Car reviews - Volkswagen - Crafter
Smooth eight-speed auto, solid unladen ride quality, slick cabin, active safety, factory-backed conversion program
Room for improvement
340TDI engine would struggle with a full load, some strange noises made at full steering lock, no standard sat-nav
Second-generation Volkswagen Crafter a more attractive business proposition
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19 Jul 2018
VOLKSWAGEN’S all-new second-generation Crafter large van has landed in Australia, shedding its Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based roots and bringing a huge range of choice for buyers.
Built in a purpose-built factory in Poland, the new Crafter sees the return of an automatic transmission to the range, which the company believes will result in a huge boost in sales numbers.
The second-generation version ushers in new safety technologies, an updated steering set-up, cabin improvements and a range of drivelines including front-wheel drive for the first time.
Are the changes enough to shoot it up the segment sales charts?
Buyers of the new Crafter are spoiled for choice, with 59 different variants to choose from across five body styles, two transmissions and engine tunes, and three drivelines.
The Crafter range is the largest it has ever been, as well as being the most varied line-up of any Volkswagen product by some margin.
Of all the changes to the new-gen version, the one Volkswagen will be most excited about is the addition of the eight-speed ZF torque-convertor automatic transmission, found on other VW models including the Amarok.
The Crafter range had been without an auto since 2013, when stock of its six-speed Shiftmatic ran dry, leaving it as a manual-only proposition in Australia in recent years.
With the commercial market showing an increasing preference towards automatics, the new transmission is not only important, but is thankfully a quality unit as well.
The auto seems to do a better job of maximising the engine’s torque, feeling punchier and more responsive than the six-speed manual. Short lower gears means the Crafter is slow off the line and a tad jerky to get going, but it makes heavy loads easier to deal with.
While the auto will be more popular, the manual is still user-friendly with a gentle clutch, smooth shift gate and hill-hold assist for driving on inclines.
Powering the whole Crafter range is the EA288 Commercial 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four pot offered in either single-turbo 103kW/340Nm or twin-turbo 130kW/410Nm guise.
It is easy for us to say the more powerful 410TDI is the better engine given we are not paying the extra money to buy it, but the twin-turbo really is the pick of the two if hauling heavy loads.
There is noticeably more punch in the 410TDI. It was able to navigate the hilly streets of Auckland with more car-like pep than the 340TDI.
If owners only transport light cargo day-to-day, the 340TDI is more than adequate, however if heavy loads are being moved, the 410TDI is the pick.
Ride quality is definitely above average even without loads in the back, with road imperfections and speed bumps easily absorbed while keeping in-cabin comfort high. For anyone behind the wheel all day, the ErgoActive suspended seat adds extra cushioning, while all seats feature adjustable lumbar support.
To facilitate the new driver assistance systems, Volkswagen has swapped out the old hydraulic power steering system for an electromechanical system, which has resulted in a light and communicative steering feel, and in particular makes the longer and taller variants feel smaller than they are.
One problem we found with the steering is when turning a corner at full lock, we experienced a strange rubbing noise sometimes accompanied by some vibrating feedback through the steering wheel.
Speaking of the driver assistance systems, the new Crafter includes autonomous emergency braking, multi-collision brake and parking assistant as standard, while features such as adaptive cruise control, active lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert and active blind-spot monitor are available as options.
We experienced the active blind-spot monitor first-hand when we grazed a curb coming around a bend, which was accompanied by beeping inside the cabin. Particularly on van variants with blind spots completely obscured, this feature is useful for a vehicle that will do a lot of its driving in tight, urban confines.
The Crafter’s interior is a practical blend of Volkswagen convenience and commercial vehicle usability, with the 8.0-inch touchscreen and button steering wheel from the passenger range coupled with generous dimensions and ample storage spaces befitting a commercial van.
Multiple storage compartments, dual 12V points and great frontal and side road visibility are useful features, while the 8.0-inch touchscreen is probably the second-best interface in the commercial segment behind the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, which will be equipped with its next-gen MBUX system when it arrives in December.
We would have liked to have seen satellite navigation come as standard on the Crafter, however the AppLink system means it can still be used via the driver’s phone.
Something that will appeal to many buyers is VW’s factory-backed conversion program, which can offer a number of different retrofitted layouts for businesses through its purpose-built conversion facility in Hannover. In these instances, the conversions also come with a factory warranty for added peace of mind.
The car-maker has predicted a significant boost in sales for its new-generation Crafter, and after a taste of the new version, we would not be surprised if their forecasts come to fruition.
It makes for a much more compelling package than the outgoing version, with the auto, huge choice of variants and comfortable and convenient cabin all set to appeal to private buyers and fleets alike.
Once the new range is fully integrated to the Australian market, the eventual yearly target of 2000 sales should be within the German brand’s reach.
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