We'd recommend that if possible, you try and stretch to one of the post-2011 variants. As well as featuring a new 2.0 TDI engine, these models featured a slightly smarter front end intended to bring the design more into line with the stylistic look of company's smaller Transporter and Caddy van models. Of course, the emphasis is on practicality. Take, for example, the non-slip step you'll find on the central section of the bumper beneath the grille, useful when, for example, you want to step up and clean the windscreen. Along the side, tough rubbing strips that can be easily unclipped and replaced guard against minor knocks and scratches. And there are the usual impressively small panel gaps that emphasise the build quality advantage this Volkswagen enjoys over many of its rivals.
Moving inside is easy, thanks to a low step and a large door opening. Once in the cab, as you'd expect, two or three people can comfortably travel side by side in the front. In the post-2011 model, if you're not using the middle seat, you can pull down its centre section and turn it into a table complete with two upholders and a pen-holder - ideal if you've paperwork to complete or if you're stopping somewhere to have a bite of lunch.
The driver's seat is multi-adjustable and most original customers specified the steering wheel to be adjustable for reach and rake, so it's easy to get comfortable. And once you are, there's plenty of space for all your odds and ends, with storage spaces aplenty. You get a large bin in each of the doors big enough to store a large road atlas and a 1.5-litre drinks bottle. Then there are large shelves above the windscreen and more shelves (one of which is big enough for an A4-sized clipboard) on top of the fascia. There are no fewer than five cupholders for that morning trip to McDonalds and a handy dash-mounted clip to deal with stray paperwork. You also get a large glovebox that can be air-conditioned to keep drinks cool. And useful jacket hooks on the B-pillars.
So, how practical will this Crafter prove to be in everyday use? The twin rear doors of the Panel van variant can be swung out in the usual way - to 90-degrees or onwards to 180-degrees if you release the stays. There's a reasonably low loading height which can be as little as 670mm and once you get your goods inside, the space available will of course depend upon your choice of wheelbase - short, medium, long or Maxi. And you'll also need to carefully select your roof height, the choice being between normal, high or super-high, equating to interior roof heights of 1.65m, 1.94m and 2.14m respectively. There are four load compartment lengths varying between 2,600mm and 4,700mm.
Load volumes vary between 7.5 and 17 cubic metres. The load width is 1780mm, narrowing to 1350mm between the wheelboxes. Payload capacity will of course depend on your choice of Gross Vehicle Weight - 3.0, 3.5 or 5.0 tonnes, depending on whether you choose a CR30, CR35 or CR50 model. Across these three variants, payloads on the 2.0 TDI models vary between 1,044 and 2,693kgs.
In other words, if you select your Crater carefully, pretty much everything you're going to want to carry will fit, the largest models able to swallow up to five euro pallets. A sliding side door is standard (a second was offered on the options list) and it's worth pointing out that the height and width aperture of this is big enough for those pallets to be loaded in at the side. To keep your cargo from moving about, there are two load lashing rings on the B-pillar and between six and twelve floor-mounted ones, depending upon the vehicle length. If you forget to use them and everything slides forward, then you'll be glad of the standard full height bulkhead separating the load area from the cab. Half-height plastic panels are provided on the doors to try and protect the cargo bay but there's really no substitute for a proper ply-lining kit to cover the whole area properly.
There are a few important components to examine when buying a used Crafter, one of which is the diesel particulate filter. Be sure to check for the DPF warning light on the dashboard. Problems can occur with regular town driving, or on short journeys, because the filters don't get hot enough to burn off the particulate deposits. In this case, the light will remain on, and the filter will have to be manually cleaned out with what's called 'forced regeneration' - something Volkswagen won't perform under warranty. You need to be aware that the cam belt service on a Crafter is at 80,000 miles or four years. If the van has passed its cam belt service, good advice is to get an inspection, as there is a high chance of damage to the engine.
The Crafter's engine is known for consuming plenty of oil, sometimes as much as a litre every 1,500 miles. Another common fault with the engine is a blown turbo - look for smoke from the exhaust when the engine is hot, and listen for grating and whistling noises from the top of the engine under power. If the turbo is to be replaced, make sure the exhaust gas re-circulation valves are changed at the same time. If the van is under warranty (three years/100,000 miles) Volkswagen will fix free of charge; otherwise you're looking at around £1250 for the job. While coolant hosing is cheap, its positioning on the Crafter at the back of the engine means any replacement involves at least five hours' labour.
Check the service history to see if the van is due its 'B' service (every third service is a 'B' service). If you find this is due, then try to reduce the price. Also make sure that the service warning light on the dashboard goes out when the engine is running. Servicing on the Crafter is variable; however, the light can come on as early as 9,000 miles for heavily used vehicles. Look underneath the van and check for oil on the floor or around the differential. Should there be any, it may be a sign of a fault with the diff. If this is the case, and the van's warranty still stands, Volkswagen may replace the part for free. If not, get the vehicle inspected by a qualified mechanic and look for a price reduction.
(approx based on a 2011 Crafter 2.0 TDI 114bhp - Ex Vat) An air filter is priced in the £10 to £14, though you could pay up to around £82 for a pricier brand. An oil filter also costs in the £5 to £6 bracket. Brake pads sit in the £25 bracket for a set, though you could pay in the £40 to £47 bracket for a pricier brand. Brake discs cost in the £50 to £55 bracket. Try not to damage the headlamps; a replacement unit costs around £100; a replacement rear lamp could cost the best part of £115. A water pump is around £62. A radiator will cost around £125. A fuel filter costs in the £25 to £30 bracket, while a shock absorber costs in the £55 bracket, though you could pay £125 to £150 for pricier brands.
Once you settle into driving a large van like this, it's a very commanding experience. You sit high up in quite a car-like position thanks to the upright steering wheel, enjoying a supportive seat that's equipped with an armrest to prop a weary elbow on over longer trips. A pity then, that the original Crafter's engine, a five cylinder 2.5-litre diesel, was so relatively ponderous. That's not the case so much with the post-2011 2.0 TDI model we'd recommend you try and stretch to.
This facelifted model used the same 2.0-litre TDI diesel you'll find in Volkswagen's other LCVs - the Caddy, the Transporter and the Amarok pick-up. Here though, there was a much wider choice of tune, with pokey 109, 136, 143 and 163PS powerplants that'll get you and your load where you need to be with deceptive speed. The extra pulling power of this unit is something that operators familiar with the old version will notice in the first half a mile of use.
The 300Nm of torque provided in the 109PS variant we'd recommend isn't any greater than was available previously with the old 2.5 TDI unit, but the difference with the 2.0 TDI model is that the power arrives much lower in the rev range, so that you don't have to row the thing along with the gear lever so much in town. On the open road, overtaking's easier too. It's the main reason why this vehicle has so much towing power too, all post-2011 Crafters able to haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kgs. Further up the range, the differences with what went before are even greater, the top-flight twin-turbo 163PS BiTDI variant with 400Nm of torque offering 40Nm more than its direct predecessor.
As usual with any van, handling depends upon the weight you're carrying - more weight equalling greater composure. We've tested this van empty and fully laden and it feels nicely planted in comparison to rivals either way. That's down to the way that the front axle is equipped with an anti-roll bar - a heavier duty fitment in more powerful models - that keeps bodyroll more in check than is the case with some of this vehicle's French rivals. As you might expect, it's rear-wheel driven for extra traction - top CR50 models indeed, have two driven rear wheels.
And you get a reasonably slick six-speed gearbox manual gearbox, unless you find an example that was fitted with the full torque converter automatic transmission also developed for this model. As with most large LCVs of this type, the power steering is variable, so weights up on the open road, but is light around town where it facilitates a reasonably tight 13.6m turning circle in the medium wheelbase model. That's a figure that falls to 12.3m in a short wheelbase variant and rises to 15.6m if you go for a long wheelbase Crafter. In uban areas, the large windows afford good visibility and the large mirrors (which will be expensive to replace with their integral indicators) have a wide-angle mirror built-in at the bottom.
Is there a better quality large panel van out there in the used LCV market than the MK1 model Volkswagen Crafter? Possibly not. The only issue this vehicle used to have centred upon its running costs, but these were rated as being amongst the most efficient in the class from the time in 2011 when Volkswagen fitted this LCV out with a more efficient 2.0 TDI diesel engine.
Yes, the Crafter is priced at a premium compared to rivals, but you can see and feel where the extra money goes. Forward-thinking businesses will accept this on the basis that residual values are very strong and the whole vehicle feels - and is - built to last, enabling companies to spread the up-front sticker price over a longer operating period. In ten years time, I'd wager that this vehicle will still be going strong at a point when most of its rivals will be falling to pieces. Enough said.