Crafter is a delight to live with, states Damien O’carroll.
When it originally appeared back in 2006, the Volkswagen Crafter replaced the long-running LT van and was (whisper it) a rebadged Mercedes-benz Sprinter. Collaborating on vans is nothing unusual is the segment, particularly in Europe, where the van is king. After all, the Sprinter is also sold as a Frieghtliner and a Dodge, while the Renault Master is also sold as a Vauxhall, an Opel and a Nissan and the Fiat Ducato is sold as a Citroen, a Peugeot and a Ram. But this time around Volkswagen has gone out on its own with the new Crafter (although it does also sell it as a MAN, but VW owns MAN, so that makes sense) and now the allnew Crafter has landed in New Zealand. While the old Crafter was a good looking thing – as far as vans go – the strikingly handsome new looks give the new Crafter a sleek, modern appearance that sets it apart in the van segment. The new looks also bring it nicely into line with the Volkswagen passenger car range, which is not always something that works, but it does so here. The version of the new Crafter we test here is the entry level Runner model, a new addition to the Crafter range. It is a medium wheelbase, high roof variant as standard (although low or super-high roofs can be optioned) and it comes with VW’S 103kw/340nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, hooked up to a six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels (RWD and AWD versions are also available higher up the range). The Runner kicks off the Crafter van range at just $59,990 with the manual transmission (an eight-speed automatic version is also available for $63,990) and comes standard with a cargo area partition, twin sliding doors, rear double-hinged barn doors, remote central locking, tow bar preparation (including a trailer stabilisation system), power adjustable and heated door mirrors, cruise control with a speed limiter, hill start assist, a rear view camera, front and rear parking sensors and a side wind compensation system. On the inside, the bold and bluff dash is almost retro (which is either cool or appalling, depending on you view of such things), while the incredibly useful shelf that runs the width of the dash is a neat touch. There is plenty of storage space around the cabin, while the seats are impressively comfortable. Access is extremely easy into the Crafter’s cabin, although the right edge of the dash is perfectly placed to smash your knee on when getting out. The 103kw/340nm 2.0-litre diesel engine is superbly smooth and flexible and will happily lug around in low gears without complaint. The six-speed manual transmission is typically slick and remarkably easy to use, with a light clutch action and nicely smooth shift action. On the road the Crafter is utterly effortless to drive, even in slow, heavy traffic. The steering is nicely weighted and responsive and the whole package is incredibly user-friendly for something so large and purposeful. In fact, the biggest downside to how the Crafter drives is that it is so easy that you do tend to forget just how big it actually is... And it IS big, with a 969kg payload and a cargo area of 11.3 cubic metres in the back of the MWB Runner. The first all-volkswagen Crafter is a truly impressive machine in its basic form. Handsome, rugged and capacious, the Crafter is also ridiculously easy to drive and a delight to live with on a daily basis.