During the recent long weekend, we had an opportunity to take a road trip with the Volkswagen Kombi T6.1 along the Garden Route. The 2.0 TDI Trendline produces 110 kW and offers plenty of space for passengers and their things, but could the updated "bus for us" bust its way through the South African SUV culture?
What's new for Kombi T6.1?
Updated headlight and chrome treatment on the front end denote the T6.1 apart from the previous model.
At first glance, you can immediately see the changes to the Kombi T6.1, which includes the new-look grille and bumper, as well as extensive chrome detailing and, as an added extra, redesigned LED daytime running lights. Volkswagen offers the Kombi with a choice of 6 new wheel designs, half a dozen new exterior colours and seven 2-tone paint finishes.
The cabin layout, meanwhile, has been rejigged to include an additional shelf in front of the driver, as well as a larger tray for a smartphone. A wireless charging pad is now available, albeit as an option. Volkswagen has also introduced a new multifunction steering wheel.
The 6.5-inch infotainment system offers Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and all derivatives come with a Composition Colour radio system.
In terms of safety, the T6.1 is equipped as standard with electronic stability control (ESC), automatic post-collision braking, tyre-pressure monitors, a cruise control system (with speed limiter) and Park Assist. Optional safety systems include trailer assist, lane-keeping assist and the advanced main-beam assist.
Under the skin, Volkswagen says it has introduced electro-mechanical power steering to the T6.1 range.
For those struggling to place the Kombi in the T6.1 range, it sits below the Caravelle in terms of price. Whereas the Caravelle offers plush finishes and outright luxury, the Kombi is a more of a back-to-basics offering.
Engine and Fuel Efficiency
The Kombi sits below the Caravelle in the T6.1 lineup.
There are 3 engine options available to choose from. A good variety for different purposes. The 2.0 110kW TDI will be the volume seller for Volkswagen.
The engine variants include:
2.0 TDI 81 kW Trendline
2.0 TDI 110 kW DSG Trendline
2.0 BiTDI 146 kW 4MOTION DSG Trendline Plus
Volkswagen claims an average fuel consumption figure of 6.6 L/100 km. Encouragingly, we managed to average 7.4 L/100 km over the weekend in varied conditions and we're confident that if you adopt a measured driving style you should get that usage closer to the claimed figures. The Kombi comes with an 80-litre tank which, if driven with economy in mind, should get you just under 1 000 km per tank.
What's the Kombi like to drive?
The engine and gearbox offer a smooth drive and adequate power, especially in the mid-range 110 kW model.
We got to drive the 2.0 TDI DSG Trendline, which produces 110 kW and 340 Nm of torque. The turbodiesel engine is paired with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which is very impressive. The gear changes are unobtrusive and when you need to execute a hurried overtaking manoeuvre, the gearbox's calibration is so well-sorted that it will shift down without drama to get you in the correct torque range to make seamless overtakes. That 340 Nm provides adequate overtaking urge, makes going up hills a doddle and enhances driving comfort while the Kombi's fully loaded or towing something.
The commanding, but not overly perched, driving position – in combination with the Kombi's short wheelbase – makes the T6.1's driving experience very comfortable and car-like (there really is no need to concentrate extra hard when turning or parking). The suspension works well, making the ride quality very comfortable as well as improving the handling, even on gravel surfaces. Engine noise and road noise are well-damped and the audio system can be clearly heard by the driver as well as by the back passengers, thanks to half a dozen speakers that are built-in around the cab.
What is the Kombi like inside?
The front of the Kombi is far more luxurious now than many of us will remember growing up.
With seating for 8 occupants with lots of space for large families with luggage space to spare, the Kombi T6.1 really makes large SUVs seem silly, well, at least from a practicality point of view.
Features abound, including that 6.5-inch infotainment system, cruise control, park distance control, as well as a reverse-view camera. There are 2 type-C USB charging ports (adaptors are available for standard USB devices), plus a 12V socket. The driver and passenger are availed ample oddment space, although the same cannot be said for the rest of the passengers – there are no storage holders, cup holders or charging points for them, so that might make a long road trip a little uncomfortable when the kids start complaining about flat devices or drink receptacles that fallen over and spilt everywhere.
As for legroom, there is plenty of legroom and shoulder space for all 8 passengers. The seats can also be folded down for plenty of luggage space and with the seats in the upright position, the load bay capacity is still quite large enough for an extended family trip.
The Kombi may not be the first-choice it once was, but with 8 seats it makes a great holiday car.
The Volkswagen T6.1 Kombi is aimed to be a family-friendly vehicle. The 8-seater configuration, ample luggage space and comfortable ride certainly help it tick the right proverbial boxes...
The 2.0 TDI Trendline retails for R740 500 and this includes a 3-year/120 000 km warranty and a 5-year/60 000 km maintenance plan. The South African market likes big cars, especially SUVs, as they offer a comfortable ride alongside lots of space for the family. Yes, the Kombi provides more space than an SUV at a similar comfort level, however, it does not have the capability of an SUV.
The “van life” culture is on the rise in the European and American market, where most locations are accessible via a tar road. Will we see a rise of this culture in South Africa as well, or will the Kombi stay, as the badge says, a Transporter?