ALREADY voted Van of the Year the Volkswagen Crafter range is expanding with the introduction of rear-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive and automatic versions.
The new models will bring to 69 the number of derivatives available in Volkswagen's big van line up.
Due to be phased in over the next 12 months, the expansion is starting now with the arrival of 4WD on vehicles fitted with the higher-powered version of the 2.0-litre diesel engine VW uses on all of the new Crafters.
Automatics are also being introduced now with the same engine but the two systems will not come together on one vehicle until later next year.
Rear-wheel-drive models will be coming on stream at the start of 2018 and the set up will be offered on the larger 5.0-tonne Crafters.
We have just put the newcomers through their paces and they are certain to strengthen VW's hand in the big van market.
The new Crafter arrived in the UK in front-wheel-drive guise in late spring, joining the Caddy and Transporter as VW's current LCV offerings.
What impresses about the new Crafter is the ease with which it drives and the amount of kit which can be fitted.
Lane departure waring, blind spot indicators, adaptive cruise control and automatic parking systems are all part of the Crafter's manifest and so is a handsfree reversing mode when hooked up to a trailer.
On the road, the Crafter is exceptionally refined, comfortable and quite sublime to handle. For a large van it's as straightforward to drive as a family hatch.
Practical features in the car include plenty of storage areas - a shelf across the dash, accommodating bins in the doors and overhead shelving.
Creature comforts extend beyond air conditioning and when specified with VW's ‘ergo active' seats you get armrests either side, independent seat suspension to soak up the bumps and even a massage function.
The new Crafter feels lighter to handle than previous models and much of that is down to a revised MacPherson strut front suspension and electro-mechanical power steering that also helps on the fuel front.
The diesel engine used in the Crafter is available in four states of tune - 102, 122 and 140ps as well as the high powered 177ps version.
For comparative purposes we drove each of the new models with the 177ps engine and all showed plenty of urge, handling cruising speeds without issue.
Official performance figures for the latest models are still to be released but using an average of 42mpg that we achieved in a front-wheel-drive Crafter, the rear-wheel-drive version returned 31 to the gallon and the 4x4 model 30mpg over similar routes.
The automatic model was an eye opener and managed an average of 34mpg - creditable in a vehicle of such proportions.
It is an eight-speed box with steptronic manual settings and although not seamless it reacts very effectively.
So does the four-wheel-drive set up which uses a Haldex system with the option of an electronic differential lock, engaged via a button on the dash.
The configuration gives the Crafter a load-lugging potential close on seven tonnes yet is smart enough to run mainly in front-wheel-drive with normal loads.
None of the 4x4 applications appeared to upset the Crafter's composed characteristics in normal driving but VW admits the extra gubbins needed at the rear of the all-wheel-drive Crafter have reduced capacity by a marginal 100 to 150 kilos.
All Crafters use AdBlue to reduce emissions with the additive filler sensibly sited inside the fuel flap on the nearside of the vehicle behind the front door.
The new Crafter line up is priced from £23,920 excluding VAT for a 2.0-litre front-wheel-drive version and the autos will cost from £29,500, the rear-wheel-drive models £29,700 and £33,150 for the 4Motion all-wheel-drive.
The top end Crafter with long wheelbase, high roof and in Highline trim with 4WD and automatic transmission will be priced from £43,575.