Stuart Martin’s 2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

IN A NUTSHELL: Volkswagen has returned to the large van market with a model all its own, with a long-overdue automatic and a some cab-chassis variants to spice up the segment. Also on offer in the ground-up new VW are active safety features and driver assist systems within a model line-up that will eventually number 59 variants when all members front up over the next 18 months.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Specifications

PRICE From$48,490-$71,490+ORC WARRANTY 3 years/unlimited km ENGINE 2.0-litre single or bi-turbo diesel four-cylinder POWER 103kW at 3500rpm; 130kW at 3600rpm TORQUE 340Nm at 2000rpm; 410Nm at 2000rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic DRIVE front, rear and all-wheel drive BODY 5986-7391mm (l); 2033-2069mm (w. excl. mirrors); 2355-2637mm (h) TURNING CIRCLE 13.6-16.2m GROUND CLEARANCE 195-210mm TOWING WEIGHT diesel 2500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) PAYLOAD van 1146-2025kg; cab-chassis 1391–2392kg UNLADEN WEIGHT van – 2133-2690kg; cab-chassis 1905-2292kg SEATS van/single-cab 3, dual cab 7 FUEL TANK 75 litres SPARE full size steel FUEL diesel

SPOILT FOR choice could well be the mantra – it’s not, “Crafted by you. Engineered by u” has been chosen – for Volkswagen’s new Crafter, given the plethora of models the brand’s large van and cab-chassis range will offer.

Two diesel engines and manual or automatic gearboxes will be offered within three wheelbases, the same number of roof heights and a cab-chassis alternative.

Front, rear and all-wheel drive choices will also be offered to buyers, who will also be able to indulge their option choices beyond the VW framework as the German giant is working with aftermarket bodybuilders to further expand the choices, something for company fleets and grey nomads alike.

Built in a Polish factory all on its own – designed around the engineering of the vehicle it would produce and representing 10 billion euros of investment – the new Crafter is no longer shared with former bedfellow Mercedes-Benz.

As a result, the Crafter has returned to market after almost five years as manual-only with an eight-speed automatic transmission leading its charge, which will be tied to a single or bi-turbo diesel four-cylinder engine, the latter on sale now and former set to arrive early next year.

What is the Volkswagen Crafter?

The two-litre four-cylinder engines are from the EA288 family but have been tweaked for commercial duties, as well as complying with Euro6 emissions standards by way of a high-pressure exhaust gas recirculation system, particle filter and AdBlue-fed SCR catalytic converter.

The common-rail direct-injection power plants have variable inlet manifolds and will offer 103kW at 3500 rpm, or 130kW another 100rpm higher; peak torque will be 340Nm or 410Nm (hence the model designations) at 2000rpm.

The commercial version of the engine delivers more torque earlier, as well as the option of a PTO in rear-drive manual drivetrain. A handful of models will be offered in six-speed manual but the bulk will be bought with the new unique-in-class eight-speed automatic, with front, rear and all-wheel drive also on offer.

VW Australia Commercial Vehicles director Carlos Santos said the automatic’s arrival heralded predictions of quadrupled Crafter sales by 2022 to 2000 units a year given the automatic percentages in the segment have risen from four per cent in 2009 to 54 per cent in 2018.

Standard fare across the range (vans and cab-chassis models where applicable) includes remote central locking, halogen headlights, daytime running lights, a left-hand side sliding door, rear barn-style doors, power windows, 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, rubber floor covering, Bluetooth, trip computer, LED cabin lights, cargo bay lighting and bulkhead with window between cargo bay and cabin.

The range starts with the ’35’ TDI340 medium-wheel base six-speed manual front-drive Runner edition, which has been quietly on sale since December from $48,490, rising to $52,490 for the TDI340 auto; the TDI410 model in manual guise wears the same price tag, rising to $55,490 for the eight-speed auto.

Adding the 4Motion – a Haldex style of all-wheel drive system – ups the pricing by $4500 and the eight-speed auto is a $3000 ask. Stepping up to the dual rear-wheel ’50’ mid-wheelbase removes the manual gearbox and 4Motion choice – the 4.49t version is priced from $62,490 or add $3000 for the 5.5t version. Stretching to the long-wheelbase models of the aforementioned adds between $3000 and $3500 to the asking price.

Adding rear overhang to a long-wheelbase model also removes the manual gearbox and 4Motion choice and adds between $3000 and $3500 again – the 35 TDI340 is priced from $58,490, the TDI410 is $61,490, $68,490 buys the dual-wheel 50 4.49t version and the 5.5t is priced from $71,490.
The Crafter range will now include a wide range of cab-chassis options, which is expected to attract the attention of the trades as well as motorhome makers pricing starts for the single-cab chassis front-drive TDI340 auto from $48,290, rising to $51,290 for the TDI410 FWD and $55,790 for the all-wheel drive model.

The Crafter single cab-chassis is also available in the two weight ranges with the dual-rear wheel RWD guise – from $56,790 in mid-wheelbase and from $58,290 in the long-wheelbase variant; the same $3000-$3500 model-dependant price rise applies for the long-wheelbase models.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The sole manual models in the cab-chassis range are the rear-wheel drive TDI410, priced from $52,790 for the single cab and from $56,290 for the dual cab.

Standard fare across the van range now includes parking sensors front and rear, as well as a reversing camera, touchscreen controls for the infotainment system that includes full smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which will be the only access to satellite navigation unless you tick the options box for an integrated unit; digital radio is also on the options list.

Fleet operators and aftermarket suppliers will be able to integrate fleet management and emergency service systems into car’s existing Function Control Unit. The brand is determined to work with body builders and aftermarket manufacturers to further expand on the offerings for its customers, delivering customised machinery without fear of warranty issues.

What’s The Interior Like?

The cabin has inherited much of its dashboard from the passenger car range as well as the Amarok and Transporter models, meaning there’s an updated touchscreen with outboard buttons and full smartphone integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The interior has also benefitted from industry consultation during the development of the all-new Crafter, with the inclusion of brighter LED cabin lights and more comfortable seating with electric lumbar support, with two additional front occupants accommodated in the van and cab-chassis models.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The middle seat also folds down to provide a ‘desk’ with cupholders and more oddment storage, as well as a useful flat area for paperwork with an elastic document restraint. A four-seater rear bench in the dual-cab takes the seating capacity to seven in the dual-cab. Manual air conditioning is offered as standard – there’s no climate control option, just additional rear controls and options for air conditioning system upgrades.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The driver gets a reach and rake adjustable plastic steering wheel with audio, phone, cruise and trip computer controls, as well as a USB input within the dash top storage area ahead of the instrument panel; the passenger’s side has a 12-volt outlet in the corresponding corner. There’s ample overhead storage that has one of several grab handles integrated into the shelf, along with a handle on the A-pillar.

Fold-down armrests are fitted to both front seats and the inboard one is welcomed by this driver, but the outboard armrest sits close to the top of the door trim, which serves as more than adequately as an armrest and doesn’t need to be folded out of the way. Those drivers less long of limb might prefer it to the window sill, but either option works well enough.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

Deep door pocket storage and a second smaller area higher up the door trim offers decent oddment storage, which can be kept secure by locking systems for the cabin that can be operated separately from the rear cargo area locks.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The rear load height is among the Crafter’s key upgrades, which has dropped by 100mm (down to 570mm on FWD models) and that will no doubt be music to the ears of those who have to load them. The cargo area has also been equipped with rigging tracks as well as tie-down points in the floor to secure cargo.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

What’s It Like On The Road?

The new Crafter is remarkably easy to drive, despite its considerable size. Climbing on board needs care given plastic floor surfaces can get slippery in damp conditions, but the grab handles on the A-pillar and integrated into the overhead storage compartment help for an easy entry.

A reasonable range of fore and aft adjustment on the manually-adjustable seat, as well as a useful amount of height adjustment, will – with reach and rake adjustable steering – result in a comfortable (if still on the upright end of the scale) driving position.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

A vast glasshouse gives plenty of forward vision out over the blunt nose, which drops away sharply, but the presence of parking sensors front and rear (teamed with the reversing camera) is reassuring. The centre mirror looks through the bulkhead window, which has a grille to protect the cabin from flying cargo, but combine that with the standard barn doors and you’ll be looking out the side mirrors more often than the centre.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

The higher-powered engined gets the large long-wheelbase high-roof front-drive model underway without delay, with the eight-speed auto demonstrating more smarts than it has sometimes displayed in previous applications. There is a manual shift option with the lever but no paddles for manual shifting, but the amount of torque on offer down low compensates with solid flexibility – a steep incline in manually-selected sixth through suburban areas had around 1500 rpm on board and no complaints accelerating up the hill from 60 km/h.

Ride quality from the MacPherson strut front and parabolic leaf sprung rear in the unladen machine was on the firm side of comfortable but not beyond the realms of being liveable. A second loop in a mechanically-similar model with 500kg split in two loads at the front and rear of the cargo area continued to show a more than adequate amount of grunt for the duty, as well as settling the suspension into a more compliant mindset.

2018 Volkswagen Crafter Review

Fuel economy rose under load to 11.8L/100km at a 25km/h average speed over the unladen model’s 10.2L/100km, albeit at a traffic-restricted 20km/h average speed over the same loop, helped by the smart auto’s ability to start in second gear when driving patterns allow and slotting into top gear at the 80km/h mark.

Engine noise is subdued and distant but still obvious as a four-cylinder diesel, while tyre noise from the Continental rubber – particularly on rougher bitumen – was more prevalent. A conventional handbrake lever sits to the driver’s left and is tucked between the seats – it’s not in the way but the brand does good electric park brakes elsewhere in its range and could do worse than getting it into the Crafter.

What About Safety Features?

Volkswagen has included an array of active and passive safety features in the new Crafter range, some of which are familiar to the passenger side of the VW family but not seen previously in the workhorse range.

Automatic emergency braking – Front assist with City Emergency Braking – is standard, as is the brand’s multi-collision brake system, the useful crosswind assist (standard on the van range), as well as front, side and curtain airbags, stability, traction and where fitted with a tower trailer sway control using the four-wheel disc brakes. Driver fatigue detection, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing rear camera are also standard.

Among the optional safety features is the availability of LED headlights, as well as active cruise control, blind spot warning, active lane departure systems and rain-sensing wipers. Auto-parking, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert and sensor-based side-assist are also on the optional features list, but given the girth and limited visibility would be worth considering.

So, What Do We Think?

Volkswagen have been waiting for a long time to get an automatic and it’s a vital piece of equipment in the auto-addicted Australian market, something to which even the commercial vehicle operators are fast succumbing. The power plants available at the launch offered a good spread of urge, well-applied by the auto, and once laden the firm ride loosened up. Lower load floors on the front-drive models will stand it in good stead, as will the value-for-money  4WD option and the RWD availability.


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About Author

Stuart Martin

Stuart Martin started his legal driving life behind the wheel of a 1976 Jeep ragtop, which he still owns to this day, but his passion for wheeled things was inspired much earlier. Regular work and play has subsequently involved towing, off-roading, the school run and everything in between, with Martin now working freelance as a motoring journalist, contributing to several websites and publications including Practical Motoring.

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