The world is waiting patiently for the dawn of Volkswagen's electric era and, perhaps most of all, for the debut of the all-electric Bulli. Turns out, it doesn't have to wait as long as expected. While the I.D. Buzz-based e-Bulli won't happen until 2022, Volkswagen is introducing an all-new electric powertrain on the updated T6. It's also modernizing its popular van with a digital cockpit and suite of updated technologies. Meet the T6.1.
Volkswagen introduced its sixth-generation Transporter (Type 2, Bulli, Microbus...), the T6, in 2015. Fast-forward to 2019, and the van isn't quite so new anymore, ready for its mid-cycle refresh. Borrowing from the tech world to highlight the techy nature of that refresh, VW calls it the T6.1. While there are some modest styling modifications, this update is really all about bringing the van the latest in display, infotainment, driver assistance and powertrain technology.
Volkswagen's announcement zeroes in more on interior digitization, and we suppose that's because it already previewed the e-Transporter at last year's IAA Commercial Vehicles Show. Still, the availability of an all-electric T6 is big news, even if it lacks the gaudy 369-hp and 373-mile (600-km)-range specs of the I.D. Buzz. The e-Transporter joins the larger e-Crafter in Volkswagen's electric commercial vehicle stable, which will soon be rounded out with an e-Caddy.
Volkswagen didn't develop the e-Transporter itself, instead partnering with ABT Sportsline, the tuning shop that has had electric VW vans driving roadways since 2013. The T6.1 electric powertrain uses a 111-hp electric motor that sends the van driving up to 248 miles (400 km, NEDC) with the top-tier 77.6-kWh battery pack. Also available will be a 38.8-kWh battery pack with roughly half the range.
We look forward to watching as the first conversion shop or van owner turns the e-Transporter into a camper van, a conversion that should be an instant classic. Even if the 248-mile (or lower) estimated range falls a little short for extended road trips and outdoor adventures, it'll still be quite cool to see the world's favorite camper van in fully electric guise. The electrified T6 now stands to beat the I.D. Buzz to the campground by a few years.
Future T6.1 camper van owners who want to hitch up a trailer and tow ATVs, sports gear and other camp-enhancing toys will be happy to learn about the newly available trailer assist option. Derived from the Crafter, the trailer assist system allows the driver to simply set the direction he wants the trailer to go when reversing using the side-view mirror's rotary knob as a joystick. Then, the T6 does the steering and maneuvering itself. The T6.1 can handle trailers up to (5,500 lb) 2,500 kg, depending upon the engine.
The trailer assist system relies directly on the changeover from the hydraulic power steering of older T6 models to electromechanical steering, a change that also supports other driver-assistance technologies. New standard and available assistance systems include crosswind assist, lane-keeping assist, park assist, rear view assist and side protect assist.
In addition to the unseen mechanical changes, the T6.1 refresh brings some very visible changes, particularly in the cabin. Here, Volkswagen has focused its attention on the dashboard area, adding a new 10.3-in digital instrument panel, the so-called digital cockpit. The digital cockpit has high-contrast graphics and driver-selectable information display.
Volkswagen also gives buyers the option of 9.2-in Discover Pro and 8-in Discover touchscreen-based third-gen modular infotainment matrix (MIB3) navigation systems. Also on offer are the Composition Audio and Composition Color MIB2 systems. An eSIM card brings new connected features such as voice control, emergency auto-calling and music streaming. Apple CarPlay and apps are now wirelessly connected, no longer requiring a hard cable connection between smartphone and vehicle, and inductive wireless charging is available for phones. Feature availability varies according to specific infotainment system.
Beyond the digital tech, other new interior features include a driver-side 230V outlet, passenger-side bench-seat storage locker and passenger-side under-bench through-loading for long cargo. Individual T6.1 models and trims also get new and improved standard features packages.
The powertrain list includes some other options besides the ABT electric drive. The new 2.0-liter turbo-diesel base engine puts out 89 hp and is also offered in 109 hp. Volkswagen carries a couple of options over from the older T6 – the 148-hp 2.0-liter TDI and the 196-hp 2.0-liter bi-turbo diesel. Volkswagen's 4Motion all-wheel drive system is available optionally with the 148- and 196-hp engines.
Helping those engines breathe is the larger air intake that works with the thin daytime running LEDs and dual chrome grille bars to give the T6.1 a wider face.
T6.1 vans will roll out in launch markets in Northern Hemisphere fall. We suspect we'll get our first look at the new van next month at the Geneva Motor Show, where we'll also find a sportier tuner version. ABT Sportsline will capitalize on its partnership, showing the colorful e-Transporter below, which includes 20-in wheels and a full aero kit. ABT will also show the upcoming e-Caddy.
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