VW Transporter T6 Highline van review
We test the short-wheelbase 2.0 TDI 102 Volkswagen Transporter in top spec Highline trim
In general, the Volkswagen Transporter feels a classier product than its core rivals in terms of both the interior quality and the driving experience. It’s not the most enjoyable small panel van to hustle along but it’s comfortable, efficient and, crucially, businesses will be proud to stick their logo on the side.
You kind of know what you’re going to get with the Volkswagen Transporter. This is the T6 generation but no other van maintains such a rigid adherence to a design blueprint so it looks much as the T5 and T4 before it did. The differentiating features are the slim grille and LED headlamps that now appear across the VW passenger car range and the similarly sharp light clusters at the rear. Other than that the Transporter looks like, well, a Transporter - but there’s plenty beneath the surface to mark it out.
The mid-sized panel van class where the VW Transporter competes is particularly flush with quality products at the moment. The Ford Transit Custom, the Vivaro and Trafic trims from the Vauxhall/Renault partnership and the Mercedes Vito are particularly strong rivals for the Volkswagen but hoisting yourself up into the driver’s seat, you instantly feel it’s a step ahead in terms of quality.
The upmarket feel inside the Transporter’s cabin is helped by the Highline spec of our test van, not to mention the optional (£816) Discover navigation package. The trim materials and the solidity with which they come together are a cut above the class norm, while the clear menu system of the touchscreen navigation console makes it immediately easy to get to grips with. The pleasing contours of the small steering wheel, with its integrated stereo and cruise control buttons, add to the classy effect.
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So first impressions of the T6 Transporter are positive. It’s hard to get a downer on what must surely be the most car-like of the mid-sized panel van interiors, but how does the van actually work?
Storage wise, you get a decent array of small and large receptacles with slim recesses cut at elbow height into the doors or the dash-top cubby to take wallets, phones and paperwork. For larger items, the main door pockets are wide and good for large bottles. There are more options beneath the double front passenger seat too but no overhead shelf and the lockable glovebox is small.
In the load area, on the far side of a full metal bulkhead on our test vehicle, you get six load lashing points and two interior lights. The shape is square with little wheelarch intrusion helping the short-wheelbase Transporter to a 5.8m3 load volume. A payload of 858kg is competitive against similar models from the Vivaro and Transit Custom ranges which manage 1,079kg and 714kg respectively.
On the move, the Transporter furthers that upmarket impression given by the slick interior design. It’s comfortable and refinement is pretty good.
Where some small panel vans like the Mercedes Vito and Peugeot Expert sit you in a lower MPV-style position the Transporter is more old-school panel van with a high, upright position giving you a good view out. It’s easy to see down the nose of the vehicle to judge its extremities and the big door mirrors help when changing lanes or joining flowing traffic from a junction. Taller drivers will find themselves sliding the seat all the way back to the bulkhead and from there it feels like the pedals could be a little close to the floor so you can rest a heel more easily when feathering the throttle or brake.
The steering is perhaps the least impressive aspect of the driving experience, with its variable assistance occasionally making the helm very light when you don’t expect or need it. As is often the case with these set-ups, the heaviest steering setting is going to be fine for most drivers most of the time but however much electric assistance you’re getting, there’s never much feedback from the wheels.
It’s a similar story with the way the Transporter rides. It's one of the top vans to cover big distances in but things are less impressive in the corners, where the Transporter starts to feel taller and more cumbersome than a Ford Transit Custom partly as a result of the lack of steering feel and the soft suspension.
The engine is very hushed even when extended, only providing a background hum in our bulkhead-equipped model. Road noise and an accompaniment from the suspension as it deals with bigger bumps are far more prevalent inside the cab than the sound of the engine.
Performance in an unladen van was more than adequate too with smooth acceleration through the gears selected by the typically accurate VW manual gearbox. A 0-62mph sprint of 15.3s and a 98mph top speed are nothing to write home about but this power option will be fine for light duty work. Those carrying bigger loads should probably ascent the range though.
A package of efficiency aids under VW’s Bluemotion Technology banner includes regenerative braking and a stop-start system that works pretty seamlessly in traffic. These help the van to an excellent 47.9mpg on the combined cycle with emissions of 153g/km of CO2.