It’s only 2 years since I reviewed the Transporter and, there have been few, if any updates to the van since then. But with plenty of changes happening within the medium van sector, especially with high specification vans being introduced by manufacturers, I asked Volkswagen if I could give their range topping Sportline the once over, and to see how it compared to the Ford Transit Custom MS-RT, which I also put through a full road test just a few months ago…

Going way, way back in time, I made a living selling new medium sized vans with a 4 figure price tag. Comfortably under £10,000 to buy, they did what it said on the tin but with luxuries limited to cloth seats and a radio cassette player, there was little to entice anyone apart from those who needed a tool for work.

Wind the clock forward to the present day. The Transporter T32 Sportline as tested comes in at an eye watering £55,884, including taxes. So what do you get for your money that makes this van command its premium price tag? 

On the outside and the inside – what’s different?

A little known fact is that the vans are brought into the UK as Highline (with a couple of factory options) specification vehicles and are converted into Sportline trim by a third party. What makes the Sportline stand out are the visual cues which are immediately apparent. At the front, an all new bumper with a low diffuser gives the van a mean, almost aggressive look and to reinforce the fact that this van is different, there’s a red strip across the front grille. Move to the side and the unique Sportline 18” gloss black alloy wheels are complimented by illuminated chrome side bars. The side indicator repeaters have the Sportline logo incorporated, and at the rear, there’s a tailgate spoiler and Sportline badging. To finish off, Volkswagen has fitted 30mm lowering springs to give the van a distinctive ‘stance’.

The cab also has some Sportline flourishes – Leather and Alcantara seats with ‘Sportline’ embossed on the backrest, gloss black dash inserts and even mats with the logo are standard.

On The Road

Under the bonnet, the van has a 204PS version of the 2.0 litre TDi diesel engine found in other Transporters, and coupled to the legendary DSG 7-speed automatic gearbox, the van is a potential licence loser if not driven carefully. VW quote a 0-62mph time of 8.9 seconds but, to be honest it feels a lot quicker than that and, find yourself an open and private road you’ll top out at a scary 126mph… Road manners are impeccable, the brakes in particular well up to stopping the van quickly, from speed and when fully loaded.

Noise levels on this van seemed reduced in comparison to the vehicle I tested previously, although there’s a little question mark over build quality. Occasional squeaks and rattles that you wouldn’t expect, possibly the worst being the driver’s seat rubbing against the bulkhead when adjusted for a tall driver.

The Adaptive Cruise Control is worth a mention – I’ve tested a few vans with systems fitted but this is the best by far. The feature maintains distance from the vehicle you’re following, but the van accelerates the instant you indicate to overtake, not waiting for the road to be clear directly ahead. Not only that the ACC will bring the van to a complete halt with no input from the driver should it be necessary.

What didn’t I like?

Not a lot really, although if I was spending this sort of cash I’d expect a dual zone climate control system and not just air conditioning, albeit electronically controlled. In the loadspace, fair play to Volkswagen for including LED lighting but, the jury is out here regarding the rubber floor covering. It’s slightly soft and, whilst great for those carrying light loads or leisure gear, I can see it getting damaged quite easily by more serious, less forgiving bits of cargo.

VW quote a WLTP combined fuel consumption figure of 37.5mpg which, given my trip computer average under mixed conditions of around 35mpg sounds about right and, with that power output, not too shabby.

The Future

The new Ford Transit Custom has already been revealed as the E-Custom and is going on sale in 2023.  The platform it is based on is the result of a joint venture with Volkswagen and, as Ford has managed to retain the recognisable profile of the current van, it’ll be interesting to see if the next generation Transporter will retain the DNA of the T6.1 as we know it.

There’s no doubt that both manufacturers will be keen to market versions displaying a high performance profile but, as 2030 approaches and diesel engined vans gradually disappear from our roads, I’ll be curious to see how the image conscious and enthusiasts who Sportline and MS-RT are targeted at will adapt to electrification.

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