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First drive: VW takes Crafter off-road

Rock hopper: The Crafter 4Motion is a unique, all-terrain van, but it comes at a steep price.

AWD, dedicated off-road hardware makes VW’s Crafter a unique go-anywhere van

Volkswagen logo16 Mar 2012

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS in SPAIN

VOLKSWAGEN will venture where no van has before it in Australia with the Crafter 4Motion with Achleitner four-wheel drive.

Set for an Australian release sometime next year at a hefty $30,000 premium over the regular models (which cost between $40,000 and $62,000 in present guise), the large Volkswagen van will tackle the sort of terrain usually reserved for dedicated 4x4 SUVs like the Toyota LandCruiser or Land Rover Defender.

Designed to appeal to government utilities, law enforcement agencies, builders, emergency and disaster response organisations, motorhome converters and intrepid adventurers, the Crafter 4Motion with Achleitner 4WD goes where regular vans cannot thanks to specialised 4x4 hardware engineered and fitted by Austrian expert Achleitner.

To that end, it features permanent 50/50 per cent power distribution to both axles, with standard differential locks for the transfer case and rear axle and an optional front axle lock – all manually controllable from the driver’s seat – providing the ability to extract maximum traction from each wheel.

3 center imageAs the Achleitner Crafter’s 100mm ride height increase demonstrates, the upgrade includes longer and stronger springs offering greater wheel travel, plus firmer shock absorbers and other modifications to help the Crafter manage tough terrain. A low-range final drive ratio of 1:2.5 is also included.

Volkswagen says the 4Motion with Achleitner 4WD has an approach angle of 28 degrees, a ramp angle of 25 degrees, a wading depth of 600mm, a hill-climbing ability of 45 degrees and, perhaps most impressively, a side slope angle of 43 degrees.

Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel familiar to drivers of various Transporter and Amarok models.

It delivers 120kW of power at 3600rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1800rpm, while the EU combined fuel consumption and CO2 emissions ratings for the Crafter 35 (for 3.5-tonne weight capacity) van are 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres and 229 grams per kilometre respectively.

Unfortunately, the front driveshaft is only designed around the standard six-speed manual gearbox, meaning the absence of an automatic transmission will limit the off-road van’s sales potential in Australia.

Volkswagen Group Australia is divulging no other details at present, so it is unclear whether local deliveries will include the Window Van with up to nine seats, which sells in Germany alongside Panel Van, Drop Side and Cab Chassis iterations.

In Europe, three different wheelbase sizes are available – 3250mm, 3665mm and 4325mm - with total payload weight varying from 3500kg to 5000kg, depending on configuration.

Additionally, European buyers can choose the Panel Van in three different heights and four different lengths, to cover load capacities from 7.5 to 17 cubic metres – the latter in a Crafter measuring some 7.34 metres long and 2.99 metres high.

Total cargo length ranges from 2.6 to 4.7 metres – the longest available to date – while total cargo height varies from 1.65 to 2.14 metres.

The Crafter is Volkswagen’s third-generation mid-size commercial van. Released in Australia during 2007 as a replacement for the LT, it was developed in conjunction with Mercedes-Benz, which produces it alongside the second-generation Sprinter on which it is based on.

Achleitner is a family-owned engineering firm established in Austria in 1932 and supplies a number of 4WD conversions for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and the Iveco C-series vans.

Drive impressions:

VOLKSWAGEN is on a niche-filling frenzy at the moment – if the Passat-based CC, upcoming Up micro and no less than two Golf-based convertibles (Cabrio and Eos) are any indication – but this special Crafter shows the booming German giant also intends to create unique commercial vehicles.

Dubbed the Crafter 4Motion with Allrad Achleitner 4WD (to give it its full title), the go-anywhere VW van is more than just a jacked-up box on wheels.

Sampled on a special 4x4 track in southern Spain this week, the Crafter 4Motion is quite an imposing thing, standing some 100mm taller than its regular rear-drive sibling and featuring an impressive array of off-road hardware that would make a LandCruiser proud.

As a result, you have to clamber up to reach the driver’s seat (sprung for extra off-road comfort on our particular long-wheelbase nine-seater Window Van version), but the commanding view out of the vast windscreen redefines the term panorama.

Being a Mercedes-designed and developed vehicle – but with VW drivetrains – the Crafter instantly makes a positive impression with its punchy performance, smooth gearshift (a manual is the only transmission available on the 4x4), direct steering and strong brakes.

But it is off road where the 4Motion literally stands out.

Thanks to a very serious set of low-range gears, a trio of diff locks and suspension upgrades that allow exceptional wheel travel, the Crafter 4x4 crawls along ruts and ridges, up and down incredibly steep hills and across the sides of mountains like it is an overgrown billy-goat.

Frankly, we were astounded at how capable this oversized load-lugger was on what was very obviously a proper 4WD course, clambering around without breaking out into a sweat at all. We don’t know if the sprung front seats will be made available, but they certainly added to the comfort of the Crafter 4Motion as it rocked and rolled across what at times looked like a moonscape.

Of course, the go-anywhere Crafter won’t be cheap here. Currently the regular (rear-drive) Crafter range kicks off at $40,600 and extends to $61,250, so 4Motion pricing is likely to start above the $70,000 mark and could reach $100,000 if VW decides to bring in the full-house versions in.

Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to drive the big ‘Dub on regular roads, so we cannot tell you if all that extra height and weight make the Crafter a wobbly land whale on bitumen.

But in the habitat it was engineered to conquer we have never driven anything quite as offroad-capable and commodious as this particular Crafter. As a work, rescue or recreation vehicle in hard-to-access places, its role is clear and its capability second-to-none.

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