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Road Test: Volkswagen Crafter

Volkswagen’s new Crafter is arriving in UK showrooms, at least with front wheel drive,  says Dan Gilkes.

It’s not often that we get the chance to get behind the wheel of a totally new van, most are evolutions of previous models or based on another manufacturer’s LCV.

Volkswagen’s new Crafter is not only a totally fresh design though, the van is being built in a dedicated factory in Poland and will take VW into a number of market sectors that have previously been closed to Crafter.

The first of those is the front-wheel drive large van market. In the past the big VW has been based on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, so came as a rear-drive van only. This new model will eventually be available in front-, rear- and all-wheel drive.

The front-drive vans arrive first with manual gearboxes. These will be followed by 4Motion all-wheel drive and automatic transmissions in the summer and then rear-wheel drive towards the end of the year. There will also be chassis cabs and conversions along the way, plus we can expect to see combis by the start of 2018. We’ll even see the electric e-Crafter in the UK by the end of this year, though in left-hand drive trial form only.

For now, Crafter comes in front-drive with a choice of three body lengths and three roof heights. This LWB high-roof delivers a huge 14.4m3 load volume, with a very competitive 1,127kg payload.

There are three versions of VW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine at launch, offering 102bhp, the 140bhp that we have here and 177bhp. A 122bhp model will be added later. All will eventually be available with an eight-speed automatic transmission, but early customers will make do with a very slick-shifting six-speed manual, which is no hardship.

Even in such a big van, the 140bhp engine, which is expected to be the big seller, is more than powerful enough, with 340Nm of torque. It accelerates briskly with a part load on board and cruises with ease, returning an indicated 35.5mpg during its time with us, despite having less than 1,000 miles on the clock.

The front-drive chassis offers a lower load floor than its rear-wheel drive stablemates, but it’s still a good climb up into the Crafter’s cab. Once inside the van is all-new, though it will be familiar to anyone that has driven a recent VW van or car.

The design has been well thought out, with so many storage options you could lose things for days. The only slight grumble is open trays on top of the dash, that allow paperwork to reflect in the windscreen in strong sunlight.

For the first time on Crafter, VW will offer the van in the same Startline, Trendline and Highline trim levels as its smaller models. All come as standard with electro-mechanical steering, Automatic Post-Collision Braking, Cross Wind Assist, Bluetooth and a driver alert system. A host of additional driver assistance systems are offered, including Adaptive Cruise Control, Trailer Assist and Front Assist with City Emergency Braking.

In normal use drivers will be hard pressed to tell which wheels are doing the driving, so front or rear-wheel drive will hardly be an issue. The lower weight, load  floor and potential price should make front-drive the biggest seller here though.What we think

The new Crafter is everything that we hoped it would be and a worthy winner of the Van Fleet World Large Van of the Year Award.Specification

MODEL                         Crafter Trendline CR35 LWB FWD
BASIC PRICE               £30,600
ENGINE                        4-cyl/1,968 cc
FUEL INJECTION       Common-rail
POWER                         140b­hp  @ 3,500-3,600rpm
TORQUE                       340Nm @ 1,600-2,250rpm

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Written by Dan Gilkes

Dan has been a commercial vehicle and construction equipment journalist for almost 30 years. An automotive engineer and former fleet manager, he has driven almost every van, pickup and truck that has been launched in Europe over that time. As editor of VFW, his aim is to keep readers up to date with the latest developments in the light commercial world.

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