New VW aims to transport van drivers in some style
I couldn't help thinking as I drove against the wind and rain on the way to Athlone the other night that no matter what way you dress it up, the updated Volkswagen Transporter is still only a van.
You know, a big white sheet of metal with room for ladders, cement, paint, rolls of tubing, wiring, overalls and the kitchen sink -- and a bench up front for two or three.
But as I talked my way into it, I visualised all the wet and windy mornings that hundreds of self-employed, small businessmen, electricians, carpenters and part-time farmers, open the door, got in and headed off to work.
These are more than big sheets of metal with wheels. They are home from home for thousands. Or at least they used to be when there was a building site at every turn of the road.
Apparently there's a bit of an upturn in demand for them now after what can only be described as a bloodbath for everyone last year.
It is still going to be a tough year but if there's light at the end of the tunnel, then the likes of the van market should start to reflect it in some measure.
VW claim the Transporter is better equipped than before and now costs less. There's a new bonnet, radiator, grille and bumper -- but the new 2-litre diesel engine is the major step-up.
It comes in a range of powers from 84bhp to 180bhp and pushes a range of van sizes, while there are also 4Motion and DSG variations. Importantly ESP, which helps prevent skidding, is standard now.
The sliding door, meanwhile, affords easy entry to the cargo area. Prices start at €21,965.
The first thing you notice is how well equipped and comfortable vans are these days. There's good room in the cabin of the Transporter and plenty of it in the cargo area.
The engines I drove had plenty of pulling power in them -- a crucial element of the whole package given the practicality of lugging heavy loads betimes.
The four-wheel-drive van might seem a bit of an extravagance on first acquaintance but not when you consider where owners have to go sometimes.
Suffice it to say it has a surprising capacity to go off-road but I won't bog you down with too much detail.
Yes, I took off for a drive in deepest Westmeath, trying to put myself in the place of the owner/driver.
Even though I had reservations about things like rear visibility with such small wing mirrors, I had plenty of vision.
I enjoyed the drive; there was not much cabin boom. The steering had an excellent feel to it and there was no juddering when we hit the odd pothole or rough spot.
There's plenty of room in the cabin and with air conditioning now on board, neither the cold mornings nor the sultry summer afternoons should pose a problem for occupants.
There's more to a van these days than you'd think.
Central locking, electric windows, heated mirrors, air conditioning and seatbelt reminder signal are all present. Options include lane-change assist, a reversing camera and tyre-pressure monitor.