From the original 'Splitty' of the fifties, the Transporter has evolved over four generations, into a smart, stylish commercial vehicle which commands respect wherever it goes.
The fifth incarnation is set for launch in late summer this year and I was among a party of journalists taken to Valencia in Spain for a preview of the new model. We were able to drive various versions of the Caravelle – the Transporter's MPV brother – but on-the-road impressions of the CV model will have to wait for now.
However, such was the silky smooth performance of the Caravelle that I was left in no doubt that this van will be a winner both in terms of driving and build quality. Fit and finish are superb and the van seems to have been built to last a lifetime.
Big news of the day is the fact that eventually, Transporter will be offered in short and long wheelbase formats and with three roof heights – standard, medium and high. This will give the van a gross vehicle weight of anything between 2.6 and 3.4 tonnes.
The short wheelbase measures 4.89 metres in length, 1.91 metres in breadth and 1.96 metres in height and this extends in length by 40 cm with the long wheelbase. Bigger roofs raise the height to a maximum of 2.46 metres and load volumes range from 5.8 cubic metres to 9.3 cubic metres.
Under the bonnet goes a new set of engines, although which ones will eventually find their way into UK models is a moot point. For example, there will be a blistering V6 3.2-litre petrol engine pumping out 230bhp and 236lb-ft of torque.
More likely is the four cylinder common rail diesel offering 85bhp and 147lb-ft of torque or 105bhp and 184lb-ft of torque.
There is also a five-cylinder unit offering 130bhp and 250lb-ft of torque or 174bhp and 295lb-ft of torque, but don't hold your breath waiting for the higher powered model. If it did hit Britain's shores it would be the most powerful panel van on the market by a long chalk.
On the face of it, the new Transporter doesn't look a whole lot different from the old one. But it must be remembered that despite the fourth generation being in production for 13 years, it still looks sharp and stylish.
So the VW designers have limited themselves to giving the new van a snubbier nose and altering the corners to give it a sharper look.
But underneath, things have changed big time. There is a whole new chassis, redesigned cab and the engines are all new too.
Outside, the Transporter is treated to a massive plastic bumper at the front which should protect it from knocks and dings. But there are no side rubbing strips as found on Renault Trafic/Vauxhall Vivaro, which seems a bit of an oversight bearing in mind how simple and cheap such an item must be to fit. But there are no question marks about the general build quality. It is as solid, well-fitting and upmarket as you'd expect from the German manufacturer.
Climbing aboard, the seating position is car-like in the extreme. It will suit those unused to driving vans but I quite like the old sit-up-and-beg style of the bigger panel vans. Out goes the slab of a dash from the old model, replaced by something still massive but a little more stylish. A centre vertical console houses all the knobs and switches and there are loads of cubbyholes, including two-litre cola bottle bins in each door.
A pull-out tray on the dash reveals not only an ashtray and cigarette lighter but two coffee cup holders in a neat arrangement, too. There is also a net positioned under the passenger side dash.
The driver's seat adjusts for height and the steering wheel adjusts for rake and height, so all drivers should find their ideal positions. There was no shortage of space for my six foot-plus frame. However, the Transporter still has a relatively low windscreen, which gives the cab a gloomy appearance. It is particularly noticeable as the van's main rivals – Vauxhall Vivaro, Renault Trafic and Nissan Primastar – have huge windcsreens and wonderfully airy cabs.
Driving impressions were limited to two versions of the Caravelle but if the Transporter is half as good, it will match anything on offer from the rivals.
First on the blocks was the 174bhp five-cylinder diesel, complete with leather upholstery and that oh-so-impressive electric sliding side door. My co-driver and I slipped into those comfortable captain's chairs, pressed the electric side door button and suddenly the hustle and bustle of the city could be heard no more. It was eerily quiet in fact. Firing up the 2.5-litre engine didn't make a jot of difference either – there was no diesel death rattle, no vibration and no noise. We wondered at first if the engine had actually fired up until we engaged gear and glided off.
A nice light clutch, just enough feel through the wheel and the slick dash-mounted gearbox made the Caravelle feel a world ahead of its forerunner – and with 174bhp on tap, we soon left the other testers in the dust as we headed for the orange groves and olive plantations that surround Valencia. The Caravelle may be based on a van but its ride, handling and general demeanour are good enough to challenge the best MPV. The second drive was in the 105bhp version and though lacking the sheer grunt of its big brother was by no means a slouch.