The Volkswagen Transporter is one of the most distinctive and iconic vehicles on the road, and when it comes to choice there is an abundance of options. Volkswagen offers a number of configurations, with short and long-wheelbase options (3,000mm and 3,400mm), low-, medium and high-roof heights (1,990mm, 2,176mm and 2,476mm), weights from 2.6 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes, as well as five different body types – panel van, crew cab, chassis cab, minibus and the much-loved camper van.
It's certainly a comprehensive range, and that's before you take into account the five engine choices, with 83bhp, 100bhp and 112bhp versions getting a five-speed manual gearbox, and higher-powered 138bhp and 176bhp models using a six-speed manual box as standard.
The range is extremely flexible, however, one thing you can't necessarily specify is the dual-clutch DSG as, like the VW four-wheel-drive 4Motion system, the automatic gearbox is only available on the higher-powered 180PS BiTDI and 140PS models.
Maximum load volume is 5.8m³, rising to 9.3m³ for long-wheelbase variants and ranges from 729kg to 1,333kg maximum capacity.
With just one engine to chose from, a 2.0-litre TDI common-rail diesel, it is impressive that Volkswagen has managed to extract so many power outputs from the unit. Five power ratings are available, with 83bhp, 100bhp, 112bhp, 138bhp and 176bhp models.
The first three adopt a five speed manual as standard, while the latter two get a six-speed manual ‘box. The excellent DSG twin-clutch automatic is an option, albeit a costly one, and as a first use buyer we would whole heartedly recommend it for anyone with plans to do significant amounts of urban driving. The DSG uses a dual-clutch system that allows a second clutch to prepare the next gear, while the first is still engaged to produce a gear change that Volkswagen claims is delivered in less than four hundredths of a second.
It is also the first time a seven-speed gearbox has been available in a Transporter, with the final notch designed as an overdrive with an extra-long ratio to reduce fuel consumption and engine noise. It’s a smooth and enjoyable transmission that is responsive in its shifts and compliments the Transporter’s ride, but as a second-hand proposition be sure to buy lower-mileage examples as a replacement gearbox will set you back thousands.
Higher-powered versions also get the option of 4MOTION all-wheel drive, while optional BlueMotion Technology delivers lower emissions and improved fuel consumption on the lower end of the scale with 83bhp and 112bhp versions. The 112hp Transporter BlueMotion provides best in range economy, promising nearly 45mpg fuel consumption and 166g/km emissions.
Maximum load volume is 5.8m³, rising to 9.3m³ for long-wheelbase variants and ranges from 729kg to 1,333kg maximum capacity. Making use of the Transporter's load space is aided by the single sliding side door and rear doors that open to 180 degrees, but buyers can also specify a second side door and 250 degree hinges. The soft rubber flooring will certainly help protect cargo, and there are six load-lashing points, as well as additional C-pillar rings, but as standard the van's body is unprotected without a full lining that is so useful to prevent any dents from showing on the outer skin.
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The familiar feel of the Transporter's interior is in no way indicative of an ageing cab. In fact, the van's insides have been revitalised by just a few minor changes, including the colour of the dials — now red on black — and the more modern switchgear.
Finding a comfortable position to sit in isn't difficult, as the driver's seat and steering wheel are both fully adjustable, but once you're on the move you will notice your left foot fidgeting around to find a decent perch.
Forward visibility is improved by the high seating position, and views to the rear are aided by the large electrically adjustable heated wing mirrors There's lots of storage, with split bins in the doors big enough to hold A4 papers and larger bottles, a lockable glovebox, open storage in the dashboard and a tray suitable for keys, pens and mobiles above the CD/radio.The standard-fit dual passenger seat also provides some useful under-seat storage, but proves a cosy fit even for two modestly proportioned patrons.
The upgraded RCD 310 CD/radio has an AUX socket for MP3 playback, and the four-speaker set-up delivers a great overall sound in the cab. Like the rear, the front is also lined with rubber matting, and although more suitable for owner-drivers, the addition of some leather trim improves the feel of the Transporter's interior.
We could have done with built-in satellite navigation, and at this level in the market you would expect parking sensors, however, both are available, albeit at £600 and £190 each respectively. The absence of Bluetooth as a factory-fit option is perhaps the only option the Transporter lacks.
On the Road
We've previously been impressed by the Transporter's ability to soak up the miles in a relaxed and comfortable manner, and with the DSG that ability is only improved. Burying the throttle from a standstill with the gear selector in 'Sport' mode proves that the 138hp engine with 340Nrn is a strong performer, hut where the quick-thinking gearbox really earns its corn is during overtaking.
The kickdown from seventh to sixth makes switching lanes on the motorway a breeze, serving up just the right amount of power to propel you into the faster traffic without having to worry about dislodging your load in the rear.
However, when a bit more speed is required, the two-stage action of the throttle allows you to kickdown from seventh to fifth rocketing you forward at impressive speed. Once you've mastered the throttle, the DSG becomes predictable and enjoyable, allowing you to use it to slow and speed up the engine to suit the terrain or situation.
The gearbox also works effectively in slowing the vehicle down, and coupled with the EBD (engine braking control) system - which monitors wheel speed through the ABS to prevent the driven wheels from locking when you lift off- allows for a smooth controlled reduction in speed, similar to slowly pulling out the clutch on a manual to allow the engine and road speed to match up. It's so effective that on a slope, if you plan ahead, you need not use the brakes.
Most vans will, however, be fitted with a manual transmission, and here the main difference is between the number of ratios. Lower power units get a five-speed manual gearbox, while the two higher outputs get a six-speed transmission. Drivers covering large numbers of motorway miles will want to specify a vehicle with the sixth ratio.
The four cylinder 2.0-litre common-rail diesel engine is an improvement over the old 1.9-litre and 2.5-litre Pumpe Duse units, with less of a clatter on start-up. Despite the numbers telling us that this particular engine is actually marginally noisier at all speeds than the 2.5-litre T30, you'd be hard pressed to identify the new common-rail engine as the louder of the two, as it sounds smoother and less agricultural from the off.
Also worth noting is the suspension, which is nicely balanced and provides enough softness to quell the shake of a bumpy B-road without any adverse effect on the agile handling.
It’s obvious that safety took a high priority during the development stages of the T5. The T5 contains more safety features as standard than any other van in its class, including Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, Electronic Stability Control, ABS with EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), driver and passenger airbags, and an Electronic Differential Lock.
Cost of Ownership
Unlike the previous model, which was available with a choice of two engine sizes, the new Transporter range now consists of one engine at five different output levels. Previous testing we have carried out between the top power 176hp engine and the entry-level 83hp model left us no further along in deciding if a low-powered engine doing more work was preferable to a high-powered unit doing less, as the results of fully laden fuel tests showed the smaller engine to be more economical at 37.1mpg versus the larger’s 36.4mpg average. While the higher-power 176hp edged clear in the unladen runs, returning 42mpg against the 120's 40.7mpg.
Sadly, the DSG comes no closer to settling the debate, as the presence of an automatic gearbox affects economy. Our test vehicle managed to record an average of 33.2mpg on the laden run, and without any ballast onboard notched up 35.9mpg, marginally better than the claimed combined mpg of the Renault Trak dci150 Quickshift with six-speed semi-automatic gearbox.
The Transporter has been the one mainstay in the Volkswagen line-up since its launch in 1950, serving everyone, from small ‘man and a van’ operators to the big blue chips. It’s a respected van that seems to tick all the right boxes - after all, 10 million customers can’t be wrong.
Volkswagen’s traditional strengths of a great driving experience, high build quality and safety have been carried through with the T5, and serve as a reason why this is a firm favourite with owner-drivers.