VW T6 RUNNER ROAD TEST
The Editor samples Volkswagen’s new entry-level mid-sized van, the T6 Transporter Runner.
VOLKSWAGEN CAN TRACE ITS VAN HERITAGE back to the late 1940s when the world was emerging from the horrors and upheaval of more than six years of globeengulfing war.
The VW van used the mechanical components of the car that become known as the Beetle, a small uniquely-styled two-door sedan designed in the 1930s by Ferdinand Porsche as a people’s car – a Volks Wagen.
The van, developed after World War 2 along lines suggested by a Dutch VW dealer, used the same rear-engined layout as the Volkswagen car, and the same four-speed gearbox and air-cooled flat four motor.
The driver sat far forward, above the front wheels, in a layout that was known as forward-control and set the pattern for the cab-overengine layout adopted later by Japanese van makers.
The first VW van, known as the T1 Transporter, evolved through subsequent rear-engined generations into the current front-wheel drive Transporter with its inline four-cylinder water-cooled motor.
Function was always a key factor in the VW van’s layout, and the current T6, introduced to New Zealand last year, is no exception.
Functionality is the driver in its styling which is an evolution of that of its predecessor, the T5. In fact, unless you know what to look for, it can be difficult to tell the two generations apart at first glance.
The T6’s lines are angular in traditional cargo-box-on-wheels van style, though the wide but shallow family grille and upwardssloping headlights combine with a deep windscreen to give the vehicle a cheerful face.
The test vehicle was the new-to-market Runner, the new entrylevel model in the T6 Transporter mid-sized van range, and offers buyers an attractively-priced package.
In its basic specification, it retails at a very competitive $39,990. For that, you get a low-roofed short wheelbase van with twin sliding side doors, a top-hinged tailgate, a 1445kg payload, and a cargo space volume of 5.8 cubic metres.
The latter two are useful figures, the capacity ballpark with the short-wheelbase version of the market-leading Toyota Hiace, and the payload among the best of any mid-sized van.
The Runner is available only with a five-speed manual gearbox and a detuned version of the 2.0-litre turbodiesel used across the entire Transporter range.
It’s the least powerful of the three engine variants VW offers for the T6, with maximum power of 75kw at 3500rpm and 250Nm of peak torque delivered between 1500 and 2500rpm.
Other T6s use 103kw/340nm or 132kw/400nm versions of the inline four-cylinder DOHC turbomotor.
The output of the Runner’s motor looks small compared with the other two engines but on the road the Runner has plenty of get up and go.
The engine is willing and is reasonably refined even at full throttle. The torque is strong enough to ensure a minimum of gear-shifting in city running, and the engine offers flexible performance.
The Runner will drive happily in fourth gear at city speeds, and when the going is level you can use fifth.
The gear you’re in is indicated digitally on the dashboard, and when it’s time to change up, a plus sign appears between the gear you’re in and the gear you should change up to.
The same type of display lets you know when you should change down to keep the engine running at its most efficient level. So if you’re in fifth and the on-board computer wants you to shift down
to fourth, it displays a 5 followed by a 4.
It’s an aid to getting the best fuel economy, and is a useful feature. What caught us by surprise, though, was how soon it suggested you shift up and how late it urged you to shift down a cog.
Driving in fifth and with the engine sounding as if it was struggling in fifth gear, it still indicated that fifth was the gear we should be running.
Left to relying on the evidence of our ears, we would have changed down much sooner than the Runner itself suggested.
The gearbox itself shifts smoothly and positively; it’s weighted to the third/fourth plane with first/second and fifth requiring a deliberate yet low-effort movement to overcome the weighting.
Reverse – which is situated up and to the left alongside first in the shift gate – is engaged by lifting a collar on the gear lever.
It’s a much more positive action than depressing the lever and moving it across and into reverse as you do on the Runner version of the VW Caddy. The collar means you can’t inadvertently engage reverse when you select first to start from a halt.
The stubby gear lever is mounted on a binnacle attached to the dashboard and moves slickly with short throws.
The clutch is user-friendly and forgiving, and takes up smoothly without any tendency to grab or slip, making hill starts easy and smooth. A hill-start assist feature which prevents the van rolling backwards helps the T6 Runner’s user-friendliness in hilly terrain.
The rack-and-pinion power-assisted steering is well weighted, provides good feel and allows the driver to place the van accurately.
Handling is secure and the T6 will corner nicely at open road speeds, though there is a hint of body roll when pressing on and
mild understeer on the exit from sweeping high-speed corners.
Ride quality is good, and the coil-sprung Macpherson strut front and semi-trailing independent rear suspension set-up copes well with less than smooth roads.
The brakes – ventilated disc on all four wheels – provide secure stopping power though the test van’s brakes tended to grab abruptly when the vehicle came to a dead stop.
The turning circle is a reasonably compact 11.9 metres, but the front-wheel drive layout means the T6 doesn’t turn on a dime like the rear-wheel drive short-weelbasetoyota Hiace.
The Transporter’s general feel is car-like and it’s easy to operate in tight city and suburban streets. The user-friendly clutch/gearbox match makes it a breeze in urban use. The only time the clutch made itself felt was in a prolonged period running in stop-start traffic, though even then if you were driving the manual week-in and week-out your left leg muscles and knee would become stronger.
Volkswagen quotes a competitive fuel consumption of 7.5 litres/100km on the combined cycle.
Dual sliding side doors are standard, and the T6 Runner has loading door-openings 1017mm wide and 1282mm high on each side and a tailgate opening that measures 1473mm wide and 1299mm high.
The Runner comes as standard with two cloth-upholstered bucket seats for the driver and passenger, leaving a space between the seats for bag or box stowage. Buyers can select a heavy-duty upholstery fabric for an additional $250, and leatherette upholstery is available as a no-cost option.
A driver’s seat with height adjust and lumbar support adds $180 to the sticker price and for $500 buyers can order a bench seat for passengers, or a bench seat with a storage compartment can be had for $700.
The seats are comfortable, offer good lateral support, and the driver gets a commanding forward view through the deep windscreen.
The height- and reach-adjustable steering wheel helps you achieve a comfortable seating position, and the instruments are well-sized, with crisp markings that are easy to read at a glance.
The controls are laid out ergonomically on the dashboard, driver’s door and steering wheel; I have relatively short arms but even the furthest-away ventilation control was within comfortable reach.
The car-like steering wheel is leather-wrapped and has a smallish diameter and a nicely thick rim. The three spokes are finished in piano black plastic which helps give the wheel a high-quality look and adds a touch of class to the cockpit.
In fact, the whole cabin ambience is classy, the materials used are serviceable yet good quality and the dashboard and trim are well-finished to car-like levels.
The head lining extends into the cargo space and the transition from the fully-trimmed cabin to the painted metal loadspace is free of the untidiness found in some vans.
The pedals are well spaced for comfortable use, the footwell never feels cramped and there’s space to rest for your left foot.
The electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors are car-like but large and free of blind spots. A reversing camera is standard with Runners fitted with the top-hinged tailgate (it’s deleted on the added-cost barn-style twin rear door option, or on high-roof models which come standard with the twin doors).
The camera displays on the infotainment touch-screen mounted centrally on the dashboard, and it’s a feature we’d like to see on all vans.
Our only quibble with the VW’S touch-screen was that it reverted to a half-display when you re-engaged reverse, requiring you to tap an arrow on the screen to get a view of what was on the lefthand side of the vehicle. A minor irritation granted but an irritation nonetheless.
Getting into and out of the cabin is helped by a wide step but there are no grab handles, and the driver has to use the steering wheel as a lever.
A grab handle for the passenger is part of an optional $600 comfort package that also includes dimmable instruments, a twotone horn, dual vanity mirrors, a sunglasses holder, two interior spotlights, and additional cabin insulation.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags for the driver and passenger, and the passenger’s airbag can be deactivated. Head and thorax airbags are a $750 option for Runners fitted with individual bucket seats.
There are lap/sash seatbelts for the driver and passenger, and other safety kit includes the mandatory electronic stability control,
along with ABS anti-lock braking and brake assist
The multi-media infotainment system has a five-inch touchscreen and is Bluetooth hands-free phone compatible; and the four-speaker audio system delivers excellent sound.
The audio system includes a CD player, has a SD card slot, a USB port, an Aux-in socket and is MP3 compatible. Three upgrades are available at costs ranging from $300 to $1500.
The standard audio system preforms very well, delivering clear, high-quality sound over a range of music from heavy metal through to opera and chamber music.
Standard bumpers are grey but stump up an extra $1300 and they, the mirror housings, and door handles can be painted body colour. Body paint is solid colour, but metallic or pearl effect paint can be ordered for an extra $1300.
The test Runner was fitted with added-cost optional alloy wheels. There’s a choice of two styles: 16-inch with the rather incongruous name of Clayton, (remember Claytons, the alcohol-free ‘spirit’-style drink promoted as “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink?”). VW’S 16-inch wheels are definitely not Claytons alloys but are the genuine article, and add $1200 to the Transporter’s pricetag.
The other option is 17-inchers dubbed Devonport and shod with 235/55 tyres instead of the Clayton’s 205/65s, and add $2800 to the van’s drive-away price.
We’d eschew either, opt for the standard 16-inch steel rims and 205/65 tyres, and spend money instead on a cargo barrier between the load space and the cab.
VW offers a full height unit, complete with rear-view window and two cargo lashing points, for $700. We see it as an essential item and one option box we’d definitely tick.
It would not only provide security from being hit by shifting load items during emergency manoeuvres but would make the airconditioning more efficient and reduce the amount of road noise transmitted to the cab.
The test Runner had the standard painted metal floor which amplified road noise, especially at 100km/h on chip-surfaced roads. The cargo barrier would provide some relief.
So too would the two cargo floor-covering options VW offers for the Transporter – rubber matting at $400 and a multi-purpose wood covering for $790.
The T6 Runner is a quality van at an attractive base price – though that will rise by a couple of thousand or so if you tick some of the added-cost options which are more essentials than luxuries.
It is well-built, has a car quality cabin, handles well, is very easy to drive, has good cargo capacity and payload, and offers easy loading and manoeuvring. And it has 40,000km/two year oil service intervals,
European vans have struggled to gain more than a small foothold in New Zealand. But with its blend of comfort, lower servicing costs, high levels of passive and active safety equipment at a very competitive basic price, Volkswagen’s T6 Runner makes a compelling case for wider acceptance. It’s a very good van indeed.
Facing page: Test T6 Transporter Runner came with optional alloy wheels in place of standard steel rims. Top left: Volkswagen family grille gives front end of T6 Transporter a cheerful look. Top right: Top-hinged tailgate is standard but barn doors are available at added cost. Load area roof and lower sides are lined.
Top: Dual sliding side doors are standard and make the van courier-friendly.
Left: Dashboard layout and cabin quality are car-like, all controls are ergonomically-placed, and classy steering wheel is perfectlysized.
Facing page: Inset steps aid ingress and outgress but lack of a grab handle is irritating. There are usefully-sized document storage pockets in cabin ceiling.