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First drive: VW vans advance 4MOTION

Coming to grips: Volkswagen's T5 Transporter gains the German brand's 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system.

An improved all-wheel drive application underpins the updated VW T5 range

7 Sep 2010


SIX months late, the all-wheel-drive versions of the recently updated T5 GP-series commercial vehicles have finally returned for Australian customers.

Available in Transporter Van, Transporter Dual Cab Chassis and Multivan people-mover guises, the new 4MOTION system is a $3500 option on selected models.

How select? For now, 4MOTION is paired only with the most powerful engine, the 132kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail twin turbo-diesel.

This means the entry-level 75TDI and 103TDI not only remain front-wheel-drive-only entities, but also makes the cheapest Transporter 4MOTION the $45,490 132TDI SWB (short wheelbase) Van.

Choosing the popular 7DSG seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox adds $3000, while going for the LWB (Long Wheelbase) body is another $2000. There are also three roof heights – regular, $1190 Mid Roof Option and $2390 High Roof Option (LWB only).

Buyers seeking AWD grip can also pick from the $48,490 132TDI Dual Cab Chassis LWB 4MOTION six-speed manual – no 7DSG is available in this configuration due to limited demand, Volkswagen says.

Finally, there are the $60,990 132TDI Multivan Comfortline 7DSG 4MOTION and flagship 132TDI Multivan Highline 7DSG 4MOTION at $77,990. Both are seven seaters. There is no Caravelle nine-seater with 4MOTION, but Volkswagen says it will reconsider importing it if demand exists.

If you are familiar with the previous (2004 to 2009) T5 4MOTION models, the fundamentals are the same but there have been important advances.

Related to the part-time Haldex electronic control multi-disc clutch system found in all transverse mounted Volkswagens and Audis (A3, TT) sold in Australia, the T5’s 4MOTION set-up is a new fourth-generation system that ditches the old mechanically controlled module that relied on traction losses or understeer before it could kick in.

Instead, today’s 4MOTION uses an electric pump that is primed to activate the clutch discs into action virtually instantly, to quickly distribute torque according to which of the four wheels requires the most drive. It no longer relies on the speed differences between the front and rear axles to spring into life.

3 center imageEconomy gains are claimed compared to the old T5’s system, as the oil pressure accumulator can now be switched off regularly to save fuel and cut emissions, while other benefits include improved safety since all four wheels can be driven before understeer sets in, while more precise, and infinitely variable, torque flow to the rear wheels is another positive upshot.

Plus, traction losses are avoided by Volkswagen’s EDS Electronic Differential Lock (EDS) through active braking, while a mechanical differential lock for the rear axle is available to provide better off-road traction And unlike in previous T5 Transporter 4MOTION systems, the ESP stability control system is not deactivated when the rear axle diff is engaged.

4MOTION adds 120kg to the weight of the T5, and another 15kg if it is with the 7DSG.

Volkswagen will raise ground clearance by 20mm for $790, while a Peter Siekel-produced ‘Off Road Pack’ brings in new shock absorbers and other suspension components, mandatory changes to tyres and transmission, and a 35mm ride height hike, for between $3000 and $10,000 depending on the amount of changes that are implemented.

4MOTION models come six months after the launch of the FWD T5 GP models.

To recap, the GP facelift eliminated petrol engines, introduced new-generation common-rail turbo-diesels that are far cleaner, quieter, smoother and more powerful than before, as well as the popular segment-first TDI/DSG dual-clutch ‘automatic’ combination option (that is $2000 cheaper than the old diesel auto).

Furthermore, payload capacities were improved (by up to 19 per cent), as did safety – with standard stability control, and available head and thorax airbags, among a host of other features and/or options.

In total all there are around 50 T5 variants available – down from about 60 before the GP facelift.

The volume-selling van comes in two wheelbase lengths (3000mm and 3400mm), three roof heights, FWD or 4MOTION, five engine/gearbox combos, bucket or bench seating configurations, single or twin sliding side doors and lift-up or barn-style tailgates, among other permutations.

For the 2010 facelift, everything forward of the B-pillar was redesigned, giving the T5 GP a Golf/Polo-like face. These included the front mudguards, headlights, bonnet, grille, bumper and exterior mirrors (with an integrated radio antenna). Restyled tail-lights were also fitted.

The interior gains refreshed dash, steering wheel, climate controls, audio panel, fabrics, trim and colours.

Safety also received a major overhaul, with the standardisation of ESC, anti-lock brakes, ASR Anti Slip Regulation, EDS Electronic Differential Lock and MSR engine drag torque control, as well as the introduction of hill-start assist, ARP Active Rollover Protection, a brake preparation technology, ‘fading’ brake support, hydraulic brake assist and a brake disc wiper for optimum performance.

Head and thorax airbags are options on most models.

Under the bonnet are three variations of the single 1968cc 2.0-litre twin-cam 16-valve CR common-rail DI direct-injection four-cylinder forced-induction diesel engine.

Besides the 132TDI – which delivers 132kW of power at 4000rpm and 400Nm of torque from 1500 to 2000rpm – thanks to a new twin turbocharger induction system – there is also the 77TDI (75kW at 3500rpm and 250Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm) and 103TDI (103kW at 3500rpm and 370Nm from 1750 to 2500rpm).

In 4MOTION models, fuel consumption increases by between 0.3 and 0.6 litres per 100km, with most models averaging about 8.4L/100km. Carbon dioxide emissions figures also rise, by up to 16 grams per kilometre.

A diesel particulate filter helps to make each 2.0 TDI CR DI unit Euro 5 emissions compliant, as does the replacement of the conventional torque-converter automatic gearbox by the 7DSG – a new-generation wet-clutch multi plate seven-speed item that is rated to about 600Nm of torque.

Only the entry-level Transporter Van gets the smallest-output (75 TDI) engine, using a VTG Variable Turbine Geometry single turbocharger to achieve.

The chassis includes a MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-trailing independent rear axle with coil springs and an anti-roll bar, while the steering system is a hydraulically powered rack and pinion device. All models boast a 2000kg braked towing capacity/750kg unbraked.

Since the T5 GP was released in February this year, sales have risen by almost 20 per cent, securing the T5 range’s third-placed position behind the Toyota HiAce and Hyundai iLoad.

The current higher-tier 103TDI and 132TDI make up 48 per cent of total T5 sales apiece, with the six per cent remainder going to the base 75TDI manual van.

The 7DSG has proved most successful in the 132TDI, snaring around 70 per cent of all volume in the 103TDI that figure falls to a still more-than-anticipated 58 per cent.

According to Volkswagen’s commercial vehicle boss Phil Clark, the 4MOTION should account for about 15 per cent of all T5 sales.

The availability of the 4MOTION 7DSG ‘automatic’ exposes the Transporter versions to ambulance services, motor home rentals and a host of other users who require AWD, while the Multivan models have broader hire car applications in areas with snow and slippery roads.

“People buy our products for resale value – the whole cost of ownership thing works in our favour compared to the Toyota,” Mr Clark said.

Over one million have been sold worldwide since the T5’s unveiling in 2003.

It was 25 years ago that the first Transporter-based AWD model – the 4WD Synchro – was released, in the third-generation T3.

Drive impressions: DRY, late Summer conditions, on smooth and often secluded European roads, with nothing more challenging than the occasional crosswind.

Volkswagen could not have picked less ideal conditions to demonstrate the all-wheel drive prowess of its just-launched 4MOTION range of vans and people-movers.

It simply did not come into play.

But then, perhaps the part-time fourth-generation Haldex AWD system did keep an eye on things, as we barrelled the 1.8 tonne or so building-on-wheels down the German autobahn at speeds well in excess of 190km/h. It’s just that the hardware is so quiet and so unobtrusive that we didn’t even notice.

The occasional rough road patch, odd camber, sweeping curve or elevated bridge did nothing to upset the cool and calm demeanour of the 4MOTION on the move.

As with the better-engineered passenger cars of this world, the T5’s basic steering, handling, roadholding and brake performances all seem to have been created to work in measured unison, enhancing the driving experience considerably.

After literally hours at the wheel, we emerged feeling pretty refreshed. You could not have said that about a commercial vehicle all that long ago.

We drove two distinct long wheelbase versions – a T5 GP Transporter High Roof van with the 132kW 2.0-litre twin turbo-diesel/six-speed manual drivetrain combo, and the same engine with the seven-speed dual-clutch DSG in a seven-seater Multivan people-mover.

Perhaps surprisingly, the manual is our choice, since it wastes no time in getting the most out of the smooth and willing four-pot diesel. Changes are fast, easy and fun, with the driver in control and always involved.

In contrast, the 7DSG takes all the work out of the drive, delivering effortless, linear performance. But initial acceleration feels considerably slower than in the manual 4MOTION, and overtaking scenarios do require some planning – even with 400Nm of punchy torque on tap.

By the way, we almost touched 190km/h in the manual High Roof – which is astonishing performance for a van so tall – and 200km/h driving one of the 132kW front-drive Multivan support vehicles. These T5s are seriously quick.

Moving away from the quiet and refined powertrain, the rest of the 4MOTION package is pure, fresh-for-2010 T5 GP series.

That means an upgraded cabin with very car-like additions like the instrumentation, seats, switchgear, and option packages. There is nothing basic or utilitarian about the VW ‘Kombi’ if you are prepared to pay for luxury extras like sat-nav.

Yet there are reminders everywhere that the Germans have been building this range of vehicle for more than 60 years now.

As a workplace, the dashboard is spot-on, with lots of nooks and crannies, thoughtfully placed controls (like the high-set gear lever), and firm, supportive seats that adjust with the steering column to give the driver a panoramic view out front.

The optional high-end sat-nav is as good as those in any luxury vehicle we have experienced, while the accompanying sound system turned the bread van into a boom box (but in a good way).

Of course, there are flaws too – like plenty of road noise intrusion (as with all vans without optional acres of sound-deadening material fitted) the cabin plastics are hardy but hard and not very premium in feel and the large mirrors do tend to create some wind noise – although at 170km/h this is to be expected.

Back near the beginning of the year, at the two-wheel drive T5 GP launch in Australia, we said it was easily the best driving, most refined, and certainly cleanest and greenest range of VW vans ever offered in Australia, with impressive safety, value and choice on offer.

The same is true with the 4MOTION, despite the fact that we didn’t trawl through mud, sand or snow to test.

The fact that – in very fast conditions – the whole unit came together as one to instil the driver with confidence and satisfaction is proof that the basic engineering is sound.

If you need the extra all-weather security of AWD in a van, Dual Cab Chassis or people mover package, then – uniquely – VW has the vehicle for you.

You’d hardly know it was there – until you absolutely need it. And that’s the point of 4MOTION.

VW T5 Transporter 4MOTION pricing:
Van SWB 132TDI 4MOTION $45,490
Van SWB 132TDI 7DSG 4MOTION (a) $48,490
Van LWB 132TDI 4MOTION $47,490
Van LWB 132TDI 7DSG 4MOTION (a) $50,490
Dual Cab Chassis LWB 132TDI 4MOTION $48,490
Multivan LWB Highline 132TDI 7DSG 4MOTION (a) $77,990

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