Hitting the road in Volkswagen’s new T6.1 Caravelle
PORT ELIZABETH - The Volkswagen bus, or Kombi as we refer to it colloquially has a long and illustrious local history, from panel vans to campers we've seen and had them all.
I remember well while at school (yes, that long ago) the parents of a friend of ours owned an art gallery and had one of those round-nosed panel vans powered by a 1.6 litre air cooled engine.
He had a licence and regularly on a Saturday night a bunch of us would pile in the back, hide under blankets and carpets and only pay for the driver and passenger at the drive-in, like I said, that long ago.
Their family transport was a Volkswagen T3 or Microbus as it was called, dad drove a Mercedes-Benz and when his elder sister turned 21 she was given a Golf. Guess what their home language was?
Point is, not only is the VW DNA intertwined in our collective memory but the Kombi specifically has provided families and businesses with transport for decades, helped immeasurably by David Kramer and his red Vellies all those years ago.
Which brings us to the latest update of the sixth generation T-Series which since its launch in 2015 has sold 10 097 units locally.
Dubbed the T6.1 the exterior upgrades include a larger radiator grille that flows in to a new bumper, new front and rear LED lights, newly designed rims, six exterior colours and seven new two-tone options.
Inside however there's a lot more than just a nip and tuck and lick of paint
It’s now fitted with VW's 10.25 inch virtual cockpit, which adds a whole new dimension to the T6.1. The graphics and screen quality are exceptionally good and the various screen configurations are easily changed with the view button on the multifunction steering wheel, which has also been made slightly smaller to give it more of a car-like feeling.
There's also wireless Apple and Android connectivity and an inductive charging slot.
Also new is electro-mechanical power steering which reduces fuel consumption, makes steering more direct and also allows for access to a number of new driver assistance systems such as cross wind assist which helps the driver in high crosswinds by automatically activating the brakes without you being aware. It's particularly handy in this vehicle with a profile as big as a brick outhouse.
And it's comfortable too, with heated front seats, climate control and two armrests for both driver and passenger.
Three turbodiesel engines
The whole range is powered by three variations of their 2.0 litre turbo diesel engines. The 2.0 litre TDI delivering 81kW and 250Nm, the 2.0 litre TDI delivering 110kW and 340Nm and the flagship 2.0 litre BiTDI with 146kW and 450Nm which was in the Caravelle which we drove on the launch.
The Caravelle is no doubt very much in a niche market but you would be mistaken to think of it merely as a people or family mover. The Caravelle is probably the best "bus" on the market by a long stretch in terms of quality finishes, connectivity, looks, safety features, handling and driver comfort.
The 4MOTION delivering power to all four wheels kept it steady on the long stretches of dirt road we travelled and on tar it handled long curves over passes with ease.
Fitted with a 7-speed DSG gearbox that smoothly gets through the gears on the open road I did find however, that on overtaking slower trucks up steep inclines it tended to hunt a bit before finding the right gear.
Lots of dirt, and some tar: the Eastern Cape launch route
Much of the dirt roads we tackled on the launch were badly corrugated and here the length and volume of the vehicle counted against it. There were quite a few rattles most notably from the centre tray table between the second row of seats. I suspect though with the tyres at 3 bar there wasn't much cushioning on the four corners and a lower pressure would certainly have made a difference.
On the tar though it's a different story and for its size it is remarkably quiet with very little wind noise even at speed when passing traffic.
Overall the upgraded T6.1 is a classy package and with Electronic Stability Control, Automatic Post-Collision Braking, Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Assist, Tyre Pressure Loss Indicator, Lane Assist, cruise control, Park Assist, Trailer Assist and Light Assist, you're going to be hard-pressed to find anything that competes with it.
The Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Pick Up, Panel Van and Crew Bus range comes standard with a three-year/60 000 km Easy Drive Service Plan, two-year/unlimited km manufacturer warranty.
The Kombi, Caravelle and California range comes standard with a five-year/ 60 000km maintenance plan and a three-year/ 120 000km warranty. The entire T6.1 range comes standard with a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty.
T6.1 Crew Bus
2.0 TDI 81kW LWB (10-seater) - R612 000
2.0 TDI 110kW 4MOTION DSG LWB (5-seater) - R639 000
2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTION DSG (5-seater) - R710 500
2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTIONDSG® LWB (8-seater) - R752 700
2.0 TDI 81kW Trendline - R697 700
2.0 TDI 110kW DSG Trendline - R726 000
2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTION DSG Trendline Plus - R871 800
Highline 2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTION DSG - R1 149 400
California Coast 2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTION DSG - R1 196 500