What Car? says...
For years, the Volkswagen Crafter lived in the shadows of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. It was well known that the Crafter shared the same platform as the Mercedes van, and so many people opted to buy the latter instead.
That all changed, however, when the deal between the two manufacturers came to an end and Volkswagen spent close to €2 billion designing a new Crafter and building a factory to make it in.
The Crafter is available as a panel van, but there are also single and double-cab chassis platforms available. The van is available in two wheelbases lengths, with three vehicle lengths and three roof heights. There are also three different gross vehicle weights, of 3.0, 3.5 and 5.0 tonnes.
There are plenty of alternatives to the Crafter, too, including the Ford Transit, Peugeot Boxer, Nissan NV400 and Renault Master, but it's still the Sprinter that's its real competitor, because both offer front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. There’s also the choice between a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic gearbox in the Crafter. Plus, an electric Volkswagen eCrafter will be launched in 2020.
Buyers can choose from Startline, Trendline or Highline trim levels, as well as adding numerous comfort and safety options to enhance the van.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine with four different power outputs that aren't necessarily available on all models. First up is a 101bhp engine available only on front-wheel drive vans. Next is a 121bhp unit only available on twin-wheel, rear-wheel-drive models. This is followed by a 138bhp engine that you can get on pretty much every version. And the line-up is completed by a twin-turbocharged 174bhp unit that's again available on all model types.
Read on to see how the Volkswagen Crafter compares with its key rivals, and don't forget to visit What Car? New Car Buying for a great deal on your next car.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Behind the wheel, similarities between the Crafter and the mid-sized Volkswagen Transporter are obvious. And that’s definitely a good thing, because the Crafter feels every bit as dynamic as the smaller van. Its steering is fast and responsive, which is impressive for an electromechanical set-up, because these often dull the connection between the driver and the road. The Crafter also has a smooth, comfortable ride that only improves with a load in the back.
We’d recommend the 138bhp engine (available across all configurations), especially because it then allows you to specify the eight-speed automatic gearbox. The six-speed manual gearbox is slick, with a nice, clean action, so it’s pretty sophisticated for a large van and perfectly adequate for the majority of users, but the eight-speeder is a superb automatic. It’s the only one in a large van we would consider other than the Himatic transmission of the Iveco Daily.
The 138bhp 2.0-litre engine has almost instant power and torque and pulls effortlessly from just a few revs above idle. Braking performance is also impressive, due to the fact that the Crafter is also available in higher weights and can tow up to 3.5 tonnes.
The party piece really is that new steering, though. It also allows a whole range of driver assistance functions; driver attention monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, parking assistance and trailer assistance are all now available.
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