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The Top Gear car review: Volkswagen Transporter
For:One of the original vans remains one of the best
Against:A Transit is better at holding your Happy Meal
What is it?
Believe it or not, 2020 marks the Volkswagen Transporter’s 70th birthday. Which makes it three years older than the first Ford Transit, and its badge as old as the Morgan Plus 4’s. It’s fair to say there’s been more stylistic revolution throughout the VW’s life than the Mog’s, mind. Though if you specify ply-lining in your van’s hindquarters, almost as much wood.
The van you see here is the T6.1, making it the updated version of the sixth-generation Transporter. The T1 and T2 are the round-headlamped van that underpins the classic campervan (a T2 being the second-best-known vehicle in Back to the Future), while the T3 was a properly wedgy Eighties design. T4 onwards has been much more of an evolutionary journey looks-wise, though, and more perfectly aligned with the company’s slightly conservative approach to car restyling.
While the T6.1 looks little different to the T6, it comes with something very exciting beneath the skin – the option of a fully electric version developed by ABT (of Formula E and zillion-horsepower RS6 fame) which offers an 82-mile range combined with a one-tonne payload.
There’s a wealth of 2.0-litre diesel options if that doesn’t suit, though, with anything from 89 to 196bhp on offer, as well as front- or four-wheel drive and manual or automatic gearboxes.
And your options don’t stop there. Perhaps more pertinently, there are two different wheelbases (providing 2.5 or 2.9 metres of load length) and two different rooflines, with the Transporter’s payload ranging between 713 and 1,309 kilos (and load volume between 5.8 and 9.3 metres cubed) depending on which boxes you’ve ticked.
There are two trim lines, too: the proper white paint ‘n’ black bumper Startline (kicking off at a smidge below £28,000), and the posher Highline (starting at £33,000) that feels more closely related to the Caravelle people carrier and California campervan we’re more familiar with from Planet Car.
But you can still add all the essentials to a Startline, and with even the skinniest diesel engines offering heaps of easily accessible torque, why not stay simple for proper commercial vehicle cred? That’s how we’ve driven the T6.1 here: as a joyously workmanlike Startline 2.0 TDI 110PS in its shortest, lowest form, with five gears and very little flim-flam anywhere.