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Facelifted VW T5 driven

2010-04-20 13:40
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer VW
Model T5
Engine 2.0 TDI
Power 75Kw @ 3 500r/min, 103kW @ 3 500r/min, 132kW @ 4 000r/min
Torque 250nM @ 1 500-, 340nM @ 1 750-, 400Nm @ 1 500r/min
Transmission Six-speed manual, seven-speed DSG
Zero To Hundred 15.1-, 12.2-, 10.3 seconds
Top Speed 157-, 173-, 191km/h

Lance Branquinho

Volkswagen's T5 commercial range has been facelifted for the first time since its launch back in 2004. We drive the new range.

South Africans love VW’s T-series vehicles. From the original Kombi to the admired T3 (popularised by some legendary David Kramer-addled marketing) VW’s commercial people movers have been a monumental success locally.

The current T5 range has been on sale since 2004 though, which is quite a long model cycle in modern marketing terms.

In an attempt to starve off competition from Hyundai’s high value H1 and the old enemy, Mercedes-Benz’s Vito, VW’s T5 range has been revised with some styling trinkets and significant drivetrain upgrades.

Of particular interest to local VW buyers is the presence of downsized engines, as the entire T5 range now runs on 2l swept capacity compression ignition power. Two of these new T5 engines are similar to the units that will power the keenly-anticipated Amarok bakkie when it arrives later this year.

The T5 facelift launch was an opportunity to test the much-vaunted 2.0 TDi sequential turbo engine locally. Would it live up to commercial (okay, you can say bakkie) expectations in local conditions?

A bus (or bakkie) for every occasion. Long-wheel base versions add 400mm of axle spacing. Kombi and Carevelle models boast five-year/60 000km AutoMotion maintenance plan.

Contemporary (bus) styling

In terms of styling changes the new T5 features all the regulation facelift items (headlights, grille, bumper) which are all given a new shape to cue VW’s current design language. New alloy wheel designs are available in 16-, 17- and 18-inch diameters too. Those multi-spoke 18s in fact (which look like Golf R32 items) are optional and look quite fetching, truth be told.

All things considered, T5 cannot hide its bus origins. Nor can either of its two chief competitors – Hyundai’s H1 and Mercedes-Benz’s Vito.

MPVs aren’t designed to improve your public image as a dynamic upstart. They’re penned to transport as many people as possible, safely and in comfort. To this end, the T5 range is expertly engineered.

With the model derivatives tallying an exhaustive 19 different T5s, you’re sure to find a configuration which caters adequately to your logistical requirements – be it moving goods and labour around for a small business or transporting a large family.

Bakkie versions are - like the old T2 double-cabs - very comfortable and have better handling than their leaf-sprung competition. How long independent rear-suspension will cope with 1t haulage remains to be seen.

Plenty of choice

VW’s T5 range is split into three trim levels – Transporter, Kombi and Caravelle.

The Transporter is aimed at buyers with a distinct utilitarian requirement. Eight panel van Transporters (VW calls them Crew Buses) make up the bulk of the range, but VW is hoping to continue wooing traditional courier and handyman bakkie buyers with their Transporter single- and double-cab drop-side bakkies, too.

Equipment levels pertaining to the Transporter range reflects its utility billing.

The single cab bakkie and panel van derivatives essentially have only two standard features of note: power steering and a driver’s airbag. Although infotainment is wired you’ll have to option a radio/CD unit from your dealer. Climatic air-conditioning is an extra cost option, too. 

Other options available for the single-cab and panel van Transporter T5s are park distance control (important in claustrophobic industrial parking lots), a second sliding door (obviously only on the panel van) and a GVM tow rating increase from 2.8t to 3- and 3.2t for the bakkie and panel van, respectively.

The other two Transporter derivatives, the Crew Bus and the double-cab bakkie, are incrementally better equipped. Both tally dual airbags, Climatic air-conditioning and some infotainment as standard.

Kombi should remain the mainstay option for families.

The family option

Moving from sheer commercial utility to a more suburban transport solution is the Kombi range. The bulk of T5 private sales will probably be Kombi derivatives and unsurprisingly they sport a raft of additional comfort and convenience equipment, when compared to the Transporters.

T5 Kombis feature eight-speaker acoustic infotainment capability, dual-zone climatic air-conditioning and electric front windows. You do not, however, get any curtain airbags for passengers seated behind the driver. Catering to both local climatic and security concerns the T5 Kombi can be ordered with tinted windows all-round.

If you’re inconsolable at the prospect of having to trade in your GTI for a Kombi, you can still have some remnant of dynamic poise with the optional 17-inch "Thunder"-styled alloy wheels.

The Caravelle T5 is the range-topper and models boast all the standard features of the Kombi range whilst adding cruise control, a third zone of climatic fresh air management, park distance control and (almost unbelievably for a VW product) a multi-function steering wheel as standard.

The only really noticeable options pertaining to the Caravelle T5s are those Golf R32esque 18-inch alloy wheels, powered sliding doors and curtain airbags for the rear passengers.

VW's new 2.0 TDi engines are very frugal and boast competitive outputs.

Big bus – small engine

The facelifted T5’s engines are sure to be the new range’s most contentious feature. VW’s latest generation 2l common-rail injection diesel engine forms the basis for the three TDi options, available in escalating outputs of 75-, 103- and 132kW.

Owners of the pre-facelift fifth generation T5 will notice an output discrepancy at the entry level side of the new range’s engines, where the previous 1.9TDi has been replaced with a 2.0 TDi which is 2kW weaker. In mitigation the 75kW 2.0 TDi produces a similar peak rotational force output - 250Nm – across a 900r/min more generous engine speed range.

The 2.0 TDi in 75kW trim is only available with a five-speed manual transmission. VW claims a benchmark 0-100km/h sprint time a shade over 15 seconds for it, yet burdened by a full load you know it’s going to be slow. Very slow.

VW’s mid-range engine offering in the T5 range is a 103kW version of the 2.0 TDi engine. This unit replaces the previous five-cylinder 96 kW 2.5 TDI. Boasting 7kW more power - and an equal rotational force peak of 340Nm to the engine it replaces -  the 103kW engine makes a fair go at powering the T5 around.

The T5 range is headlined by a 132kW version of the 2.0TDi, which will be trimmed slightly to 120kW when it’s presented in Amarok form later this year.

The high-output 2.0TDi is only 4kW keener than the old 128kW 2.5TDi.

Like its 2.0TDi siblings, the 132kW version cues a similar peak rotational force value to the engine it replaces, yet it produces its 400Nm across a broader engine speed range. 

New DSG transmission is brilliant, shifting with hot-hatch urgency. ESP indicator to the extreme left indicates the dynamic safety net pertaining to all 19 T5 derivatives.

Seven-speed MPV DSG

Especially heartening for dynamic drivers (those customers forced to trade their GTIs in on T5s due to a proliferation of offspring) is the presence of VW’s popular dual-clutch transmissions. It’s not a simple six-speed DSG either, the T5 now drives through VW’s latest seven-speed dual-pedal set-up.

Although the six-speed manual shift option remains, you’d have to be an unabashed masochist to burden yourself with tri-pedal fatigue in traffic when there is a self-shifter of the seven-speed DSG’s calibre available.

On the test routing, which ran at sea level from Port Elizabeth to Kynsna and back, I sampled the 132kW 2.0 TDi in six-speed manual form and the 103kW engine partnered with a DSG transmission.

During the test drive all the T5’s most endearing characteristics were reaffirmed. The spacious cabin, car-like driving position (buoyed by a new, smaller steering wheel), low levels of road and mechanical resonance, made even the Transporter derivatives a very tolerable Jozi-to-Cape Town prospect.

You obviously want to know if the new engines are equal to the challenge of local driving conditions. We drove quite briskly and I must admit, the 132kW 2.0 TDi engine was a peculiar experience. Statistically, it sure makes the required numbers to ensure effortless progress even when burdened by 1t of additional goods or people.

T5 double-cab an old favourite. Handles better than a conventional bakkie based double-cab, rides softer too.
Latest generation Haldex shores up 4Motion traction.

A high-speed cruiser, not a low-speed lugger

In reality though, it’s an odd driving experience. The engine, courtesy of its sequential turbochargers, runs up to engine speeds beyond 4 000r/min with ease. Added to this, the six-speed manual transmission version I drove had a delightful shift action (especially for a front-wheel drive vehicle). Overtaking in fourth gear was swift and accomplished without cause for alarm, yet the overall driving experience was one of a very quick MPV, not a necessarily powerful one.

Engineers will tell you 400Nm at 1 500r/min is an inarguable fact. My experience, wholly unscientific and frighteningly subjective, is that the 132kW 2.0TDi feels tangibly weaker than larger capacity turbodiesel bakkie and MPV engines at very low engine speeds.

All things considered, it’s still a phenomenal unit, especially when driving all-four wheels courtesy of the latest Haldex multi-disk clutch system in 4Motion trim and shifting gear via the seven-speed DSG transmission.

Quiet, unbelievably frugal and crushingly swift when called upon to pass slower traffic at speeds above 80km/h, the 132kW 2.0TDi is a better engine in all respects to its 2.5TDi forebear. Just don’t try to pull a 2.5t trailer combo up a damp slipway or loose surface incline at delicately low speeds though…

Middle-middle is where it's at

Pick of the range is undoubtedly the LWB Kombi in DSG trim. Its 103kW engine is a peach to drive whilst the DSG transmission (despite not having shift-paddles) can be as dynamically engaging or relaxingly unobtrusive as you wish.

Economy is impressive too, giving credence to VW’s claim of a 20% improvement in fuel consumption across the range. The worst consumption we could achieve, with Climatronic working overtime and sustained throttle abuse, was 11.2l/100km.

The facelifted T5s, with a few cosmetic yet wholesale drivetrain upgrades, are a stellar range of vehicles. With 19 derivatives, there’s a transport solution for each and every requirement.

Despite their downsized capacity the engines are hugely efficient, too, and the presence will surely appeal to dynamic drivers. Ride comfort and handling is superb thanks to all-wheel independent suspension and comfort levels are good.

Perhaps the only issue is the majority front-wheel configuration, especially considering that both Hyundai H1 and Mercedes-Benz Vito have a single differential, at the rear - which is the preferred workhorse configuration.

Then again, with the T5 you always have the option of all-wheel drive…


Single Cab 2.0 TDi 75kW LWB - R227 500
Single Cab 2.0 TDi 103kW LWB - R260 100
Single Cab 2.0 TDi 103kW DSG LWB - R277 600
Double Cab 2.0 TDi 75kW LWB - R256 600
Double Cab 2.0 BiTDi 132kW LWB - R296 600
Double Cab 2.0 BiTDi 132kW 4Motion LWB - R333 100
Panel Van 2.0 TDi 75kW LWB - R291 700
Panel Van 2.0 TDi 103kW LWB - R324 400
Crew Bus 2.0 TDi 75kW SWB - R339 300
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW SWB - R380 300
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW 4Motion SWB - R410 800
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW DSG SWB - R397 800
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW DSG 4Motion SWB - R428 300
Crew Bus 2.0 TDi 75kW LWB - R347 300
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW LWB - R388 300
Crew Bus 2.0 BiTDi 132kW 4Motion LWB - R418 800

Kombi 2.0 TDi 75kW SWB - R408 400
Kombi 2.0 TDi 103kW SWB - R441 000
Kombi 2.0 TDi 75kW LWB - R416 400
Kombi 2.0 TDi 103kW LWB - R449 000
Kombi 2.0 TDi 103kW DSG LWB - R466 500

Caravelle 2.0 BiTDi 132kW - R537 800
Caravelle 2.0 BiTDi 132kW DSG - R555 300
Caravelle 2.0 BiTDi 132kW DSG 4Motion - R585 800

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