Ollie Marriage 06 September 2013

First drive: the VW Crafter

Vans. Useful, even when they can’t hover. Ollie Marriage reports

That appears to be a van.

You are right. It’s a VW Crafter, and it’s rather big. In fact, since we’re not counting subsidiaries such as MAN and Scania, it’s actually the biggest vehicle to wear a VW badge. Get it in its biggest guise, with the longest wheelbase and you have a vehicle the best part of a metre longer than a Phantom Extended Wheelbase with the ability to cart 15,000 litres of stock. If you could fill it with water you could call it a swimming pool. 

So what’s it like to drive?

Structurally, a bit wobbly. All that open space, sheltered by a slender metal lattice does tend to creak and heave around a bit. And the rear springs bounce up and down and hop about a little unnervingly, until you put a load in it, at which point it settles down and gets on with the job in hand. But what you chiefly notice and what dominates your impression of life in this van is the view ahead. It’s like sitting with your nose on an IMAX screen. The Crafter, more than any other van I’ve driven, has a windscreen of such towering height that your peripheral vision is almost always engaged. This makes your eyes want to flit about the place in the way same way they do when trying to track a fly.

Was there a fly in there?

There might have been. The Crafter’s cabin has a lot of altitude so there could have been one in the upper layers of the stratosphere. Or hidden in one of the cubby holes. There are more of those than there are copies printed of the Sun each day. Come to think if it, you might well get a tabloid’s entire daily print run in the load bay, too. Plus one copy jammed into the base of the windscreen, obviously.

Any toys to play with?

Well, no, not really. I expect you can tick a few boxes, but this one didn’t give the impression of anything other than being a swathe of grey, moulded plastic that stretched across the dash as endlessly as a desert, punctuated occasionally by small oases of interest such as the heating and stereo controls, and the cuts and indentations for can/tabloid/Yorkie storage. Tough mouldings, obviously, this being a VW.

Anything else you want to get off your chest?

Ah, yes, the chief reason for telling you about the Crafter in the first place. Telling you about all VW vans, really. Here’s a fascinating fact: VW sells more vans than the entire production runs of SEAT and Porsche combined.

Quite a feat.

Isn’t it? 550,370 easily outstrips Porsche (151,999) and SEAT (321,000) put together and explain why every other vehicle on the motorway early in the mornings seems to be a white van of some description. One more nice stat: between all the vans – Caddy Maxi, Caravelle, Crafter – and including everything from tippers to minibuses, there are 957 varieties of VW van. Something there for everyone, surely.

My pick would be the California camper van.

Well, quite. I have a theory on the California (picture number 7, above). And this is not that it’s too expensive for what it is (£44,615) and can only seat four people. No, I have something else I wish to share with you. Take a moment and think about what you’d put in your dream five-car garage.

I’m going to agonise for hours on that one. What’s your point?

Well, what’s the first car you put in? The banker, right? The one car that will do it all, leaving the other four slots free for you to be as hedonistic as you like. Using this philosophy, the first car on my fantasy list was always the Land Rover Discovery. It would take care of the family/towing/off-road/seven-seat/life duties, leaving me to open the selfishness taps. But then I thought about it again and now I think a California would be the first car into my dream garage. I think I’d trade the Disco’s off-road and MPV abilities for the California’s overnighting potential. That’s all.

You’ve just opened a can of worms.

That’s right, and now I’m going to open it to the floor. What would be the first car you’d put in your five car garage? I know, weird place to end, having started by talking about vans, but one that’s more likely to engage those who have bothered reading this far…

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