Steering, suspension and ride comfort

The default dynamic tuning of a cargo-lugging van keeps the Transporter planted, stable and fairly steady in its body control when you give it some speed to carry on a halfway challenging country road. We could only test it in an unloaded condition, when you would expect it to have some composure in reserve. But given the tall body profile, it’s quite impressive how hard you can corner in it, and how much outright grip those Hankook sport tyres can provide for it, on a sufficiently smooth and wide canvas of a surface.

The Sportline rolls a fair bit as it corners, but not enough to prevent the van from keeping its weight fairly evenly spread across its axles, or to cue up steady-state understeer, surprisingly enough. It turns in quite sleepily, but stays true to a cornering line once it has been taken, except where bigger bumps come into play. And it has enough grip at the front wheels to haul itself away from an apex with a modicum of urgency, too. If you are the sort of van driver who just likes to get from A to B in a hurry, and don’t much care how that is achieved, the Transporter Sportline’s outright adhesion and body control probably would feel like a modest step up from your existing van.

The VW has that empty cereal box feel when bumps hit the loaded side of the axles, and the body reverberates. At speed, it makes you know a little better what it’s like to be a Weetabix.

If, on the other hand, you are used to the sort of agility, chassis balance, damping dexterity, control feedback and all-round driver engagement that you might get from even an average performance car in 2022, this will just feel like a van. At times, a pretty busy- and fiddly-riding one at that, without much keenness at all in its responses, and no apparent life or liveliness at all about its controls.

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Because the Transporter’s steering is tuned to keep its high body steady and not to disturb its load, it is slow around dead centre, and quite light with it, which makes changes of direction feel a bit unenthusiastic. Navigate that first hurdle and you will find the Sportline is ready to corner quickly enough, but not in a particularly enjoyable way. Your backside is positioned so high above the vehicle’s roll axis that you feel every degree of lean, and the seats aren’t great at keeping that backside where you would like it to be.

Ride comfort and isolation

If you are used to driving a van with no dividing bulkhead, the noisy ride of the Transporter Sportline won’t bother you. Ride resonance is an inherent problem of vehicles of this size, which don’t have insulation materials to dampen any vibration, and offer a large and uninterrupted passenger compartment in which that resonance can reverberate. Put shortened, firmed-up suspension springs on such a car and the resonance potential only increases.

That’s why the Sportline’s ride can, to ears more familiar with passenger car refinement levels at least, sound a little like a drum solo in an Anderson shelter. It’s at its noisiest on bumpy country roads where you can hear every impact on the rear axle, and every flick of broken twig or loose stone on the underbody.

On better surfaces, the roar of passing Tarmac under the tyres, and of wind around those door mirrors, is a lot less likely to perturb you – but it’s hard to ignore entirely, especially if you’re travelling in the back. All of this comes with the territory where open-cab vans are concerned, but if you’re considering a vehicle like this as an alternative to a big passenger car for longer family trips, it is certainly something to consider.

The driver’s seat is at least comfortable over distance, once it is set to a height to support your legs, with armrests on both sides.

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Assisted driving notes

Like all Transporter T6.1s, the Sportline comes with Volkswagen’s Front Assist autonomous emergency braking system as standard, as well as an adaptive cruise control system and a driver monitoring system. You can add a lane keeping assistance system, with Side Assist blindspot monitoring, for £1230. Our vehicle didn’t have it.

VW’s Front Assist AEB system can be tuned to intervene either early or late, or deactivated entirely, through the touchscreen infotainment system. We tested it in both its middle and lower intervention settings and found it unintrusive at all times. It doesn’t offer pedestrian or cyclist detection, however.

The adaptive cruise control is a simple system without any speed limit detection or automatic speed adaptation functionality, although it does offer a manual speed limiter if you prefer. A speed limit detection system would be a useful addition but only comes as an option.