Last year marked the iconic Volkswagen Transporter’s 70th birthday, and 2021 sees the arrival of a heavily refreshed range dubbed ‘T6.1’. You get the sense these things will keep evolving for as long as there is life on earth as we know it.
There are more than 30 different variants and configurations in what is a truly head-spinning range of body types and dimensions. The 2021 updates bring new engines, and more contemporary technology and safety systems.
Firstly there’s the humble Transporter cargo van in short- (SWB) and long-wheelbase (LWB) specifications, Transporter cab chassis in single- or dual-cab bodies, or the Transporter Crewvan (part van, part people-carrier).
Finally, for surfers or campers or those that simply like to save a packet on holiday accommodation and sleep under the stars, there’s the range-topping California Beach SWB.
Somehow, I’ve largely been removed from this devotee world of Volkswagen vans over the last few decades, save for the fond memories of my cousin’s ’68 Lowlight Kombi parked at Manly Beach on any given weekend, chock full of surfboards in all shapes and sizes.
There’s a vast assortment of variants totalling 36 across the new Volkswagen T6.1 range, made all the more confusing with six different body styles in either short- or long-wheelbase, two- or all-wheel drive, and in some cases, three diesel engines with either manual or automatic transmissions and three trim levels to choose from.
Transporter SWB Van
- Transporter Van SWB TDI250 5MT: $38,990
- Transporter Van SWB TDI340 6MT: $41,990
- Transporter Van SWB TDI340 7DSG: $44,990
- Transporter Van SWB TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $47,990
- Transporter Van SWB TDI450 7DSG: $50,990
- Transporter Van SWB TDI450 7DSG 4Motion: $53,990
Transporter LWB Van
- Transporter Van LWB TDI340 6MT: $44,990
- Transporter Van LWB TDI340 7DSG: $47,990
- Transporter Van LWB TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $50,990
- Transporter Van LWB TDI450 7DSG: $53,990
- Transporter Van LWB TDI450 7DSG 4Motion: $56,990
Transporter Crewvan (seating for five, with load space behind)
- Transporter Crewvan SWB TDI340 7DSG: $51,490
- Transporter Crewvan SWB TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $54,490
- Transporter Crewvan LWB TDI340 7DSG: $54,490
- Transporter Crewvan LWB TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $57,490
Transporter Chassis with factory tray
- Transporter Single Cab with tray LWB TDI450 7DSG: $55,490
- Transporter Single Cab with tray LWB TDI450 7DSG 4Motion: $58,490
- Transporter Dual Cab with tray LWB TDI450 7DSG: $57,490
- Transporter Dual Cab with tray LWB TDI450 7-speed DSG 4Motion: $60,490
- Caravelle TDI430 LWB 7DSG: $58,990
- Multivan Comfortline Premium TDI340 7DSG: $61,990
- Multivan Comfortline Premium TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $64,990
- Multivan Comfortline Premium TDI340 7DSG: $64,990
- Multivan Comfortline Premium TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $67,990
- Multivan Highline TDI450 7DSG: $84,990
- Multivan Highline TDI450 7DSG 4Motion: $87,990
- Multivan Comfortline Exec LWB TDI450 7DSG: $87,900
- Multivan Cruise Edition TDI340 7DSG: $73,990
California Beach (camper van with pop-top roof)
- California Beach TDI340 7DSG: $82,990
- California Beach TDI340 7DSG 4Motion: $86,990
- California Beach TDI450 7DSG 4Motion: $92,990
While we would argue the new Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 offers one of the widest ranges of body styles and variations in the segment, there’s plenty of alternative choices too, with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz Vito/Valente/V-Class, Ford Transit Custom, Renault Trafic, Peugeot Expert, Toyota HiAce/Granvia and even fledging Chinese brand LDV offering a reasonably broad range of competing commercial and passenger vans.
It largely depends on which model you choose as to what level of standard equipment is offered, but let’s start with the various dimensions.
Short-wheelbase models measure 4904mm long, 1904mm wide and 1978mm tall, with a 3000mm wheelbase.
Inside, the short-wheelbase versions provide a maximum load length of 2572mm, maximum load height of 1410mm and maximum load width of 1700mm, but with 1244mm between the wheel arches.
Long-wheelbase variants are 5304mm long, the same 1904mm wide, and 1990mm tall with a 3400mm wheelbase.
Within the long-wheelbase model, there’s a maximum load length of 2975mm, max load width of 1700mm and a distance of 1244mm between the arches.
While payloads vary depending on the multitude of variations on offer, the sample of the models we drove at the launch included the Transporter SWB Van TDI250 FWD manual, which carries a maximum payload of 951kg with a braked towing capacity and towbar downball weight of 2500kg and 100kg respectively.
The Transporter SWB Crewvan TDI340 FWD DSG is rated for a maximum payload of 1076kg, while our Transporter Dual Cab Chassis LWB TDI450 4Motion tester carries a maximum payload of 942kg.
Moving into the Multivan Comfortline Premium SWB TDI340 FWD DSG people mover, which gets a maximum load capacity of 814kg, as distinct from the range-topping Volkswagen California Beach that offers a payload from 608kg through to 649kg depending on the choice of drivetrain.
Despite the various body styles and vast array of body modifications, roof heights, interior features, mechanical upgrades, load-space extras, seat conversions and technology options, even the entry-level Volkswagen Transporter van gets a reasonable inventory of standard kit.
Common to the new Transporter 6.1 range are automatic ‘H7′ halogen headlights with daytime-running lights, rain-sensing wipers, 16-inch steel wheels with full-size spare, a height-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with height and reach adjustment, LED lighting throughout the vehicle (including load area), rubber flooring in the driver’s compartment, ‘Double Grid’ cloth upholstery in titanium black, power windows and electric folding/heated side mirrors.
Additionally, there’s a 6.5-inch ‘Composition Colour’ audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB-C ports up front, cruise control with speed limiter, manual air conditioning and six lashing eyes (eight for the long wheelbase).
Driver assistance technology has also been heavily boosted in the new Transporter 6.1 with the new range boasting autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear traffic alert, driver fatigue detection, multi-collision brake, rear parking sensors with a reversing camera (not Cab Chassis due to the tray), hill-start assist, as well as driver and front passenger side/head airbags.
It’s also definitely worth noting the addition of electromechanical steering which has ostensibly allowed for the upgrade of many of the active safety systems new to the range as well as better feel behind the wheel.
There’s an exhaustive list of options available for those that want the ultimate in customisation, regardless of which body style you choose, covering areas such as body, roof interior and load area.
For example, buyers of the base Transporter Van can get metallic or pearl effect paint ($1300), electric sliding doors ($3600), a power latching tailgate ($410), high roof with high rear-wing doors (removes rear camera, blind spot/rear cross-traffic, $1790), front bench seat ($610), an upgraded infotainment unit with navigation ($1600), and the new Digital Cockpit ($900).
And for the load area, there’s rear air-conditioning (with 2nd evaporator and 2nd heating unit – forced with full side trim in cargo area – $1200), a rubber floor in load area including step illumination ($570 SWB, $610 LWB), and interior load edge protection on rear bumper ($280).
Buyers of the Crewvan can choose from an equally large list of options including LED headlights ($1990), adaptive cruise control ($690), a second battery with cut-off relay and battery monitoring ($690), an anti-theft alarm with interior monitoring ($610), upgraded suspension and shock absorption for regular rough road use ($910) and swivel seats ($360).
The Multivan offers optional features such as metallic/pearl effect paint ($1720), an electric tailgate ($890), a multifunction table (Comfortline, $990), heated front seats ($720), ‘Art Velour’ seat trim ($2390) and the Good Night Package (blinds, bed covering, torch, $910), represent just a taste of what’s available.
While the Caravelle mirrors much of the above, the California Beach has a few unique options like the electric pop-up roof ($2990) as well as two-tone paint (a must have if you didn’t get the Limited Edition, $3990).
There’s also three options packages to choose from; Off-road Package ($1600), which includes a mechanical rear differential lock (for 4Motion), as well as hill-decent control.
On the comfort side there’s the Appearance Package ($5760), which bundles Art Velour seat upholstery (not the door cards), front seat heaters, Digital Cockpit, LED headlights with LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights, and high-beam assist. You can also have the Driver Assistance Package ($2290), with adaptive chassis control and park assist.
And, what should be well and truly standard kit on the $92,990 California Beach is the electric door upgrade (electric sliding doors left and right, $2590). All in all, quite a sting.
Neither ANCAP or Euro NCAP have crash tested the current-generation Transporter (remember, the new 6.1 range is only a facelift), though a recent safety assist test of a range of commercial vehicles saw the Transporter score a ‘Silver’ rating.
Safety is a key area which has been updated with the entire range receiving autonomous emergency braking (AEB), crosswind assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, driver fatigue detection, hill-start assist, multi-collision brake, reverse parking sensors with rear-view camera, along with front, side and head-protecting airbags.
The Caravelle and Multivan add front parking sensors, an electronic differential lock, and an electric childproof lock to their safety suite.
Few would argue with the notion there’s always been a ‘cool’ factor to the styling of Volkswagen vans and people movers, and it’s been that way ever since the very first Type 2 rolled off the factory floor in 1949.
But, equally, that same attraction applies to the inside, and never more enticing than with the new T6.1 range, because this is a cabin that doesn’t look or feel anything like a daily workhorse.
And, I’m even talking about the entry-level Transporter with manual transmission here. With its standard 6.5-inch touchscreen, traditional binnacle instrument display and rubber floor, it still feels refreshingly car-like.
The leather-wrapped, three-spoke steering wheel with metallic-look accents and gloss-black inserts looks and feels like a quality item, as does the various knurled dials (rubberised as they are).
The plastics are hard but they don’t look cheap – far from it and if you’re familiar with any of Volkswagen’s passenger cars, you’re going to feel right at home in a VW van, because everything is in the same place and works the same way.
Ergonomics are very good across the range, with excellent seating position in relation to most of the switchgear including the AC dials. The seats are comfortable, too, with decent bolsters and supportive cushioning even on the lower grades.
The dual-cab is much the same, highlighting the plentiful storage areas throughout the cabin with super-size door bins, large grab handles and wide step platforms for safe and easy ingress and egress for second-row passengers. It’s functional, if not a tad sterile, but it’s also robust at the same time, although, the glovebox is stupidly small. Plenty of storage above though, for phones, wallets and gloves.
The factory tray on the Dual Cab Chassis is massively wide at 1940mm and 2169mm long, against 2939mm for the single-cab version, even if rear legroom is only adequate. That said, it’s a cleverly-designed tray with perfect fitment and locking mechanisms, while the alloy itself looks and feels top notch and a cut or two above the norm.
Swapping into the short-wheelbase Crewvan and cabin space is larger and more effective, especially for rear-seat passengers still with generous load space behind.
Things are more comfortable in the Multivan Comfortline Premium with fresh new ‘Circuit’ cloth upholstery in Titanium Black and the Bay Leaf Green metallic paint job of our tester. The larger 8.0-inch touchscreen is immediately noticeable for its high resolution, clarity and extra size.
There’s also carpet floors and swivelling captain’s chairs for the second row, while third-row passengers sit on a bench. The swivel mechanism is dead easy, quick and requires very little muscle.
All of the seats are on a moveable rail system for fore and aft movement, and can be easily removed in a few minutes allowing for multiple configurations. In the normal position, there isn’t a lot of luggage space behind the bench, but again, it can slide forwards or be removed completely and there are storage bins hidden underneath.
Electric sliding doors with an (optional) electric tailgate in the Multivan make for easy access all round – all of which can be activated via the chunky key fob. Disappointingly, there’s no keyless entry and start – not that smart given the size of the doors and the fact it makes things difficult if you’ve got a parcel or two in your hands. That’s even the case with the Cruise Edition we drove.
While there was no Caravelle at the launch event, we did get to look over the iconic California Beach, complete with a host of clever features like front swivel seats for camping trips, a reclining three-seat second row, an awning, picnic set of table and chairs, and the party-trick electro-hydraulic elevating roof. Also standard on this model is two-tone paint with Candy White as the mandatory colour – and a choice of Copper Bronze, Ascot Grey or Bay Leaf Green as the secondary colour.
Despite the California’s top billing in the range, it misses out on the larger 9.2-inch screen in the Cruise, instead fitted with the 8.0-inch navigation unit, as well as park assist which it loses to just front and rear parking sensors with reversing camera. Might be an issue for some, though park assist can be optioned.
The common displacement across the entire Transporter 6.1 range is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder inline turbo-diesel in three states of tune.
First is the TDI250 with 81kW at 3500rpm and 250Nm at 1250-3100rpm; then the TDI340 making 110kW at 3250-3750rpm and 340Nm at 1500-3000rpm; and finally the TDI450 producing 146kW at 4000rpm and 450Nm at 1400-2400rpm.
The TDI250 is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels exclusively, while the TDI340 is mated to either a six-speed manual transmission driving the front wheels or a seven-speed dual-clutch driving either the front wheels or 4Motion all-wheel drive.
The most powerful TDI450 is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch exclusively – with either front-wheel drive or 4Motion all-wheel drive.
While too little time was afforded in all but the Multivan Cruise Edition, the overwhelming characteristic common to all five variants we drove was the car-like nature of the drive experience.
It doesn’t seem to matter even if you’re driving the base Transporter in TDI250 manual guise, it’s so easy to peddle I’m utterly convinced my 86-year-old mother could deliver her signature knitted bed socks in one of these.
Not only is the 2.0-litre turbo-diesel smooth running, it’s usually quiet – or the sound insulation is superb even when accelerating flat stick up a steep incline.
Inherently a front-wheel drive architecture from the ground up, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re carting a load or not, it feels balanced and easy to steer in any situation.
However, driving the Multivan Cruise Edition in the wet can trip up the front-wheel drive and cause a momentary loss of grip – easily remedied by easing off the throttle, or choosing the 4Motion option if available. Certainly, that would be my pick on the Multivan and California variants.
With coil springs all round, ride comfort is better than I expected from an empty van, with speed bumps barely felt, though, expansion joints caused a slight racket.
Thanks in part to the new electro-mechanical steering, gone is any floaty feel that might have been the case previously, and instead the range typically drives with plenty of straight-line stability and accuracy in the corners.
Both the TDI340 and TDI450, especially, have plenty of effortless go when accelerating.
That’s partly thanks to the latest DSG transmission that appears smoother than ever and none of the low-speed jitters that once plagued this gearbox.
The Volkswagen T6.1 range is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and 12 months of 24-hour roadside assistance which gets renewed every time you service your vehicle at a participating Volkswagen dealer.
Servicing intervals are every 15,000km or 12 months – whichever occurs first.
Volkswagen Care Plans cover you for your first three or five scheduled services. The three-year plan is priced at $1450, while the five-year option costs $2300 including a free first service.
Just like the iconic Golf over its eight generations, Volkswagen has been honing its vans and people movers for more than 70 years, and it shows more than ever with the latest Transporter 6.1 range of vehicles.
It’s the complete package with oodles of versatility, clever packaging and first-class engineering. The trademark car-like driveability of the Transporter even in base form is impressive, as are the latest technology and safety updates.
Refinement is up too, but some might find the endless variations and specifications confusing and some of the options prices too high. That said, the new range will likely be more desirable than ever despite these minor complaints.
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