Volkswagen Crafter Panel Van (2017 - ) review
The Crafter is a rarity in the world of vans, as it's totally new from the ground up, and developed entirely by Volkswagen.
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Cargo & practicality
There is a vast array of sizes to choose from in the Crafter range, with three lengths and three heights. The medium-wheelbase version is the shortest at 5986mm long, the long-wheelbase measures 6835mm, and the 'long-wheelbase plus overhang' model boosts the total length to 7391mm. The bay reaches 2590mm upwards even on the H2 version, while the H3 grows to 2798mm. Go for the longest and highest version and you’ll have 18.4m2 of loading capacity to play with inside.
Once inside, the space is as even as you could hope for in a van this size, with a loading width of 1380mm between the wheelarches, which grows to 1830mm, making it marginally larger than in some rivals. There is enough space inside for six Euro pallets, even in the shorter models, while a selection of rigging tracks in the floor allows for a range of securing options to be fitted.
The bay is easy to access, too, thanks to the large, sliding side door that gives a 1311mm-wide opening, although it is heavy and needs a firm shove to make sure it is firmly shut. In addition, the rear doors can be opened as wide as 270 degrees, although that is a cost extra.
If you go for a front-wheel drive version, then lugging things in and out of the back is made easier by the fact that the loading height sits 100mm lower than on other versions.
Although the Crafter’s cab doesn’t match up to even the cheapest models in VW’s passenger car range for ambience, it comes a lot closer than many other vans. The design will certainly be familiar to anyone that has been in a VW car in recent years, with the dash dominated by an eight-inch colour touch-screen that is available on all but the entry-level model.
The rest of the controls, such as the air-conditioning, are operated via a selection of chunky dials and buttons that are easy to find on the move. The seat has a pleasing amount of adjustment, with lots of movement forward and backwards, and up and down, and the steering wheel and high-set gear lever mean that getting comfortable is relatively easy. Should that not be enough, there is an optional upgrade that offers even more adjustment and a shock-absorbing system for those that want it.
Storage in the cabin is good, too, with a large number of cubbies in the doors, under the seats and in the dash, although have no covers, which means you have to be a bit selective about what goes where, so that you don’t end up with items flying around the cabin.
The Crafter’s running costs were reduced, as Volkswagen extended the service intervals for the latest version from 25,000 to 30,000 miles. This is a bonus, but still not the best in the class, and you still have to top up the AdBlue tank on a regular basis, as you would with any similarly sized van.
Fuel economy is the Crafter’s biggest downside, though, as even the most economical, lower-powered version only manages an official average mpg figure in the high-30s, despite the standard-fit stop-start system. This is poor when you compare it to rivals, which claim economy in the high 40s.
With the latest Crafter having been developed from the ground up by Volkswagen, it benefits from the VW Group’s tried and tested engines; and, the 2.0-litre unit is used extensively in both passenger and commercial vehicles.
The three-year warranty is unlimited in the first two years, but limited in year three, albeit to a still-decent 100,000 miles. Volkswagen’s network now offers an increased amount of mobile servicing, meaning it should be easier to minimise downtime.
There are three engines on offer in the Crafter range, and all are variations of a 2.0-litre diesel.
The range includes 102PS, 140PS and 177PS versions, with the middle model expected to account for the majority of sales. The engine might seem small for a van this size, but it certainly never labours when carrying light loads. The least powerful version might well struggle with larger loads, however, and it offers a payload of less than 800kg in some versions.
The engine is generally quiet, even when worked hard, and it pulls smoothly from low speeds around town, helped by the six-speed manual gearbox that is light and slick to use.
Out on the motorway, it has enough pulling power to get past slow vehicles when empty, but it is at higher speeds when the engine noise is most likely to grate. It’s never overwhelming, but it is evident.
Ride and handling
The Crafter’s ride is one of its real triumphs, because it smooths out bumps superbly, even when the rear bay is empty. It also gives a real sense of composure around corners, making the Crafter a pleasant and easy drive around town and on long-distance trips.
The new steering set-up also helps make this large van feel and handle like a smaller vehicle, getting heavier at higher speeds and lighter to help with low-speed manoeuvring.
Throw it around corners - fast or slow - and the Crafter belies its size, as it rarely gets flustered by a rapid change of direction. The standard-fit blind-spot mirrors also do a great job of showing up smaller vehicles or bicycles positioned either side in town.
The Crafter really resets the benchmark when it comes to safety in this class. The new steering set-up has a lot to do with that, as it allows to VW to fit a whole range of new safety systems, including autonomous emergency braking, post-collision braking and cross-wind assist (on the closed body versions), all as standard. Head for the higher-spec models, and you can also have adaptive cruise control, while a trailer assist system that helps with reversing while you are towing is also available as an option.
Other safety kit includes lane assist, parking sensors, a reversing camera and a rear traffic alert that warns the driver if any vehicles are approaching while they are reversing out of a parking space. In an ideal world, all of this safety kit would be standard rather than on the cost options list, but it is great that it is at least available.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen is only available from mid-level trims upwards, and comes with DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity as standard. However, it can be upgraded, so it runs with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto or MirrorLink to display phone-powered navigation on the screen. Alternatively, a Europe-wide satellite-navigation system is available, again as an option. The Startline model gets a more basic offering, but does at least still come with Bluetooth.
Other standard-fit highlights include in a pair of 12v sockets and a multi-function steering wheel, while the options include a 230-volt plug socket, heated seats and even a massage function in the front seats.
The Crafter is a breath of fresh air in the van world in many ways, with a cabin and engine offering that is not only new, but sets a high standard of quality.
It’s not perfect, with slightly disappointing fuel economy the biggest downside – to offer an official mpg that lags behind rivals is a pity. However, the practicality, cabin and driving manners all go a long way to make up for that.