Volkswagen South Africa announced its new commercial vehicle range in August but last week it held an event in the Eastern Cape for media to drive it.

The sixth-generation VW Transporter range has a facelift and thus called the T6.1. The Transporter range includes the Pick Up (single and double cab); Panel Van; Crew Bus; Kombi; Caravelle and California. VW says the Kombi and Caravelle have been best-sellers in South Africa; 10 097 units of the T6 have been sold since its launch in 2015 locally.

It was my first introduction to the commercial line-up; I had a wonderful time driving the facelift T6.1 Caravelle around the Eastern Cape. VW added a fun element to our drive, which consisted of taking part in challenges, and answering questions about the vehicle in our teams of three. My portion of the driving was on the tar roads only. We all had to do driver changes at certain points without fully knowing what lay ahead.

As you can tell, for a commercial line, the Kombi and Caravelle appeals to families. There is plenty of room for everyone without feeling squashed. I like the space and comfort, especially for road trips. In a post-Covid world, I can see how this would appeal to families. There’s also a table that folds out, which was one of my favourite parts of the vehicle. It has that ‘work from anywhere’ and ‘eat comfortably on the road’ vibe going on.

The vehicle came with built-in wireless charging on the Qi system, supported by Apple and most Android handsets. It also has2x USB-C ports in the front. In terms of practicality, it was not ideal for our current phone cables. We borrowed an adaptor to convert it to USB-A in order to use the ports. It’s not just VW who has included these ports, most cars have them now. You’d need to have both ends of a cable to be USB-C to use it and all Androids have it on the charging port on the phone, so it cannot work in this set-up.

The boot space was sufficient for our journey, we brought hand luggage along for the over night trip. However, if you are a family of 7 people, you will need a trailer for all your bags. I think if you’re a family of 4-5 with at least 3 young ones, it should be sufficient as not all the seats will be used and there is plenty of space to put stuff.

The new Caravelle will be available as a 2L BiTDI (7 speed DSG) with 146kW of power and 450Nm of torque. It will go up to 191km/h.

Here are the main changes, as per VW:

The radiator grille is striking; it’s now larger and forms a single unit with the new bumper. Elements below the bonnet like the headlights are new. On all versions two chrome-plated cross-bars link the new headlights to the radiator grille. The lines of the two cross-bars are continued as LED daytime running lights, extending all the way into the housing units of the headlights, which depending on the specification can also be LED. It is available with six new wheels, six new colours and seven newly combined two-tone paintwork.

There is a new digital instrument panel with an additional shelf in front of the driver. There are also bottle holders very close to the windscreen but personally not a fan of it being so high up there when your drink could spill. There is a new large tray for a smartphone with wireless charging that we used, but is an optional feature. Air vents can be adjusted in every direction and can be controlled with one slider control (previously two was needed). The steering wheel has also been redesigned – on the new multifunction steering wheel there is now a ‘View’ button, which enables the driver to switch between the digital cockpit’s different display configurations with just one click.

The line-up on the T6.1 will include digital instruments like a 10.25″ digital cockpit as standard on the Caravelle Highline and California. The driver can choose between different screen configurations which is done via the ‘View’ button on the multifunction steering wheel. All models will have an infotainment system to provide web-based functions and services. All T6.1 models are equipped with a composition colour radio system as standard, whereas the Caravelle and California are equipped with the Discover Pro Media system with navigation as standard and on the Kombi Trendline Plus, it is available as an optional feature.

Driver assistance and Safety
The T6.1 has an electro-mechanical power steering; it is more agile and precise, and it felt safe to drive around no matter if tarred or gravel roads. VW says it has two major benefits: unlike the hydraulic system it replaces, the new steering system can be controlled as needed and this reduces fuel consumption. At the same time, through its controllability it opens up access to numerous new driver assistance systems. These include electronic stability control, automatic post-collision braking, start assist, hill descent assist, tyre pressure loss indicator, lane changing assist, and park assist. There’s also Crosswind assist, which applies brakes (undetected by the driver) if the vehicle encounters a strong crosswind above 80km/h.

The Caravelle will cost R1 149 400. There’s been a lot of outcry on Twitter with the price. Here’s the the thing, well two things: 1) it’s nearest competitor is a Mercedes V-Class which is more expensive (R1.4m), and 2) if the price is outrageous to you, you are not the target market. The same can be said in the smartphone world.

I think if you’re a family seriously looking into road-tripping in a post-Covid world, this vehicle is excellent for that. You can work, eat, etc and do a lot from the inside and in a way, maintain your social distancing for as long as you need to.