Driven: Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 2.0 TDI 2020
The Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 gets a raft of important updates for 2020, with a new face, improved handling and a dazzling array of driver tech. It still can’t match Ford or Vauxhall for outright carrying capacity, but the Transporter remains the most refined and car-like medium size van you can get.
The Transporter is Volkswagen's best-selling van in the UK, but its success is somewhat diminished by the fact it's consistently outsold by the Transit Custom. In 2018, for example, Ford's medium van outsold its German counterpart at a rate that exceeded two to one.
Given the gulf in sales, it's perhaps unsurprising that Volkswagen has used the T6 Transporter's mid-life facelift - badged the 6.1 - as an opportunity to sharpen its all-round appeal. Prices, for example, start at £21,635 (before VAT), which is around £1200 cheaper than the Transit Custom. Volkswagen is also promising a comprehensive choice of van hire, lease and PCP deals, when the new van goes on sale in November.
The Transporter 6.1 also gets some significant mechanical upgrades; all get a new crosswind assist system as standard and this prevents the vehicle from being pushed out of its lane on the motorway by side winds. Volkswagen has also introduced a new electro-mechanical steering system that makes the van easier to drive at low speeds while providing better feedback on both the motorway and more challenging twisty A roads.
The new steering system gives the Transporter a real edge on the road, because it eliminates the effort required manoeuvre the van at low speeds. This means parking is a lot easier, with less turns required to guide the van into a space. And navigating through congested or narrow streets is also a lot less stressful because the steering is more precise.
Volkswagen has also added a park assist system to the options list which automatically steers the van in or out of a parallel space - this is particularly useful for businesses that regularly rotate their drivers between cars and vans. A rear traffic alert is also available, which uses two radar sensors at the rear to scan the road and warn the driver of approaching vehicles when reversing out of a load bay or driveway. Both will help inexperienced van drivers build confidence and stay safe.
Other useful (but optional) driver aids include a side protection system that warns the driver when they're getting close to a wall, pillar or parked vehicle. A trailer assist option (which also costs extra) takes the hassle out of manoeuvring a trailer, thanks to a semi-autonomous system that steers the van automatically when reversing.
Volkswagen's yet to confirm the Transporter 6.1's payload, but it's widely expected to mirror its predecessor’s maximum of 1278kg, which will leave it somewhat short against the 1400kg of the Vauxhall Vivaro and Ford Transit Custom. However, as before, the T6.1 gets the option of short or long wheelbases and high or low roof. As with its rivals, a bulkhead hatch allows the driver to use the full load length of the van by using the space under the passenger seats. This means the largest vans have maximum load length of 3300mm.
There are improvements in the cab too, with a new dashboard, but the layout isn't as intuitive as the Vivaro and can't match the Transit Custom for storage. The USB C sockets will also not fit (or recharge) older smartphones. And this means drivers will have to buy fiddly leads or socket adaptors to use older devices with the 6.1.
Under the bonnet, the Transporter retains its range of 2.0-litre TDI diesel engines, with 90, 110, 150 or 199PS. All meet the latest Euro6d Temp standards, but economy and CO2 emissions are still to be confirmed. The lesser powered four-cylinder diesels are matched to a five-speed manual while the higher ouputs use a six-speed. A seven-speed DSG is offered on the 150 and 199PS variants. The 2.0 TSI petrol engines have been axed, due to poor sales.
The 110PS will be sufficient for most small businesses and sole traders, with its 250Nm of torque providing a strong zip through the gears. The 150PS will suit those who regularly carry the van's maximum payload and only those who regularly tow heavy loads will need the 199PS, which pulls strongly but will likely punish at the fuel pump with high running costs.
The Transporter update is significant and improves an already impressive medium size van. Builders and delivery drivers who prioritise payload over everything will be better suited with the Vivaro and Transit Custom, but few rivals get close to matching the comfort, refinement and usability of the Volkswagen.
Prices start from: £21,635 (excluding VAT for entry-level T26 Startline 90PS panel van), claimed economy: TBC, claimed WLTP economy: TBC CO2 emissions: TBC, payload: up to TBC, towing capacity: TBC, length L1H1: 4901mm, width: 1904mm (excluding mirrors), height L1H1: 19990mm (short roof), engine: 1968cc four-in-line turbodiesel, power output (on test here): 110PS @3200rpm, 250Nm @ 1400rpm.