By Jonathan Crouch
Let's be honest: it can be a bit dodgy buying a secondhand van. LCVs lead tough lives after all. If you are going the used route, you'll want a van that was very good quality to begin with, one like this, the fifth generation 'T5' version of Volkswagen's Transporter. As a relatively affordable yet high quality choice from the 2003 to 2015 era in the Transit-class medium-size van sector, it's difficult to ignore.
(Compact LCV Panel & Maxi 1.6, 2.0 diesel 2.0 petrol [Startline, Trendline, Highline, Bluemotion])
The Volkswagen way of doing things should translate well to the commercial vehicle sector and usually does. The German brand favours functional but low key design, letting its engineering and build quality do most of the talking. It's the kind of approach that's served models like this Transporter panel van very nicely down the years, offering buyers of medium-sized vans Mercedes Vito quality for prices not too far removed from a Ford Transit. But quality at an affordable cost is, alone, no longer quite enough in the modern era though. Hence Volkswagen's need for a bit of a e-think when they first launched their T5 fifth generation Transporter model in 2003, then updated it at the end of 2009 with more efficient common rail TDI diesel engines and a slightly smarter look. Throughout its lifetime, this no-nonsense design managed to remain simple, effective and well suited to the needs of its operators. It was replaced by the new-generation 'T6' sixth generation version late in 2015.
What You Get
Styling of the T5 was boxy, smart and simple, but it was enhanced at the late-2009 facelift. This saw the T5 Transporter become a sharper proposition, its slimline front grille merging with sleeker headlights incorporating LED running lamps and forming a band stretching across the vehicle's nose in a fashion not dissimilar to many VW passenger cars. It's a pity though that there are no side rubbing strips to protect from minor scratches and scrapes. Inside, you grasp a nice three-spoke steering wheel, use clear white-on-black instruments and ventilation controls, sit on comfortable seats and enjoy decent quality stereo equipment. And of course the build quality feels as bulletproof as you would expect from the brand. At the wheel, there are the usual driver and passenger airbags, plus a height and reach-adjustable steering wheel. Sliding across the three-seater cabin is slightly impeded by the way that the gear lever is mounted on a moulding that curves out from the dashboard, but the location does make it easy to use. A design touch we aren't sure about is the way the aerodynamic outside mirrors house the radio, 'phone and GPS antennae: bashing them, as van drivers tend to do, would be expensive. Still, there are plenty of more thoughtful design features dotted around the cab. Each door, for example, incorporates both upper and lower storage bins, the lower one able to accommodate both a 1.5-litre bottle and an A4 clipboard. On the passenger side, there's a storage box under the seat and, on the side of the facia, a net to hold documents. Pull out the ashtray and you'll find cupholders for your McDonalds breakfast on both sides and there's a shelf for your sunglasses above the windscreen. On to cargo practicality. Let's start with the basics. Vehicle length varies between 4,892mm and 5292mm depending on your choice between short or long wheelbase bodystyles. As for load volume, well, that's anything between 5.8 and 9.3m3, depending on your choice between low, medium and high roof heights. And payloads? Depending on the version you choose, they vary from 749kg to a heavy duty 1,333kg. Access to all that space is via a sliding nearside door with 1020 by 1284mm dimensions that conceals a useful step. Or the usual twin rear doors that open out to either 90 or 180-degrees creating an aperture 1486mm wide and 1305mm high. There's a reasonable rear loading height of 566mm to lump stuff over into a well illuminated cargo area that offers 1244mm between the wheelboxes and 1410m of height. Then there are six floor-mounted tie-down points to keep your load from moving about, with side lashing rings being optional.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
The Transporter often tops lists for being one of the most reliable LCVs out there, so you're mainly looking at condition and service history in seeking the best one out. For every transporter that's spent the last few years having heavy items chucked carelessly into the back, there'll be another that's been cherished by someone who never troubled the maximum load capacity. Check the load bay for any deep marks or dents, along with the rest of the bodywork outside. If there's damage everywhere with burns or rips on the seats, then it's time to look elsewhere. Post-2010 models should have all service stamps in place from either a VW main dealer or at least a specialist. If any are missing, you'll have to wonder why.
(approx based on a 2013 Transporter 2.0 TDI 102PS) A search online found a clutch for around £120 and less than £10 for an air filter. A pair of ABS brake discs would be between £60 and £90, depending on the brand you choose. Brake pads are at around the £40 mark. A clutch kit is around £165, while a cylinder head gasket varies between £40 and £80, depending on brand. As for fuel pumps, well it's possible to get one for just over £100, but most brands will charge in the £210 to £265 bracket. Cheap shock absorbers are around £35, but more expensive brands can double that figure. Timing belts can start at under £30, with an expensively-branded one at just under £50.
On the Road
Volkswagen took their time adopting more efficient common rail diesel technology but by the time of this T5 model's late 2009 facelift, they'd fully embraced it across all versions of the four cylinder 2.0-litre TDI unit that was on offer. It's certainly a versatile engine, offered in either 84, 102, 140 or 180bhp guises and though the power outputs of the lesser engines don't sound like much to move a fully-laden Transporter, even the 84bhp unit has 220Nm of torque from low in the rev range at just 1,250rpm, with traction control to help translate all that grunt onto wet tarmac. Go for the 180bhp engine with its twin turbochargers and there's 400Nm available to get you and your heavy load off the line and back in time for the football. Though entry-level models must make do with a 5-speed manual transmission, 6-speed gearboxes are standard further up the range where there's also the option of Volkswagen's clever 7-speed DSG twin clutch semi-automatic which in the top 180bhp variant, can be matched with 4Motion all-wheel-drive. What we think's most important though, is that all post-2010 T5 Transporter models get the benefit of the potentially life-saving ESP stability control system to help out on slippery surfaces or if the vehicle enters a corner too fast. If you're hauling a trailer (and a braked weight of up to 2200kg is no problem), it'll keep that stable too and a neat Hill Hold function has been built into the software to stop you rolling backwards on uphill junctions. So far so good, but what's it actually like to drive? Well 'quietly efficient' probably sums it up. The 'quiet' bit's significant: Volkswagen reckons that drivers used to early 2003 to 2009 versions of this T5 van will find the facelifted post-2010 version to be almost 50% quieter - which'll make a lot of difference after a hard day at the wheel. And efficient? Well, let us put forward the braking system as an example. It features ABS of course, with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Electronic Braking Control to maximise its effectiveness, and as soon as you use it in anger, the brake lights flash rapidly to alert following vehicles. Once you've screeched to a stop, the hazard warning lights come on automatically. Neat. The Transporter's traditionally precise handling remains, with plenty of feedback through the redesigned steering, a slick gearchange and a Germanically firm but by no means unpleasant ride. It's manoeuvrable too, for such a big vehicle, with an 11.9m wall-to-wall turning circle.
As every business knows, the cheapest option isn't always the most cost-effective one. Amongst used vans from the 2003 to 2015 era in the medium-sized Transit-class van sector, this T5 Transporter is a perfect example of that. There are certainly cheaper alternatives, but they can't match this Volkswagen's build quality or its residual values. Marrying those virtues with efficient engines and advanced technology helped Volkswagen cement this T5 model's place in the market in the eyes of potential business customers. Confirming that the brand's market proposition remained as solid as ever.