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.

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...

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...

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