VW Transporter Sportline Black Edition review: 204hp GTI Kombi driven

  • New T6.1 Sportline looks incredible and comes loaded with kit
  • 204hp engine means 126mph top speed, 0-62mph in 8.9sec
  • Black Edition upgrades it further with factory-fitted coilover suspension

A new Sportline model has joined the latest VW Transporter 6.1 range – and for the first time, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles has given its sportiest van a real GTI-style makeover. We’ve been testing the range-topping Kombi Black Edition version.

Not only does it look good, and come with a powerful 204hp TDI diesel engine, it’s also packed with high-end equipment. Including a digital instrument cluster and a set of performance-enhancing Eibach coilover suspension, not something we’ve ever seen fitted as standard on a main dealer-supplied van before.

Specially designed for the demanding UK van market, could this be the ultimate expression of #vanlife? And does this five-seater Kombi model make a proper alternative to a family car? Keep reading to find out…

What’s new for the T6.1 Sportline?

The T6.1 Sportline is the new top-of-the-range Transporter model, and it comes in two versions: regular Sportline and Sportline Black Edition. Short- and long-wheelbase models are available, as are both panel vans and Kombi vans, the latter coming with a second row of seating making them ideal as lifestyle family vehicles.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - Black Edition, front grille red stripe detail, T6.1

There have been Transporter Sportline models before – but never have we seen one that takes on VW’s GTI styling cues quite so directly. The major feature of this is the red stripe in the grille, which really ties the van into Volkswagen’s sportiest car styling.

Together with the gaping air vents in the front bumper, 18-inch alloy wheels and substantial rear spoiler, the latest Transporter Sportline really looks the business. Finishing visual touches include illuminated side bars and suspension lowered by a substantial 30mm on the standard version.

The Sportline is also available in a selection of metallic paint colours to help it stand out even more: Indium Grey, Fortana Red, Ravenna Blue and Copper Bronze.

On this inside, there are seats trimmed in Nappa leather and suede with honeycomb stitching and Sportline branding. These not only give the interior a genuinely premium feel, they’re properly comfortable over long distances as well.

Sportline Black Edition takes things even further

We’ve been driving the Black Edition, which takes things to an even higher level.

Not only do you get an exclusive matte black alloy wheel finish and matching matt black treatment for the side bars, VW UK has fitted Eibach coilover suspension in place of the regular Sportline setup. This is usually the sort of thing you only see on aftermarket modified vans.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - Black Edition, side bars

Black Edition decals, 90% rear window tint on Kombi models and a Sportline gift box complete this particular package.

Digital cockpit comes to the Transporter van for the first time

You get a lot of standard kit on a Sportline. Highlight feature has to be the digital cockpit, a digital instrument cluster that’s only previously been available on the Caravelle and never before been offered on the Transporter van in the UK.

You also get DAB radio, air-conditioning, heated windscreen, Discover Media sat-nav on an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system; Black Edition models get Discover Media Pro, which comes with a larger 9.2-inch touchscreen.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - digital instrument cluster, Black Edition infotainment, DSG

Bright LED headlights are also standard, alongside front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking and an alarm system.

What you still don’t get, however, are nicely trimmed interior panels for the sliding doors. The basic nature of these rather let the side down compared with the seats.

What’s it like to drive?

Extremely impressive. And we say that having jumped into the Sportline directly after having spent two days driving the new Volkswagen Multivan. The Multivan is a similar size but based on a car platform, rather than the Transporter’s more basic van structure.

It’s not just that it’s fast – though it certainly is that. The 204hp 2.0-litre TDI engine is paired with a seven-speed DSG transmission on all Sportline models, meaning 0-62mph takes just 8.9 seconds and top speed is 126mph. Something we’ve no doubt it would easily manage on an unrestricted German autobahn.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - Black Edition, rear view, grey

The surprise is the suspension. We were expecting the upgraded springs and dampers to feel harsh and uncompromising, especially when driving around town. But although certainly firm, they stop far short of becoming actually uncomfortable, and instead give the Black Edition a greater sense of sophistication. As well they should do, really.

What’s more, this translates into a more confident driving experience when it comes to tackling corners, the van seeming to change direction more keenly and certainly with less body roll. While you still can’t chuck it about like an ordinary car, it’s a satisfying thing to steer when travelling quickly, feeling more alert and composed than any previous Transporter I’ve driven.

Fuel economy is a little harder to stomach. In mixed driving, I was averaging 25-30mpg.

Does it really work as an alternative to a family car?

We’ve previously gone into much more detail about why a van might just be the ultimate family car. And while this Sportline Black Edition isn’t as entirely well trimmed inside as a Caravelle or certain rivals – including top-spec Ford Transit Customs – it does tick a lot of boxes.

Our three-year-old co-pilot was really taken with the way you can easily roam between the front and rear seating areas when parked – and she wasn’t the only one. This is a real boon when the parking spaces are tight, as you can simply decant the vehicle using the sliding doors. Which in this instance were optionally power-operated, a nice touch on this kind of van.

You do have to think about how tall the Transporter is before driving into the car park in the first place, however, and the size of the rear door can make it tricky to open if you go for a top-hinged tailgate.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - rear seats

Still, the large load area is great for all that family gear, and there is plenty of space for five adults on board – or three Isofix childseats across the rear bench. Just note that as a Kombi, the Sportline doesn’t have a bulkhead, so things in the back could come flying forwards into the front during an accident, making it important to consider how securely everything is tied down.

Despite the lack of bulkhead, road noise isn’t unbearable at speed. It’s loud enough that you’ll have to raise your voice slightly to speak to people in the second row of seats, but we’ve certainly driven noisier cars recently.

Storage in the front includes large door pockets and other handy cubby holes; those in the rear aren’t so lucky and will just have to hold on to everything, which again comes down to the Sportline’s fundamental vaniness.

>> Is the best family car actually a van?

Are there any rivals?

The closest alternatives to this are the Ford Transit Custom Sport and the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT.

The MS-RT is a Ford-approved third-party conversion, which has the looks to match this Sportline. However, as it’s based on a Limited rather than the full-blown Transit Custom Sport, it doesn’t drive as well as the either that or the VW.

Volkswagen Transporter Sportline review - Kombi Black Edition, dead-on front view, grey

The difference is slight, however, and at least the Fords are better trimmed in the back. But Volkswagen substantially out-punches them for performance; now Ford no longer sells its185hp engine, the most powerful Transit Custom has a relatively modest 170hp. Plus, Ford’s automatic gearbox isn’t as good as VW’s latest DSG.

Food for thought.

What’s the price of the Transporter Sportline – and should I buy one?

The new T6.1 Sportline costs from £42,940 in regular guise and £45,140 as a Black Edition. Kombi models start at £46,450 or £49,450. You can only get the LWB version as a standard Sportline, but this comes in panel van and Kombi spec, priced from £43,795 and £47,305.

All prices excluding VAT and on-the-road (OTR) costs.

It’s not cheap, then. But nor does it feel it. The Black Edition is just about as good as vans get when it comes to driving chops, performance is excellent and the detailed changes inside and out make a genuine difference to the whole experience.

It’s still a shame the sliding doors aren’t trimmed as nicely, and the practicalities of parking do occasionally present a little difficulty in day-to-day life. But we’d happily put up with those small inconveniences for such a versatile vehicle, especially one that is as tangibly special as this.

Also read:

>> Our main VW Transporter review

>> Ford Transit Custom MS-RT review

>> The best medium vans you can buy