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Behind the wheel of the Tristar. VW's next Transporter

It creaked, it shaked, and oh boy did it rattle. The speedo has just nudged 50kph on a downhill section of test track, but the noises coming from the interior are irrelevant. I’m driving Volkswagen’s new Transporter – sort of. 

This is the Tristar, a concept vehicle that bears more than a passing resemblance to the forthcoming T6 Transporter, and a nostalgic nod to the first Transporter Syncro, a four-wheel-drive T3 concept unveiled in 1984.

The burnt orange metallic paintwork, 17-inch wheels with massive off-road rubber, and an interior that features leather swivel chairs either side of a 20-inch tablet table, conveniently located next to an espresso machine, are all pure concept vehicle folly. So too is the driver facing pop-up camera that couples with the surround sound system to create a video conference facility – a feature ripe for the modern age of selfies and Facetime.

VW Tristar
LED headlights are a must-have for any concept vehicle but also a useful hint at the future of the Transporter range

Under the bonnet is VW’s standard 2-litre common-rail TDI engine that populates the majority of their commercial vehicle range, however, not only has it been paired with the smooth and responsive DSG dual-clutch gearbox, the Tristar also gets permanent four-wheel drive with a mechanical diff lock on the rear axle. There’s also an extra 30mm of ground clearance to give the short-wheelbase pick-up a sporting chance off-road in addition to a boost in the looks department.

Speaking of looks, the Tristar gets a set of neatly integrated LED headlights, a must-have for any concept vehicle but also a useful hint at the future of the Transporter range. VW knows its T6 will have an even harder time securing sales as it faces fierce competition from rivals like the Mercedes-Benz Vito, Ford Transit Custom as well as passenger cars in the growing lifestyle sector, and will need to stand out both on the road and in the dealerships. Nevertheless, that redesigned front end, with or without LEDs, will be the face of the new Transporter.

This elaborate interior is also showroom ready, albeit with only the more simplistic elements making production. Take note of the subtly re-sculpted dash, it should become the new shape and layout for the next Transporter when it arrives in the autumn.

What will it be like to drive, though? Well, making that judgement from the Tristar is almost impossible, as not only is this a hefty show pony, it is also severely limited in the speed department. The engine is electronically limited to 30kph and the transmission stops at fourth gear, however, it will continue to pick up speed down hills, but as soon as you hit an incline the bulky concept slows immediately. Power is only restored once it finds a sensible gear for the gradient and the road speed drops below its limiter.

Squint just a little bit and the Tristar is the real deal

What’s the point of the Tristar then? Like all concept vehicles it is a bit of fun, really. Although the same engine (revised to meet Euro-6) will be used in the new van, in this concept truck it is purely for practical purposes – to help load and unload the vehicle as it travels in a trailer from show to show. The vehicle itself is in fact exceedingly well travelled. It has cropped up all over the place since its debut at the IAA in Hannover (this is the fourth time I had seen it in person since September), but astonishingly has barely turned a wheel. It had just 9km on the clock before our drive, making this driving opportunity of what is undoubtedly a multi-million Euro concept vehicle all the more unusual.

In reality, driving the Tristar is of very little importance when it comes to the new Transporter; this is driving the imminent new look of VW rather than its future mechanicals. Tablet tables and conferencing cameras won’t make an appearance on the T6, even in the options list, but squint just a little bit and the Tristar is the real deal. Like the squeaks and rattles of the interior, it’s best to ignore the most obvious distractions and focus on the simplicity. The Transporter is, after all, about as simple and elegant a van as you will see, and VW isn’t about to change that for the new T6.

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