Fleet News

Road test: Volkswagen Transporter T5

VOLKSWAGEN'S new Transporter van, codenamed T5, may not win any prizes in a beauty contest but it should win more than a few new fleet friends.

On sale next month and eventually offering a choice of two wheelbases, three roof heights and new engine variants, the T5 now plugs the gap between the old Transporter light panel van and the heavier LT.

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And with an improved dealer network boasting a nationwide chain of specialist van centres, the German manufacturer has new fleet business very much in its sights.

At the UK launch of the T5, Volkswagen's director of commercial vehicles, Peter Wyhinny, said: 'We want to be known as the number one manufacturer for customer loyalty rather than number one in the sales charts. We now have a team of regional fleet sales managers and they will be chasing medium fleet business. We do well with large and small fleets but we feel it is a matter of brand awareness with medium-sized companies.

'Volkswagen is well-known for its cars but not so well known for vans. Once we get on the list for consideration we have a good chance of success as fleets are likely to buy Volkswagen vans once they see them and realise how good they are. All the ingredients are in place.'

There are 85 specialist van dealers across the UK offering a variety of services such as extended opening hours, collection and delivery, loan vehicles, breakdown support and vehicle washing. Wyhinny believes Volkswagen now sets the benchmark for dealers that other van manufacturers are still striving to achieve.

He said: 'We are not just playing at flogging a few vans. It is a wholelife experience for our customers and our van centres are helping to achieve that. No two customers are alike. One will want a loan car, another a loan van and some will want pick-up and delivery. We have to offer a full menu for our customers to choose from.'

The new T5 will certainly extend Volkswagen's presence in the light panel van sector, which has seen some red hot offerings go on sale recently. The Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro/Nissan Primastar (the same van with different badges) has been an enormous success with its chic looks since it first appeared in 2001 and Mercedes-Benz is about to launch a stylish new Vito.

The T5 relies not on 'hairdresser' looks but on the old Germanic qualities of solid engineering and reliability. It also has a unique selling point – the most powerful variant boasts a 2.5-litre five-cylinder common rail diesel engine boasting a massive 173bhp, making it the most powerful van on the UK's roads today.

Volkswagen head of marketing David Williams said: 'Putting it in perspective, the original Golf GTi had a top speed of 112mph. This van has a top speed of 117mph.'

Some industry experts have warned that the ever-increasing power of commercial vehicles could lead to the introduction of swingeing legislation such as tachographs and speed limiters to curb the scourge of 'white van man'.

Williams added: 'This is the way of the world. Boys want bigger and bigger toys and we have the technology to deliver them. I believe mandatory speed limiters will come on vans anyway in the next few years and in all honesty there is very little argument against them.'

Fleets are highly unlikely to choose this particular model, however. Of more interest to them will be the 1.9-litre four-cylinder common rail units offering either 84bhp and 147lb-ft of torque or 103bhp and 184lb-ft of torque.

There is also a 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit with 129bhp and 251lb-ft of torque on offer, but no petrol engines, which effectively puts paid to any hopes of alternative fuel versions.

Prices range from £12,820 to £16,220 ex-VAT.

Included in the list of standard fittings are driver's airbag, ABS brakes and remote central locking and the T5 features variable servicing intervals. Depending on driving style, a smart chip decides when a service is due, anywhere between 9,000 and 18,000 miles or two years.

Options include metallic paint (£390), six CD changer (£225) and alloy wheels (ranging from £290 to £800).

Williams said: 'We have cut the price of some of our most popular options. There is evidence that more customers want things like air conditioning and alloy wheels so we have priced them accordingly.'

When the range is completed, it will include single and double cabs, three roof heights and two wheelbases, offering load volumes of between 5.8 and 9.3 cubic metres, payloads between 1,000kg and 1,200kg and gross vehicle weights of between 2.8 tonnes and 3.2 tonnes.

To avoid distress marketing of the old T4 model, thus affecting residual values, special versions will be available into the new year. Warranty on the T5 is three years/100,000 miles.

Behind the wheel

Three versions were available for driving at the UK launch in Sussex – 84bhp, 103bhp and 173bhp short wheelbase panel vans. And there are no prizes for guessing which model the gaggle of assembled LCV journalists all wanted to drive.

As no self-respecting van fleet operator would consider letting his drivers loose in a beast like the 173bhp variant, yours truly opted for the more sensible 84bhp model – and what a surprise it turned out to be.

Even with 500kg of sand in the back, this model never seemed underpowered and would pull happily up the hills in fifth gear without complaint. Next on the blocks was the 103bhp version and, although it felt a much meatier drive, I would have to question whether from a fleet point of view it would be worth paying an extra £700 more for it. The lowest power T5 would definitely be my fleet choice.

On the design front I'd have to say the T5 looks ugly and lumpy after the dashing style of the Trafic/Vivaro/Primastar and the splendid grace of the new Mercedes-Benz Vito, but most fleets buy on capability, not looks, and here the T5 has it in spades.

You could almost be forgiven for thinking this van is hewn out of solid rock – it is well built and looks as though it will last forever.

Top marks to Volkswagen for making remote central locking a standard fit – busy delivery drivers always run the risk of accidentally leaving a door open and losing a load to thieves. A big pat on the back too for the standard ABS brakes, although fleet operators should take the time to make sure their drivers actually know how to use them. It's amazing how many people don't.

Climbing aboard, VW has redesigned the cab with a chunky yet clean-cut dashboard which sees the gearstick moving from the floor to the dash. Those hard flat Germanic seats are wonderfully supportive on long journeys and the T5 features standard lumbar support and adjustment for reach and height. Together with a fully-adjustable steering wheel, it should be possible for all drivers to find a comfortable position.

No points I fear, for the measly old radio/cassette player (no-one listens to cassettes any more, do they?) and while both doors feature cola bottle bins, they will only hold the 1.5-litre versions. White van man will have to be weaned off his precious 2.0-litre drink bottle!

In the back, there is a hardboard head lining but side panels come as a paid-for option.

At £125 it's well worth it as they look smart and will help protect the inside of the van from knocks and scrapes. A rubber load floor comes at £120. There are also six load-lashing eyes in the short wheelbase version and eight in the LWB but they are not countersunk into the floor – a canny fresh idea in the new Mercedes Vito.

The driving experience is very much what you'd expect from Volkswagen – the powerplants are quiet and smooth, the clutch is light, the steering is ideally weighted and the van's road manners are impeccable. All in all it is a worthy successor to an already successful van.

Driving verdict With the cheapest Renault Trafic costing £11,995 ex-VAT, the T5 isn't exactly bargain-basement at £12,820, but then again there is nothing cheap about its build quality either. Volkswagen's legendary reputation for reliability plus that excellent new specialist dealer network should ensure success for the T5.

VW T5 Transporter fact file
Model: 1.9 TDI SWB 1.9 TDI SWB 2.5 TDI SWB 2.5 TDI SWB
Max power (bhp/rpm): 84/3,500 103/3,500 129/3,500 173/3,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 147/2,000 184/2,000 250/2,000 295/2,000
Load length (mm): 4,890 4,890 4,890 4,890
Load width (mm): 1,904 1,904 1,904 1,904
Load height (mm): 1,969 1,969 1,969 1,969
Comb fuel economy (mpg): 36.7 36.7 34.4 35.3
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,800/3,000 2,800/3,000 2,800/3,000 2,8000/3,000
Prices (ex-VAT): £12,820/13,170 £13,520/13,870 £14,470/14,820 £15,870/16,220

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