Driven: Volkswagen Tristar Concept

The long awaited next generation of the Volkswagen Transporter - the T6 - is due to be launched toward the end of 2015 following on from the revamped Caddy. Having been on sale in the UK for more than 60 years the Transporter has a huge following and so it's no surprise this latest version is big news.

So far there have been no official details of the new model but last year Volkswagen premiered the Tristar Concept - which heavily hints at what the T6 will look like both inside and out. And now we've been given access to an early drive of the one-off Tristar Concept which Volkswagen describes as the 'Transporter of the future'.

With its bright orange metallic paintwork and huge off-road tyres it's certainly no shrinking violet. But it's also clear Volkswagen isn't straying far from the current Transporter formula. Judging by the Tristar Concept, the T6 will have a familiar look but with modern features like LED daytime running lights, although whether these will be on all models remains to be seen.

Built to mark the 30th anniversary of the first syncro T2 concept vehicle - Volkswagen's four-wheel drive system that first appeared in the production Transporter T25 in 1985 - the Tristar name was first used on a special edition model that arrived in the UK in 1988 as a double-cab pick-up. Volkswagen has revived the name for this concept and it explains why it's a pick up rather than a standard panel van.

Volkswagen Tristar (8)

Those distinctive rear lights echo the T25, although again it's doubtful they'll make it onto the production T6. That would be a shame as not only do they look good but they're a classic bit of design. But there's more than just new lights to this concept. The pick up load bay has three foldable sides which neatly unlock and with a handle integrated into the silver rail on the top.

But the Tristar's real party trick is the clever sliding tray that comes out of the rear. It's watertight and lined, making it a really useful extra place for storing tools and the like. And on the side is another pull out tray just behind the door. It would be ideal for muddy boots.

The big changes are inside with a far more refined and sophisticated cabin. The design isn't that different, but the attention to detail and the finish are far superior. Strip away all the brown leather and posh trim of the concept car and you get an idea of what the new T6 cabin will be like. Similar instrument dials and a familiar layout, but a higher quality feel throughout from the switches to the touchscreen stereo system which is likely to be standard. Being similar in size means that existing racking and fittings from T5 models will fit in the back of the new model.

Of course, being a concept, the Tristar also gets some flourishes; like a huge 20-inch touchscreen tablet (which would likely be more handy as a table for many van drivers...) and a video conferencing system. Both front seats turn and slide but our favourite feature is the built-in espresso machine complete with neat cups and even a small fridge.

Volkswagen Tristar (6)

Under the bonnet of the concept is a more powerful version of Volkswagen's trusty 2.0 TDI engine. It's been boosted to 204PS - the current most powerful Transporter is the 2.0 BiTDI with 180PS. With 450Nm of torque it should have immense pulling power although unfortunately our test drive was limited to 30mph so we weren't able to test it.

If we could have gone quicker, Volkswagen says the Tristar will do 0-62mph in 10 seconds through its seven-speed DSG gearbox. We're big fans of the manual in the Transporter rather than the automatic DSG, but the changes are very rapid and the auto improves economy.

Under the skin the Tristar stays true to its syncro roots with a permanent 4Motion all-wheel drive system and a mechanical rear axle diff lock. There's a downhill descent control system too. Add in the huge tyres on the 17-inch wheels and the Tristar looks like it would be mightily impressive on rough or sticky terrain.

Of course when the T6 arrives in late 2015, it will have none of the extras of the Tristar concept, but it does at least give us a flavour of what to expect. Essentially a gentle evolution of design, improved engines and much better interior with more comfort for the driver. Sadly though, the coffee machine won't be available.

We'll be driving the new T6 later in 2015 so look out for our full review.