The Parkers Van of the Year 2018 and 2019 - enough said
- Exceptionally easy to drive
- Long distance comfort
- Well thought-out load area
- Class-leading safety
- Brilliant cab design
- On-paper fuel economy not great
- Payload ratings not especially high
- Electro-mechanical steering has quirks
- Cab lacks covered storage
- Rear-wheel drive not so refined
This VW Crafter is the winner of the Best New Van Award in the Parkers New Car Awards 2018 and 2019. Read our full review to find out why we rate this large van so highly.
Not only is the fundamental structure of the latest Crafter completely different from the vehicle that went before, the 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engines that power it are all brand new as well.
More than that, while the previous Crafter was built by Mercedes-Benz as a variant of its own Sprinter large van, this one is all Volkswagen’s own work, and assembled in an equally brand new VW Commercial Vehicles factory in Poland.
The shock of the new?
This exceptional newness has given Volkswagen an opportunity to do things a little differently.
This means technical innovations, including a number of class firsts and unique selling points, but VW also says it has involved prospective customers in the development of this Crafter from the very beginning of the project back in 2012.
It has made a particular effort to understand how different sorts of van buyers and operators use their vehicles, and sought to build the Crafter to suit.
As a result VW has paid particular attention both to the usability of the van – attention that can be seen in the ergonomics of the cab and the reduced height of the cargo area sills – and to the so called 'total cost of ownership', leading to what it claims are significant real-world improvements in fuel economy as well as service intervals extended to 30,000 miles.
VW Crafter: the safest van on sale?
VW has also placed great emphasis on safety, an area where the Crafter now has a clear lead over rival large vans such as the Sprinter, the Ford Transit, the Citroen Relay / Peugeot Boxer / Fiat Ducato trio and the Nissan NV400 / Renault Master / Vauxhall Movano triplets.
In fact, the only large van that currently matches it is the MAN TGE – but since the TGE is a re-branded Crafter, built in the same factory and launched several months later, that's hardly a surprise.
Active safety systems are especially impressive here, many of which are only made possible by the Crafter’s electro-mechanical power steering (which is one of those class firsts).
VW Crafter engines, drivetrains, bodystyles and trim levels
With three power outputs plus manual and automatic gearbox options, three lengths, three heights and a choice of front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive or 4Motion four-wheel drive, there are no less than 69 basic variants of the Crafter.
Add a number of body-builder derivatives planned as direct factory conversions, and you certainly can’t deny it’s versatile.
Initial UK availability of the Crafter was, however, limited to front-wheel drive (FWD) manual gearbox models, with the first four-wheel drive (4WD) and rear-wheel drive (RWD - reviewed individually in the Which VW Crafter is Best for Me? section below) examples arriving late 2017. There are more to follow in 2018.
We have now driven examples of every drivetrain layout, as well as both manual and auto transmissions. See the driving experience section below for further details
UK versions of this Crafter are sold in three trim levels: Startline, Trendline and Highline. Standard equipment is good throughout, though the difference between Startline and Trendline in particular is well worth the extra outlay.
As of May 2018, this generation of Crafter was upgraded to a three-year / unlimited mileage warranty.
VW Crafter: the Parkers Vans verdict
Our verdict is simple: the Crafter is exceptionally easy to drive, comfortable with arguably the best cab enivronment of any van on sale, technologically advanced, and it offers a vast load area.
It's not the cheapest large van you can buy. Neither does it offer the greatest possible payload, nor the best on-paper fuel economy. But the impression of quality is exceedingly high, meaning you still feel like you're getting substantial value for money.
It swallows long-distances with ease, yet is nimble enough to make urban driving a doddle. The Crafter was the clear choice for our 2018 and 2019 Van of the Year.
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The second-generation VW Crafter launched with front-wheel drive and a choice of three 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engines:
- 102hp/300Nm single-turbo
- 140hp/340Nm single-turbo
- 177hp/410Nm twin-turbo
The first 4Motion four-wheel drive versions became available in September 2017, with the first rear-wheel drive (individual road test in the Which VW Crafter is Best for Me? section below) examples following before the end of the same year.
We have driven examples of every format, as well as both the standard six-speed manual gearbox and the optional eight-speed automatic transmission.
An additional 122hp single-turbo option will be available on some RWD Crafters in 2018.
Is a 2.0-litre engine big enough for a large van?
VW is not alone in using 2.0-litre engines in its large van range – the Ford Transit is down to 2.0 litres following the introduction of Euro 6 emissions regulations, as are the Citroen Relay and Peugeot Boxer – but should you be worried about it?
Our initial impressions of the Crafter's new engine range weren't overly favourable. Around the mountain roads of Spain on the original launch we found the 140hp versions had to be worked hard and while the 177hp version was unsurprisingly pokier, both sounded reedy and coarse under power.
As we've spent more and more time with the 140hp model – the projected bestseller – we've come to better appreciate the new motor. Once 1,000 or so miles have been covered, the noise reduces and the smoothness increases.
In fact, we've come to prefer this engine over the 177hp BiTDI twin-turbo.
We're yet to test either of the less powerful choices, but anticipate these will feel rather slow.
Improvements over time
The engines perhaps don't produce quite the same level of instant urge as Ford's new 2.0-litre EcoBlue engine in the Transit.
But driven back-to-back with the previous-generation Crafter there's a clear improvement, and you soon come to appreciate how quiet the new model is on the motorway, with little wind or road noise in the cab.
Our earlier concerns about the manual gearbox have also been overcome. On right-hand drive Crafters the action feels precise, and is so light and easy you could be driving a car.
Is the eight-speed automatic worth considering in the Crafter?
Our opinion of the eight-speed automatic has also improved with further exposure.
The extra gears make these Crafters even quieter when cruising, and they will happily trickle along in eighth gear at low rpm, which is good news for fuel economy.
The auto costs more, of course. But in exchange you get added convenience in traffic – reducing drive fatigue – and the potential for reduced servicing costs as the automatic transmissions prevent excessive clutch and tyre wear.
FWD, RWD or 4WD – which Crafter is best for you?
Front-wheel drive makes a lot of sense for most uses. This configuration is the lightest, which helps with payload, and the most fuel efficient, and it also has a load area 100mm lower than the alternatives, which is easier on operators.
We've experienced no traction issue with FWD, either – though it is easy to imagine why tyre wear might be higher.
The 4Motion four-wheel drive Crafters are based on the FWD models, but add a Haldex system that delivers power to the rear axle as well. This is an 'on-demand' setup, which means that in normal road driving as much power as possible is sent to the front wheels alone, in order to maximise fuel economy.
However, as soon as the front wheels start to slip, up to 60% of power can be sent to the back, making light work of low grip situations, including light off-road work. You can add an optional locking rear differential for additional traction, too, but be aware that ground clearance isn't significantly increased.
VW is spinning this as an advantage – making these new 4Motion models easier to get in of out of and much less expensive than the previous generation. But they aren't as suitable for hardcore countryside bashing. They weigh around 150kg more than an equivalent FWD Crafter.
The rear-wheel drive Crafters are significantly different to both of the above. Though the basic 2.0-litre engine is the same, it's mounted longitudinally inline with the prop shaft, rather than transversely in the direction of the axles.
Having drive at the rear wheels is good for loaded traction, as the weight of the load helps push the tyres into the tarmac. But it's less efficient, and heavier, adding around 100kg to the weight of an equivalent FWD model.
We have to say, the RWD Crafters are also the ones we've enjoyed driving the least; they transmit noticeably more vibration and harshness into the cab, making what is an otherwise extremely pleasant large van to drive in all other guise, somewhat less agreeable.
Impressive ride, nimble handling, electric steering
Regardless of drivetrain, one of the Crafter’s biggest strengths is its ride quality.
Both loaded and unloaded it deals very well with uneven road surfaces and bumps – regardless of whether you’re in a suspended driver’s seat or a regular item. This makes it an excellent long-distance companion.
It’s also nimble and responsive to steer, whether faced with narrow streets or winding country roads. Even the highest roof variant resists rolling around too much in the turns, and the large, split-view mirrors make it easy to keep track of the rear overhang on the longest body length as well.
The electro-mechanical steering – which uses an electric motor in place of the traditional hydraulic pump – also allows a number of safety-related enhancements (see the Safety section). It doesn't give masses of feedback, but it's light and accurate, and you quickly get used to it.
Overall, the Crafter is very fine large van to drive.
We’re just going to go ahead and say it: the VW Crafter has, in our opinion, the best cab environment of any large van on sale.
In fact, from the quality of the plastics to the intelligence of the design, it’s not even a close contest. The instruments are clear, there’s a large touchscreen infotainment unit familiar from Volkswagen cars fitted as standard on all but the entry-level Startline model, and a vast amount of storage.
This last includes triple-decker door bins, large dash-top cubbies, sensibly-lipped overhead bins and a narrow shelf that runs across front of the dashboard
There are four cupholders on the dash at different heights, too, and as is increasingly typical, the middle seat back folds down to reveal a secure storage tray that can function as a desk.
Add to the this numerous power points ranging from 12v to USB to 230v, not to mention a wide selection of available creature comforts including air-con and not just heated seats but a heated windscreen and heated steering wheel as well, and you’ve got a van that’s genuinely a joy to spend time in.
You can even add on-board Wi-Fi and various VW Car-Net online functions should you wish.
This is not to say the Crafter is perfect inside, however.
While there is plenty of storage, not much of it is lidded. Over-enthusiastic pilots may find their contents redistributed somewhat haphazardly, while anything lighter-coloured – such as paper and phone cables – placed in the open dash-top areas will reflect in the windscreen.
We also found the (optional) sat-nav to be a touch slow-witted and difficult to interpret at roundabouts, and although the Highline's heated windscreen is lovely on a cold winter’s morning, at night the tiny elements in the glass tend to diffract on-coming headlights in a rather distracting way.
Bouncy seat option
VW offers a suspended driver’s seat upgrade that’s independently sprung like those fitted in trucks and buses.
It takes a bit of getting used to, as you’ll find yourself moving in the opposite direction to the van when driving over rough surfaces. But it should save your lower back from the pain of constant repetitive compressions.
The ergoComfort version is weight-adjustable and comes with four-way lumber support, while the ergoActive upgrade adds an electric massaging function. Indulgent, but a boon on particularly long journeys.
VW was originally projecting fuel economy up to 15% better than before for this generation of Crafter. Now that it's arrived in the UK, however, those savings have been reduced to just 3%.
Still, any saving is a good saving, right?
Especially since Volkswagen is also claiming that actual real-world mpg – rather than that generated by the artificial official test – should be significantly improved.
The new 2.0-litre engines help here, and so do the Crafter's aerodynamics, which VW says are the best in the large van sector.
Which Crafter is most fuel efficient?
The most efficient Crafters on paper are the 102hp and 140hp mid-size versions, which claim 38.2mpg at best.
Disappointingly, this still places it at the bottom of the table when comparing large van mpg.
Out on the road, we'd expect the more powerful engines to be better on fuel, as they'll be under less strain at normal speeds.
Reduced running costs?
As with all large vans (except the Fiat Ducato), the Crafter needs AdBlue to meet the latest Euro 6 emissions regulations, adding to running costs. Expect to get around 5,000 miles per tank of AdBlue, depending on how and where you drive.
On the plus side, VW has extended service intervals from 25,000 miles to 30,000 miles - meaning the latest Crafter requires one less visit to the dealer over 100,000 miles of operation.
Impressive, but not as impressive as the Ford Transit 36,000-mile service intervals (where fitted with the 2.0-litre EcoBlue Euro 6 engines).
Other potentially useful cost reducers include the Crafter’s all-round rubbing panels (the plastic cladding visible on the lower portions of all of the exterior panels).
VW Crafter Side-Protection System
You can have additional sensors similar to parking sensors added to the exterior as an optional extra to warn against bashing the sides of the van against low-lying obstructions.
This Side-Protection System works well, and could save you considerable panel repair costs.
VW Crafter trim levels and standard equipment
The Crafter comes in three trim levels: Startline, Trendline and Highline.
Each successive trim level builds on the equipment of the one before, unless otherwise stated. For details of the extensive level of safety equipment, see the Safety and Security section.
VW Crafter Startline key standard equipment:
- 'Composition Audio' radio
- Bluetooth and USB connection
- Dual front passenger seat with storage box and folding tray
- Reach and rake steering wheel adjustment
- Remote central locking
- Full-height steel bulkhead
- Sliding side door passenger side
- 180-degree rear door opening
VW Crafter Trendline key standard equipment:
- 'Composition Media' 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- DAB radio and App Connect
- 'Comfort' driver's seat with two-way lumbar adjustment and armrest
- Cruise control with speed limiter
- Multi-function steering wheel
- Load area grab handles
- Wooden load floor
- 270-degree rear door opening
VW Crafter Highline key standard equipment:
A brand new van with brand new engines makes this a hard element to judge at this stage, but Volkswagen certainly doesn’t have a reputation for making unreliable products. In fact, most of its commercial vehicles command something of a cult following.
We see no reason that this Crafter will be any different, and will of course update this section should any issues come to light.
VW Crafter long-term test
We ran a long-term test on one of the first examples in the country, and the only issue we had was an occasionally inconsistent AdBlue warning light.
To find out more about life with the VW Crafter read our long-term test review in full.
VW Crafter warranty
At launch in 2017, the Crafter was offered with a three-year / 60,000-mile warranty.
However, in May 2018, the mileage cap was dropped, meaning that from this point on the Crafter has a three-year / unlimited mileage warranty.
It is probably no coincidence that this matches the warranty cover offered by the Mercedes Sprinter.
VW also introduced a free MOT insurance scheme for all its vans and pickups in May 2018. Whether this will still be available in 2020 when the first of this generation of Crafter will require the annual test remains to be seen.
The VW Crafter sets new safety standards in the large van class, with a number of innovations - including several that are only made possible by the new electro-mechincal steering system.
These systems include:
- Cross Wind Assist - automatically applies tiny steering corrections to counteract cross winds, which can be particularly problematic for large, high-sided vans; this is fitted as standard on all Crafters
- Driver Alert - monitors the driver for signs of tiredness (mostly through the steering wheel movement) and displays a warning if it thinks you need to take a break; standard on all Crafters
- Lane Keeping Assist – optional extra that adjusts the steering angle to keep you in lane; in practice this means it can steer the Crafter on its own for short periods, including around corners; can do slightly funny things to the steering feel at other times, but is also easily switched off*
- Park Assist – controls the steering to magically park the van in both perpendicular and parallel spaces, all the driver has to do is select the correct gear and ride the clutch; this is the latest version that will even brake the van if it detects you’re going fast enough to hit something*
- Trailer Assist – especially designed to help when reversing with a trailer, this allows you to reverse the van while steering it with the electric mirror adjustment knob rather than the wheel. Absolutely no kidding. It means you can stick your head out of the window to check the trailer’s position and still be in total control of the van. It’s very impressive*
Other active safety systems on the Crafter include:
- Front Assist with City Emergency Braking – this autonomous emergency braking system (AEB) works up to 18mph to automatically brakes the van if it detects you’re about to crash into the vehicle in front; standard on Trendline and Highline models from launch in May 2017 and then standard across the range from June 2017*
- Adaptive Cruise Control - automatically maintains a safe distance to the vehicle in front when travelling at a set speed; this is particularly amusing in combination with Lane Keeping Assist (allowing the van to essentially drive itself for very short periods). It will also bring the van to a complete halt and start it up again, useful for traffic jams but it isn't infallible; standard on Trendline and Highline models
- Automatic Post-Collision Braking – locks the brakes after a crash to stop further movement*
- ESP trailer stabilisation – uses the electronic stability control system to maintain safe control of a trailer while driving
- Rear Traffic Alert – helps you back out of parking spaces by using radar to watch for vehicles crossing behind you; will beep first, then if necessary slam on the brakes
Everything marked with an * is unique to the Crafter in the large van segment at the time of launch.
In addition to all this, the Crafter is also available with up to six airbags and blindspot monitors.
Plus, for the first time you can lock and unlock the cab independently of the load area for increased security, while as already mentioned, numerous load lashing options are offered.
Which Volkswagen Crafter is best for me?
By Gareth Evans, December 2018
You’ve got the option of front-, rear- and all-wheel drive transmissions for the VW Crafter, so clearly not all were created equal. Here we’re sampling one with the back wheels powered – is this Trendline model the pick of the range, or should you be looking elsewhere for the right Crafter for you?
Why buy a RWD VW Crafter?
The primary reason buyers go for a rear-driven Crafter – or any van of this size where you’ve got a choice – is that they’re better for loaded traction and towing. This is because the weight of your payload will be situated over the rear axle, which pushes the back wheels into the road and helps prevent them spinning.
However, this layout isn’t without its drawbacks. For a start the vehicle is around 100kg heavier and thus less efficient than a front-driven van, and the longer propshaft means you get more transmission loss – where engine output is sapped, harming fuel economy and emissions.
It also makes the van worse to drive, because all that propshaft mass is spinning under almost the entire length of the van, so there’s more vibration introduced as a result as well as being noisier and more expensive to run.
The engine is still mounted in the same place as the other Crafter derivatives, albeit rotated 90 degrees for the rear-drive layout, but it’s still our favourite in the range – the BiTDI twin-turbo with 177hp is quicker, unsurprisingly, than the 140hp van we’re driving here, but less refined and more costly to run. We’d stick with this one. Its 350Nm of torque means it’ll tow three tonnes so it’s more than adequate for most business uses.
What spec is this Crafter?
It also uses the excellent six-speed manual gearbox we’ve come to love following our six-month long-term test in the Crafter, though if you need or want an automatic then you’re able to add VW’s eight-speed gearbox for an additional £2,070.
And while we’re on the subject of spec, the van we’re testing is in top-spec Trendline trim. That nets you the following:
- Composition Media system with 8.0-inch touchscreen and DAB radio
- Comfort driver’s seat
- Steering wheel with controls for media system
- Cruise control with speed limiter
- Wooden load floor cover
- 270-degree opening rear doors
- Heated and electrically adjustable door mirrors
However, there’s a raft of options on this Crafter too, such as the Discover Media system that replaces the Composition one. This upgrade costs £876 and secures one-shot voice destination entry, a better screen with higher-resolution graphics, route prediction for the sat-nav and Car-Net Guide and Inform, which is an app-based system for streaming information like local weather and fuel pricing. Whether you think this is good value is up to you, but we’d advise trying out both systems to see if you can live with the cheaper one.
Another reason you may want to choose this system is as a fleet or business manager, though – because for a further £1,170 you can integrate full telematics to track and monitor the efficiency of the vehicle and suggest improvements where necessary. You could save quite a bit of cash this way.
We would go for the heated windscreen for £270 - you’ll only need to use it once to realise it’s a seriously useful feature on a cold morning.
We’ve also got a leather steering wheel, which is a £324 upgrade we’d go without if we were trying to save some cash. The £618 wooden load bay lining will be down to your requirements, but the rear-view camera seems good value for £270. This displays its readout on the multimedia screen, but it’s worth noting this Crafter also has the Business Pack (£1,518) and that nets you front and rear acoustic parking sensors, alongside an alarm, tow-away protection, climate control, two remote folding keys and an overhead storage compartment.
Tell me about the dimensions of the LWB Crafter…
On the subject of storage, this van is a long-wheelbase Crafter in CR35 specification. That means it has the following dimensions:
- Length/width/height: 6,836mm/2,427mm/2,590mm
- Gross vehicle weight: 3,500kg
- Axle load limit (front/rear): 1,800kg/2,100kg
- Braked towing weight: 3,000kg
- Unladen weight: 2,349kg
- Max payload: 1,267kg
The Parkers Verdict
The rear-wheel drive Crafter won’t appeal to everybody, but for a pretty specific group of buyers it’ll match their requirements perfectly. If you’re buying simply because you’re used to a rear-wheel drive van, then we’d strongly suggest you try the front-wheel drive Crafter before taking the plunge because in almost every respect, it’s a better vehicle.