Be aware though that VW has moved from standard USB to the smaller USB-C connectors, so you’ll probably need an adaptor to plug in a current smartphone. Startline vans also get electric windows and heated door mirrors, Crosswind Assist, stability control and a multi-function steering wheel.

Move up to the Highline model and you add adaptive cruise control, an alarm, auto headlights and wipers, body-coloured mirror housings, door handles and bumpers, air conditioning, electric folding mirrors, front fog lights with a cornering function, a heated front windscreen and parking sensors front and rear. It’s a very comfortable place to spend the day.

All of the vans at the launch were supplied half laden, with a pallet of stone securely tied down in the rear. Despite that, the 110hp engine has more than enough power to keep up with traffic. The five-speed manual gearbox has well-spaced ratios, that allow motorway speeds without too many revs. The van is also considerably quieter and smoother than some that we have tried in the past.

You would probably need to jump from a previous generation van to this one to register any difference in the power steering, which is perhaps a sign that it has been well integrated into the van. The big difference would of course be seen if any of the driver assistance systems were triggered. Certainly, with optional front and rear sensors and a rear camera fitted, manoeuvring and parking required little effort.

Rumour has it that a T7 has already been spotted in testing and that the next generation of VW’s most popular van will take a much bigger step forward. For now, however, few drivers would have cause to complain if they were provided with the T6.1. Plus, with a growing suite of connected services for small and larger fleets, managers and company owners should see financial benefits from this latest update.