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Volkswagen T5 Multivan 4Motion and Transporter 4Motion High-Roof

words - Ken Gratton
Volkswagen’s upgraded van is here with all-wheel drive and DSG to challenge the once-default choice...
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Volkswagen T5 Multivan 4Motion and Transporter 4Motion High-Roof

International Launch
Black Forest & Lake Konstanz, Southern Germany

What we liked
>> Lives up to the 'drives like a car' cliche
>> Better tourer than some passenger cars around the same price
>> Multivan's exceptional flexibility and modular seating

Not so much
>> Handbrake location works against walk-through from front seat
>> Rearrangement of seats in Multivan needs muscle
>> 4Motion limited offroad without optional lift kit

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 3.5/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 2.5/5.0
Safety: 3.5/5.0
Behind the wheel: 2.5/5.0
X-factor: 3.5/5.0

About our ratings

-- Grasping the nettle with twin-clutch transmission
Different importers have offered the local market all-wheel-drive vans for decades, but few of those vehicles have come with an automatic transmission of any kind.

Volkswagen believes that it's this lack of a self-shifting transmission that has hindered sales of offroad-capable vans from day one. The importer aims to fill this market vacuum with its 4Motion Transporter van and seven-seat Multivan -- both available now with the company's seven-speed DSG twin-clutch box.

Primarily, the 4Motion/DSG variants of Volkswagen's T5 commercial vehicle range (the Transporter van and Multivan peoplemover) will sell to Volkswagen's largest commercial vehicle customer, the NSW Ambulance Service, but there are other customers who will also welcome the new offerings. Tourism operators are likely to opt for the go-anywhere (within reason) Multivan auto and fleet buyers on delivery runs in remote areas will be treading the path to the nearest VW dealer to take the Transporter 4Motion with DSG for a drive. And as the basis for a go-anyway mini-motorhome, they’ll take some beating.

-- Seems steep, but look at what's on offer
Volkswagen Commercial delights in offering a broad range of vehicles to suit practically any vehicle operator's needs. The introduction of the 4Motion models with DSG, sees that range expand once again.

The importer says that the 4Motion with the six-speed manual transmission is priced $3500 above the cost of an equivalent front-wheel drive variant, but the DSG option will add a further $3000 to the final figure.

The low-roof, short-wheelbase Transporter 4Motion with manual box is the entry-level model, priced at $45,490. With DSG the price rises to $48,490 and a mid-roof option costs a further $1190.

In long-wheelbase form, the manual Transporter 4Motion van sits at $47,490 and the DSG variant trumps that, at $50,490. Volkswagen offers the mid-roof option on this platform also and for the same price, but there's also a high-roof option for the LWB Transporter, set at $2390.

The one dual cab (cab/chassis) Transporter 4Motion variant is priced at $48,490 and is only available with the manual box.

For the peoplemover, Volkswagen offers two levels of trim: Comfortline ($60,990) and Highline ($77,990). Both vehicles are fitted as standard with the DSG box.

Standard equipment for the Transporter comprises: Dual front airbags, daytime running lights, remote central locking, rear fog light, electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, electric windows, MP3-compatible CD audio system and climate control.

The Multivans are similarly equipped, with the Comfortline model also offering an alarm, 17-inch alloy wheels, 235/55 R17 tyres, three-zone climate control, four cupholders, three bottleholders, front fog lights, eight-speaker audio, electrochromatic mirror, front/rear parking sensors and cruise control.

Additional equipment fitted to the Highline variant includes: auto-on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, centre armrest for third-row seat, folding table, eight cupholders, multifunction steering wheel, satellite navigation, upgraded audio system with 30-gig HDD, leather trim, front-seat heating and powered sliding doors.

-- Fuel efficiency meets clever drive technology
Based on the same engine architecture as the 103kW diesel that powers other variants in the range, the all-alloy 132kW common-rail engine features twin-turbo induction and, with 400Nm of torque, provides stronger, linear performance in a straight line, yet complies with the Euro 5 emissions standard. In combined-cycle testing, the 4Motion variants use 8.4L/100km and emit 221g/km of CO2.

All variants of the Transporter van come with six-speed manual transmission as standard and the option of a seven-speed DSG transmission.

The DSG is fitted as standard in both grades of the Multivan. Drive is taken from the transversely-mounted engine via the respective transmission to the front and rear wheels, courtesy of a Haldex drive system comprising a multi-disc clutch set to transfer torque to the rear wheels as required.

Electronically controlled, the Haldex system ensures that oil pressure to actuate the clutches is provided by an electric pump and regulation of the oil pressure is no longer reliant on the speed differential between front and rear axles. According to Volkswagen, this pump-priming makes the system proactive rather than reactive. The manufacturer claims that at the earliest sign of front-tyre slip, the system can direct torque to the rear wheels before the loss of grip can manifest itself as understeer.

Forty different inputs are monitored by the all-wheel drive system’s ECU; among them steering angle, yaw rates, accelerator pedal setting and engine speed. An Electronic Differential Lock maintains traction laterally and the company offers the option of a mechanically-lockable differential for the rear axle of 4Motion models.

Over the weight of front-wheel drive variants, the 4Motion models add 120kg of weight to the kerb mass, along with a further 15kg for the DSG automatic transmission, totalling 135kg in all.

The T5 models with the 4Motion drivetrain and DSG remain underpinned by MacPherson struts at the front, semi-trailing arm IRS behind, power-assisted rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes.

-- Much ado about lots
Based on the long-wheelbase platform, the Multivan driven provided seating for seven in a 2-2-3 layout. While it's a climb into the cabin, both in the front and, for the second and third row seats, Volkswagen has thoughtfully placed a useful step to ease entry and exit.
Aussie-delivered Multivans have twin sliding doors, unlike the vehicle tested in Germany. ADRs don't allow a single sliding door on the right side of the vehicle. This, according to Phil Clark, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Director, prevents the importer from bringing in an American market motorhome conversion of the Transporter. No doubt locals like Trakka will fill the gap...

In addition to being bereft of a sliding door on the left, the Multivan driven, was also lacking cupholders, but a short-wheelbase front-wheel drive Multivan providing support came with these important accoutrements as well as a retracting table. We expect the Australian-spec vehicles will be better equipped than the vehicle we drove (see PRICE AND EQUIPMENT above).

Australian-delivered vehicles will need to feature cupholders, because they're practically an essential in this market segment, as we found in the Kia Grand Carnival driven recently on home turf.

In most other ways, the Volkswagen appears better packaged overall than the Kia. Headroom and legroom in all three rows of the Multivan are beyond reproach and there's still reasonable luggage volume, although the Multivan floor is flat and a little higher than the Kia's, due to the additional space required for the rear drivetrain components. The second-row seats are captains chairs, each equipped with folding armrests either side.

There are also pull-out drawers under the two second-row seats for storage. These are accessible from the third-row.

The third-row seats are fairly flat and firm in the cushion, but comfortable enough despite that, for adults and kids. The second-row seats provide slightly better side bolstering and softer cushioning, but are short in the squab and this is clear as soon as the driver hits the brakes hard. The occupant will slip forward a little, it's an effect known as submarining and smaller occupants can slip under the seatbelts holding them in place.

HVAC outlets and dome lights are located in the headlining for the second and third-row seats, with controls for both rows located over the second row. All seats in the rear have inertia-reel lap/sash (three-point) seatbelts, mounted to the seats rather than the bodywork. Only in the case of the front seats are the seatbelts tethered to roof pillars. The second and third-row seats can be removed altogether -- with the seatbelts attached -- to free up more cargo space.

Second row seats can swivel to face the rear, by pulling a lever under the front of each seat to the right and manhandling the seat base around. It's relatively easy to do, but requires a bit of muscle.

By removing small bridging sections in the sliding rails mounted in the floor, both rows of rear seats could be dragged forward to the open slot in the rails and lifted out of the vehicle altogether. They can, of course, be refitted in different configurations, with the two second row buckets left out altogether, for a five-seat/large luggage-capacity set-up, to use one example.

This flexibility matches the likes of the Mercedes Vito but is something that Hyundai’s iMax desperately needs to compete effectively in this segment.

The Transporter comes with a full-size spare under the rear floor (between rear axle and rear bumper), as do all models in Australia, other than those boasting a 3.2-tonne GVM. (Those are basically the vehicles built to order for the ambulance service. The 3.2-tonne GVM specification is not available to the general public. Those vehicles fitted with 17-inch wheels come with tyre-fix instead of a spare.)

Unlike the short wheelbase Vito, even the shortest of Transporter models have the spare under the floor, ensuring that load space is uncompromised.

According to Volkswagen, the width between wheel arches allows accommodation of full-size pallets. With the high-roof of the Transporter tested -- and its barn doors -- adults can walk around inside, provided they duck the head while stepping in from the rear or at the side.

There's a light steel partition between the front seats and the cargo compartment, cutting down on NVH from the rear. Higher-roof models come with a plywood tray with a lip above the seats, enabling the stowage of smaller items.

-- No credit from NCAP for active safety
Despite the fact that the T5 models are four-star NCAP-rated and the Mercedes-Benz Vito has secured a score of five stars in local (ANCAP) testing, the Volkswagen models pick up brownie points for the active safety of their 4Motion drivetrain (which is obviously not available across the range).

All the vans come with dual front airbags, three-point seatbelts with pre-tensioners and stability control.

For the Multivans, the safety kit is expanded to include head and thorax airbag protection for the front-seat occupants, curtain airbags for second/third-row seats, front-seatbelt force-limiters and three-point inertia-reel seatbelts for all passengers.

-- World's first Sport Utility Van?
For the Transporter van, the logical rival is the Mercedes-Benz Vito, but if the budget doesn't quite extend to the Vito, there's competition in the form of the Hyundai iLoad, Renault Trafic, Toyota HiAce and smaller-payload variants of the Ford Transit. Bear in mind though that not one of these vehicles -- including the Vito -- can offer buyers the security of all-wheel drive.

It's a similar situation with the Multivan peoplemover. In the same price bracket as the Volkswagen (above the Luxury Car Tax threshold), there are only two other possibilities, the Chrysler Voyager and the Benz Viano. Benz also markets the Vito wagon at a price below $55,000 and other cheaper alternatives include the Hyundai iMax and the Kia Grand Carnival. Once again, none of these can match the all-wheel drive capabilities of the Volkswagen.

But if you're thinking that nothing stacks up against the T5 4Motion models, don't forget SUVs. Something like the Land Rover Discovery 4, for example, can provide seven-seat accommodation (without the same flexibility or spaciousness as the Multivan, admittedly) for about the same price as the Multivan Highline -- and the Disco will go a long way further offroad.

-- Far too good for just carting parcels
The Multivan tested in Germany came with the 132kW engine, seven-speed DSG and 4Motion all-wheel drive -- the first time this combination has been offered in Australia. While the engine has a distinctly diesel note to it, it purrs more so than rattles and it's particularly subdued at higher road speeds. In fact, airflow generated more noise on the German autobahns. A low rumble was the only tell-tale from the engine at cruising speed.

Like the Multivan, the Transporter's engine note was plainly that of a diesel, but the level of noise was quite low for a commercial vehicle. The nett effect of the engineered refinement of the VW models was to deliver a higher degree of sophistication than even some peoplemovers that didn't begin life as commercial vehicles.

Opportunities on the autobahn to check out response were few and far between, but there was little apparent turbo lag during occasional around-town driving and the launch from a standing start was better than one might expect from a turbodiesel one-tonne van with all-wheel drive. In the German countryside and along the autobahns it was clear, however, that the 132kW twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel also offered abundant performance in gear and through intermediate and high speeds.

In fact, the Multivan was capable of reaching speeds well above what's strictly legal in any state of Australia -- and remained composed, stable and refined while doing so. Its high-speed touring ability is lost in the Australian market.

Ride comfort seemed generally very good, again based on mostly smooth German freeways, but over the rare patch of broken or rough bitumen the Multivan soaked up the bumps well through its supple, well-controlled suspension.

The Transporter's ride quality was firmer than the Multivan's, even with 250kg of ballast loaded by Volkswagen staff in the cargo compartment. Without the equivalent weight of three people in the rear of the van, it's very likely the ride would have been firmer still.

The ride quality in the Multivan doesn't come at the expense of stability at open-road speeds, as already mentioned. Turn-in was steady and appropriate for a peoplemover with some high-speed dynamic ability. The steering was weighted about right for touring at 100km/h but felt a bit light at speeds just slightly above that, before the vehicle reached the sort of escape velocity speeds where the steering's assistance was reduced to practically zero -- not that any of that matters much in Australia.

Both the Transporter and the Multivan provided some level of steering feedback, but don't go looking for the tactile properties of the Mercedes-Benz Vito, for example.

From the driver's seat, both the Multivan and the Transporter provided a clear view of the instruments and easy reach for controls -- with the exception of the floor-mounted handbrake, which was a bit of a stretch.

If you're already familiar with VW ergonomics, however, the Multivan is generally easy to just jump in and drive. As an example, when we entered the 2km-long Michaels Tunnel at Baden-Baden, the headlight switch was located within under five seconds.

Similar comments apply to the switchgear for the electric mirrors and the trip computer toggle on the end of the wiper stalk. One problem with the trip computer is that you can't toggle through the various data outputs while the satnav is in operation.

On a short fire access trail, the Transporter struggled with wash-aways around 30-40cm deep. Traction was briefly compromised on one occasion, but the Haldex system waved its wand and the Transporter dragged itself out of a deep and slightly slippery wheel rut. First gear was too high for more serious offroad work, especially without dual-range transfer. Still, how many vans of this size and mass provide any sort of all-wheel drive grip?

As a general rule, the Transporter (and the Multivan by association), is not up to heavier offroad work. If it's a section of track you wouldn't take a compact SUV along, don't bother with the Transporter or the Multivan either.

Particularly in the long-wheelbase configurations of the two vehicles on test, acute grades and tighter turns will confound the Volkswagens -- and they don't come with true underbody protection for the rough stuff. Volkswagen does offer a lift kit that improves ground clearance by 20mm and is priced at $790.

But that's ultimately a distraction. It's actually on-road where the T5 4Motion variants really shine. For their extraordinary refinement and high-speed touring ability, coupled with their high levels of active safety, there's just nothing to touch the Volkswagens.

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Published : Tuesday, 28 September 2010

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