Volkswagen Transporter Sportline: long term test review
First report: Sportline-spec panel van has a racier look than an actual hot hatch
4.0 out of 5
It looks the part and, sluggish automatic gearbox aside, the VW Transporter Sportline has the chops to surprise quite a few cars with its performance. It really is a van with hot-hatch pace.
- Mileage: 11,233
- Economy: 35.4mpg
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It’s all well and good for a hot hatchback to deliver a thrilling drive, but for me, it’s got to look the part as well. It’s something that I’ve felt has been lacking from Volkswagen’s most recent hot Golfs, and the arrival of a VW Transporter Sportline on our fleet has done nothing to help alter this point of view. Here’s a van that, to my eyes, looks sportier than a hot hatch.
We recently had a Golf R 20 Years in to pitch against the latest Honda Civic Type R, so I saw the perfect opportunity to line up VW’s hot hatch next to this sportiest of vans. Yet even with the special-edition Golf’s subtle extras, I still don’t think the R can hold a candle to the Transporter Sportline for racy appeal.
First, there’s the colour. Even in bright sunlight, the dark blue of the Golf R here isn’t nearly as vivid as the optional metallic hue of our Transporter. The red flash across the van’s grille is a nod to the Golf GTI, and to my eyes is more distinctive than the blue trim on the R.
Yes, big wheels and quad exhausts do help the Golf R stand out, but it’s really not that far removed from R-Line trim. At least the Transporter’s lowered suspension, rear spoiler (which is just as big as the Golf’s), black alloys and chunky Sportline bodykit offer some visual impact that the standard Startline and Highline vans lack.
The Transporter can’t match the 328bhp, four-wheel-drive Golf R in a drag race or around corners. But with 201bhp on tap, it’s still a pretty sprightly performer when unladen, and it has already surprised a few unsuspecting drivers at the traffic lights.
The biggest obstacle to driving fun is the gearbox, though. It’s a seven-speed DSG unit, but it’s quite slow-witted. Floor the throttle, and the electronics need a second or two to catch up with what you’re doing. Much like some hot hatches, there’s a bit of a knack to getting the best from it; a 450Nm torque figure is 30Nm more than the Golf R’s, and
if you keep within the 1,400-2,250rpm band where it’s available, the Transporter’s in-gear acceleration is a lot of fun.
Grip is actually pretty good, thanks to 255/45 section tyres, but the Transporter’s tall driving position reminds you that this is no sports car. At least VW has given the cab a racy update. The driver’s and twin front-passenger seat are finished in Nappa leather and Alcantara suede with red stitching, while there’s also a leather-trimmed steering wheel and the dashboard features gloss-black trim and the eight-inch version of VW’s Discover media sat-nav system.
This set-up works pretty well, and given that it’s an older set-up (this version of the Transporter has been around since 2019), it doesn’t have the annoying climate and volume controls that plague most of VW’s newer models. There’s wireless smartphone connectivity, too, although the Transporter lacks wireless charging to go with it, so I find it better to plug in anyway.
Unfortunately, the smartphone system is a little unstable, and after a long period of connection, the screen tends to go fuzzy and there’s a delay between the phone mapping and your actual location. A quick jump to another menu and back to the smartphone screen resets it, but it’s still an annoyance.
Another bugbear are the front and rear parking sensors, which tend to overreact to their surroundings. You can turn them off, though, and the electronics are able to reactivate them in case you forget to do so manually before parking.
Other than that, the Transporter Sportline is really delivering the goods in terms of its ability. It’s quick enough to be fun to drive, and I’m unswayed in my opinion that it looks sportier than an actual hot hatchback, too.
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