The sixth generation Volkswagen Transporter arrived in September 2015 and was an instant success, gaining rave reviews and winning our coveted Van of the Year award in 2016. More recently, newer rivals such as the Peugeot Expert and Citroen Dispatch were starting to make the T6 look a little dated, but VW addressed the issue with the launch of the facelifted T6.1 in the autumn of 2019.
The allure of the Volkswagen badge may be strong for cultural reasons, but the Transporter itself has a lot to offer as a tough workhorse. As well as the Expert and Dispatch, the Transporter also rivals the Ford Transit Custom, Renault Trafic, Vauxhall Vivaro and Mercedes Vito in the medium-sized panel van class, and it sits near the top thanks to its ability as a practical and spacious load-carrier.
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The Transporter is available in multiple sizes as a van – coming in both short and long wheelbase forms and offering different roof height options. It also comes in a variety of alternate body styles including the Transporter Kombi double cab, the Caravelle MPV and the Shuttle minibus, and of course the ever-popular California camper.
The new VW Transporter T6.1 has a fresher look than the T6, with its resigned front end adding new LED daytime running lights, a new front bumper and a new radiator grille. However, it’s still inside where the latest model really excels. The infotainment system is on a par with the best passenger cars, and the abundant safety kit gives drivers extra peace of mind.
Volkswagen also simplified the Transporter range with the arrival of the T6.1 by axing the mid-level Trendline trim. Startline is still the entry-level model, but the range now jumps straight to Highline from there. Sportline retains its flagship status, and will be available from 2020.
MPG and Running Costs
All Volkswagen Transporter models are powered by the brand’s venerable 2.0-litre, four-cylinder TDI diesel engines, which meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standards. The range kicks off with an 89bhp unit, with 108bhp and 148bhp motors sitting above. A potent twin-turbocharged 196bhp engine completes the line-up.
Every engine features Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology, which includes a 13-litre AdBlue tank, and VW’s BlueMotion Technology (BMT) kit as standard. The latter adds start/stop technology, regenerative braking and low rolling resistance tyres.
The two lower-powered engines are solely available with a five-speed manual gearbox, but step up to the 148bhp engine and you get the choice of a six-speed manual with either front- or 4Motion four-wheel drive, or a seven-speed DSG automatic. The flagship 196bhp motor is also offered with front- or four-wheel drive, but is only available as an automatic.
Petrol engines have been completely removed from the range after only making up 1 per cent of sales for the pre-facelift T6, while VW has also confirmed that there will be no hybrid model.
An all-electric van is in the pipeline, though, and is set to join the range in early 2020. It’s being developed by ABT and will feature a choice of two battery packs – either 33.8kWh or 77.6kWh. Volkswagen is claiming that the larger battery will offer a driving range of over 250 miles.
Load Space and Practicality
The T6.1 may look different at the front with the new grille and LED headlight set-up, but things are pretty much unchanged at the working end. VW continues to offer the Transporter in two wheelbases, with three roof heights and two seating combinations, delivering load volumes of 5.8m3 to 9.3m3 and payloads of up to 1,217kg.
The short wheelbase model has a maximum load length of 2,570mm, which rises to 2,970mm in the long wheelbase.
Maximum internal height is 1,410mm in the low roof van, rising to 1,626mm in the medium roof and 1,940mm in the high roof model. All models have a gap between the rear wheel arches of 1,244mm.
You can also have the Transporter in a double cab Kombi configuration, with two wheelbase options and two seating layouts. Load volumes for these variants are 3.5-4.4m3, with a maximum payload of 1,207kg.
Details for the new all-electric Transporter are yet to be revealed, but Volkswagen is promising a payload of almost 1,200kg.
Reliability and Safety
The Volkswagen Transporter has always been at the forefront of van safety tech, but the facelifted T6.1 has stepped it up even further. There is a very generous amount of safety kit available as standard, although there are still plenty of option boxes that can be ticked to boost the van further in this area.
Adaptive cruise control, automatic post-collision braking, high-beam assist, hill-start assist, front assist with city emergency braking, driver alert and trailer stabilisation are all carried over from the T6. Now, however, driver steering recommendation and crosswind assist (first seen on the Crafter) are also present on the Transporter.
Park assist can be added for those spending a lot of time in town, while regular motorway users can benefit from lane assist. Side protection, trailer assist, traffic sign recognition and rear traffic alert can also be found on the options list.
Those looking for the ultimate in road holding, or who regularly have to deal with poor weather conditions, can order the Transporter with VW’s 4Motion four-wheel drive system, including a mechanical differential lock.
Driving and Performance
The updated Transporter T6.1 offers a more refined driving experience than ever, with the new range of diesel engines providing the a better blend of efficiency and performance.
The entry-level 89bhp and 108bhp units can feel a little strained around town, especially when pulling away from lights, but they are more than adequate when up to speed.
Our pick would be the mid-range 148bhp engine, which disguises the Transporter’s weight with ease and is a great all-round choice for anybody that will do plenty of miles in the city and on the motorway.
Where the T6.1 really excels though is in the way it handles. New electromechanical power steering replaces the old model’s hydraulic set-up and it provides the driver with direct control and good stability on straight roads. It means the Transporter is a capable performer regardless of whether you’re battling congested urban streets or cruising down a country lane.
Opt for 4Motion all-wheel drive and the grip level rises even further, which is particularly useful if you live in parts of the country that regularly experience ice and snow.
Cab and Interior
There wasn’t much wrong with the interior in the T6, but the T6.1 boasts a cabin that few of its rivals can match. The dash is ultra-modern and wouldn’t look out of place in most SUVs, with the large infotainment screen giving the interior a striking appearance.
T6.1 models come with a choice of three different infotainment systems. The range kicks off with the rather basic Composition Colour, but step up to Discover Media or top spec Discover Pro and the cabin is transformed. Large 8.0-inch or 9.2-inch touchscreens take centre stage, which will be familiar to anybody who has spent any time inside one of Volkswagen’s cars, and they are both crystal clear and easy to use.
It’s a shame the 10.25-inch digital cockpit set-up is not available on the Transporter though, as it’s an option on the passenger-carrying Caravelle and comes as standard on the Caravelle Executive. Nevertheless the analogue dials you do get do their job well, with the small centre screen still displaying all of the info you would ever need.
Connectivity is also a big part of the T6.1’s appeal, as all models now come will a fully integrated SIM card. This opens up a wide-range of online functions via VW’s We Connect or We Connect Plus systems, such as eCall, online route planning, and even info on filling stations and car parks.
Build quality is strong with tough plastics throughout that look like they can withstand plenty of punishment. Electric windows, central locking and heated electrically adjustable wing mirrors are standard, while the driver’s seat has height, lumbar, reach and rake adjustment. There’s also a 230-volt socket next to the driver’s seat and, when specified, a lockable compartment sitting under the double bench seat on the passenger side.
A strange quirk is that all T6.1 models are only available with USB C ports (up to four are available). Volkswagen is looking ahead and future-proofing the range, but USB A is easily the most-popular connection at the moment so many people will be unable to hook up their phones.
Last updated:16 Sep, 2019