Volkswagen's Crafter, the UK's fourth best-selling large van model, is the thinking business person's choice in this sector, especially since it was improved with a smarter look, a fresh range of 2.0 TDI diesel engines and enhanced safety and media connectivity. Now making more sense than ever before on the balance sheet, this is a contender better placed than most to take on the best large vans in this segment.
Once you settle into driving a large van like this, it's a very commanding experience. You sit high up in quite a car-like position thanks to the upright steering wheel, enjoying a supportive seat that's equipped with an armrest to prop a weary elbow on over longer trips. A pity then, that earlier VW Crafter engines tended to be relatively ponderous. That's not the case anymore thanks to far-reaching changes under the bonnet of this revised version and the adoption of a freshly designed electro-mechanical steering system..
Engine changes centre around the installation of a freshly-designed 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit, available to 102, 122 and 140PS outputs, plus there's a potent bi-turbo version putting out 177PS. All the engines will get you and your load where you need to be with deceptive speed. The smoothness and pulling power of this 2.0-litre unit is something that operators familiar with the old version may well notice in the first half a mile of use, even in the entry-level 102PS variant. Customers have a choice between front, rear and all-wheel drive (4MOTION), as well as the option of a manual or automatic gearbox.
Power arrives low in the rev range so that you don't have to row the thing along with the gear lever so much in town. On the open road, overtaking's easy too. It's the main reason why this vehicle has so much towing power too, all Volkswagen Crafters able to haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kgs. Further up the range, the differences with what went before are even greater, the top-flight twin-turbo 177PS BiTDI variant offering around 400Nm of torque.
Moving inside is easy, thanks to a low step and a large door opening. And once in the cab, well, it's much as before. Volkswagen's designers had a chance with this enhanced model to brighten up the working environment. They haven't really taken it, but there is a smarter, higher quality feel about the interior these days, thanks to a smart instrument cluster with cool white illumination and darker, practical upholstery that'll be hardwearing. As you'd expect, two or three people can comfortably travel side by side in the front, but if you're not using the middle seat, you can pull down its centre section and turn it into a table complete with two upholders and a pen-holder - ideal if you've paperwork to complete or if you're stopping somewhere to have a bite of lunch.
The driver's seat is multi-adjustable and the wheel can adjust for reach and rake, so it's easy to get comfortable in this large van model. Once you are, there's plenty of space for all your odds and ends, with storage spaces aplenty. You get a large bin in each of the doors big enough to store a large road atlas and a 1.5-litre drinks bottle. Then there are large shelves above the windscreen and more shelves (one of which is big enough for an A4-sized clipboard) on top of the fascia. There are no fewer than five cupholders for that morning trip to McDonalds and a handy dash-mounted clip to deal with stray paperwork. You also get a large glovebox that can be air-conditioned to keep drinks cool. And useful jacket hooks on the B-pillars.
Is there a better quality large panel van out there than the Volkswagen Crafter? Assuming you prefer the Volkswagen's engine range and pricing structure to that of its Mercedes Sprinter stablemate, then you'd have to say not. The only issue this vehicle used to have centred upon its running costs, but these are now amongst the most efficient in the class thanks to the adoption of a far cleaner and more frugal set of Euro6 2.0 TDI diesel engines.
Yes, the VW Crafter is priced at a premium compared to rivals but you can see and feel where the extra money goes. Forward-thinking businesses will accept this on the basis that residual values are very strong and the whole vehicle feels - and is - built to last, enabling companies to spread the up-front sticker price over a longer operating period. In ten years time, we'd wager that this large van will still be going strong at a point when most of its rivals will be falling to pieces. Enough said.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Crafter range