2016 Volkswagen T6 Transporter review
Isaac Bober’s 2016 Volkswagen T6 Transporter review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The new T6 Transporter offers subtle improvements in key areas including exterior design and engines. A long list of cost optional extras are also available for this commercial vehicle cum people mover.
2016 Volkswagen T6 Transporter
Price From $36,990+ORC Warranty three years, unlimited warranty Safety Not tested Engine 2.0-litre Power/Torque 103kW/340Nm Transmission six-speed manual (standard); 7sp DSG Body 4890mm (L); 1904mm – without mirrors (W); 1990mm (H) Weight 1764kg (payload 1236kg) Fuel Tank 80 litres Thirst 7.2L/100km
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THIS NEW VOLKSWAGEN T6 TRANSPORTER might look an awful lot like the old T5 model, but with 2 million of the things sold in its 13-year run, the German car maker can be forgiven for taking a softly-softly approach to this new model. The T6 has sharper lines than the T5 it replaces and is clearly related to the current crop of VW passenger vehicles, it gets a range of beefy engines and some clever safety gear, but I’m not totally convinced it looks (at least inside) or drives better than the T5.
And I say this, because my old man ran a T5 from new for a number of years and I spent plenty of time behind the wheel. The T5 offered a car like interior with the sort of plastics used that its competitors couldn’t match. The driving experience was sophisticated, refined (and not just for a panel van), the engine was strong, and the gear shift was slick.
What is it?
Our test vehicle is the entry-level T6 Transporter TDI340 SWB van with six-speed manual transmission, which lists from $36,990+ORC. From there the pricing tops out at $49,090+ORC with a smattering of long-wheelbase options, all-wheel drive (4Motion) and cab chassis variants, too. The Multilvan variant tops out at $80,490+ORC.
The cost-options list is long and if you choose any colour other than white you’ll be looking at paying $1190 more for either metallic or pearl effect paint. Things like rough road suspension add $790 while heavy duty suspension adds just $390 to the bill. The entry-level Transporter we tested had no cost options added and so missed out on all of the whizz-bang stuff you can get for the thing.
The new Transporter continues the theme set with the old model and offers two wheelbase options, three roof heights and two seating combinations, with load volumes ranging from 5.8-9.3m3 and payloads of more than 1000kg.
What’s it like?
As mentioned, our test Transporter was totally and utterly free of fripperies which is kind of a refreshing change. Too often test vehicles come loaded down with all of the extra cost bits and pieces available and you have to weed through the options to work out what the basic package might be like. Not so in this case.
It’s not often that a commercial vehicle can turn heads, but the Transporter is definitely able. It wears a similar front end to other vehicles in the Volkswagen range and yet retains that same boxy appearance as its predecessor. In truth, it’s a very cautious evolution of the T5 Transporter and that’s probably a good thing as that vehicle was already the best looking of the panel vans on the market.
From behind the wheel and in this entry level model, I’m less convinced the new model is a step ahead of the old one. Sure, the interior has been modernised slightly but some of the new inclusions, like the A4 in-tray should have a lid as anything sitting in there is reflected up onto the windscreen, and the cupholders up on top of the dash are out of the way, but they’re so far out of the way that they’re utterly useless when you’re on the move.
There are numerous storage areas stashed around the cabin but most are shallow and fiddly to use. The plastic is also hard and scratchy which means it’ll last for ages, but whatever you place into one of the storage pockets is unlikely to stay put at the first corner. There’s a small glovebox at the bottom of the dashboard but it’s not huge.
I’m also not a fan of the stubby little gear shifter at the bottom of the dashboard. The old model had a long handle floor-mounted gearshifter that fell easily to hand. This new one requires you to sit slightly forward to change gear. Yes, many of this vehicle’s competitors have a similar stubby little shifter but that doesn’t change the fact that, for me, it’s a backward step.
In all the placement of the stubby lever up on the dash is clearly a nod to giving access to the back of the van, but given those using the van for work are likely to mount some sort of partition, even just a mesh one, being able to climb from either the driver’s or passenger’s seat will make shifter placement less useful. And anyone carrying heavy items that could move when transporter should have a partition fitted.
Forwards vision is good and the seating position itself is nice and high, and the steering offers reach and rake adjustment. The wing mirrors are a slightly different shape to the old Transporter, but still offer a decent view down the side of the vehicle. Obviously, with no windows down the side of the body you’ve got to be extra vigilant when changing lanes, and reversing the thing into a parking spot becomes an exercise in caution and practice. Our test van had no reversing camera but it did get rear parking sensors.
The entry level Transporter is, if you’re used to the sort of odds and ends you get in even the cheapest of passenger cars, a little spartan. But everything, storage issues aside, works and that’s because it’s basic. So, connecting your phone, yes, it has Bluetooth, is easy as is changing the radio station – the 5-inch unit is touchscreen. There’s no sat-nav in the basic van, so you’ll need to run a transportable unit or fit a cradle for your smartphone. There are cost options that include a larger 6.33-inch touchscreen unit that incorporates Apple Car Play and Android Auto connectivity, so, VW does have all bases covered, it’s just that you need to pay extra.
Over in the back of the van and it’s almost identical to the old Transporter. The low roof van that we’re testing offers 141cm of height once inside (loading height through the rear or side door measures 129cm) which means you can’t stand up straight in the back. The medium height raises the height to 162cm and the high-roof model allows 194cm. The basic van comes without ‘finishing’ in the back but again, like the infotainment, you can pay extra for wood paneling.
As standard the rear tailgate door swings up, although you can get two barn style doors as a cost option. I prefer the tailgate which is great if you’re a tradie and need to load and unload, or mix stuff at the back of the van and need a bit of a shelter from drizzling rain. The left-hand side sliding door opens up to a little more than 1m. The load lip is low too at 56cm which means you can easily step up into the back of the Transporter or lift objects from the ground. There’s a maximum load width of 170cm, although between the wheel arches it measures just 124cm. In our test van there were six lashing points, although up to eight are available if you go for a different body style.
In all, the Transporter even in bare bones trim offers a decent load space, although having spent years with my old man’s low roof Transporter, I’d suggest the medium or high roof version would be the way to go if you’re stashing tools etc in the back… it’ll make the vehicle more practical and allow you to play with the interior. Some high-roof Transporters I’ve seen carpenters use have been modified to carry a work bench down one side and storage for tools on the other side. The high roof means you don’t have to climb in on your hands and knees to find things.
The driving experience hasn’t radically changed from the T5 to the T6, although the placement of the manual shifter has, in my opinion, made the thing less fluid to operate. I also felt the short stubby shifter wasn’t as slick as the old model’s manual gearbox, and the clutch pedal felt longer with very little feel to tell when you’d reached the biting point.
The engine in our entry-level van was a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder that produces 103kW at 3500rpm and 340Nm of torque between 1750-2500rpm. It was mated, as you should have realised, to a six-speed manual transmission, but it can be had with a seven-speed DSG. Fuel consumption is a claimed combined 7.2L/100km and our 7.4L/100km across 500km came pretty close to official figure. It should be mentioned that we only lightly loaded the Transporter when we had it with some old paint tins (about 15) and probably around 200kg-plus in old magazines (ancient issues of Top Gear and a bunch of Home Beautiful, or something like that… anyway, they weighed a lot).
Our paltry load didn’t stress the Transporter which is rated for a payload of more than 1000kg, although I’d suggest that acceleration when is pretty spritely when unladen or only lightly loaded would be a little less so with around 800kg on board. That said, the Transporter’s entry engine doesn’t need to be revved to get at its best, but thankfully doesn’t become breathless should you push past the 2500rpm peak torque. In all its a strong engine that’s well suited to its purpose.
The transmission was a constant niggle in my time with the Transporter. It’s positioning and its shift action weren’t conducive to smooth progress and I found myself having to lean forward with every shift and the high take up point on the clutch made for a lot sloppy shifts. Fitted with stop/start I even managed to fall into Neutral while trying to pull away from the lights (I’d dipped the clutch and then released to get the engine to restart, and then grabbed Neutral instead of second gear releasing the clutch before I’d locked in second gear. The engine stopped. I hit the brakes, hit the hazards, and then dipped the clutch… the engine wouldn’t fire up. I had to restart the car via the ignition. I tried to replicate this twice more with the Transporter… making sure it was much quieter this time and the same thing happened. Stop/Start remained off from then on. It could have just been a combination of freak events…
The steering is light but accurate and the front-drive set-up is both stable and predictable in town and on twisting country roads. There’s no bounce front or rear even without a load and the whole things sits relatively flat through corners. Obviously this is a van and not designed as a corner carver but like its T5 predecessor, it’s surprisingly fun to drive and feels more like an SUV than you might expect.
The brakes are solid although they can feel a little grabby until you get used to their action.
In terms of safety, there are airbags for driver and passenger as well as side airbags, seatbelts offer height adjustment and there’s a warning buzzer for the driver’s seat only. There’s traction control, hill hold assist, ABS and stability control as well as driver fatigue alert, halogen headlights, engine immobiliser and central locking.
Volkswagen offers capped price servicing for the Transporter and the costs, based on our test vehicle are as follows: 15,000km or 12 months – $484.00; 30,00km or 24 months – $484.00; 45,000km or 36 months – $556.00; 60,000km or 48 months – $689.00; 75,000km or 60 months – $484.00; and 90,000km or 72 months – $556.00. Extras not covered include: Pollen Filter every two years – $81.00; and Brake Fluid every two years – $138.00.