It’s one of the questions we’re always getting asked, and when it comes to choosing the right base vehicle, it’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make when creating your dream Cambee conversion.
Building on the success of the ever popular T5 model, Volkswagen released the T6 in 2016 and then the T6.1 in 2019 – the latest in the 70 year old Transporter line to date.
These later Transporters don’t look vastly different on the surface, it’s when you get under the bonnet that the real improvements show and which we, as geeky converters, love!
So grab a brew, relax and let us take you through our ultimate T6 guide so that you can make the right choice for your conversion. Buckle up, it’s going to get detailed!
The biggest differences between the T5 and T6 occur under the bonnet. The newer model is fitted with a Euro 6 engine which is cleaner, more efficient and releases significantly fewer pollutants into the atmosphere than its predecessors. The Euro 6 engine offers a range of power – 84PS, 102PS, 150PS and 204PS – with the 102PS 2.0-litre TDI engine option claiming 47.9mpg which is a significant uplift on previous models.
The 6.1 goes even further rationalising and improving the 2.0l TDI engine with a revised range of options that all meet the Euro 6d-Tem emissions regulations before you need it.
The Euro 6 environmentally friendly credentials are boosted further with the use of AdBlue® cleaning solution.
AdBlue® is a water/urea based operating fluid which is injected directly into a modified part of the vehicle’s exhaust. It works by starting a chemical reaction to remove the polluting nitrogen oxides – which driving generates – into water and nitrogen which is harmless to the environment. This only works in diesel engines and essentially the more economically you drive the less AdBlue® you use.
Many cities are already designated low emission zones, with several more in the UK considering taking steps to reduce city centre pollution through congestion charging. The Euro 6 combined with AdBlue® tech offers the cleanest diesel engine ever and is exempt from charging under current rules.
The T6 also sees a switch from the older hydraulic-assist system to electromechanical steering in a system that mirrors that used in the bigger VW Crafter. This improves driver safety in the T6 and allows features like lane keeping assistance, crosswind assist and automatic parking for even more manoeuvrability. The T6 handles more like a car than earlier models in the range.
We were also pleased to see the VW T6 offer the option of four wheel drive as well as the standard option and single and double cab models, minibus and shuttle busses giving you more configuration options than ever before allowing you to find the perfect set up.
Volkswagen put some work in to make the T6 significantly quieter than the T5 in both engine and road noise, which is great on those long cruisey journeys, and there’s a significantly improved gearbox giving you much smoother transitions on the go.
With the T6.1, VW also finally released a fully electric version of the Transporter. Built by ABT in Germany based on DSG running gear in LWB only, the electric model is available as a Kombi or panel van.
Initial reports in 2019 suggested the range would be 250 miles plus, however the production model has a disappointing 82 mile range ruling it out as a suitable camper donor van for now. ABT have tested longer range versions so there is hope that these will come along in the future.
If you want to know more about the environmental aspects of owning a campervan then head over to our guide How Green Is Your Campervan?
Volkswagen have made minimal changes to the Transporter shell since releasing the T5 in 2003 – a whopping 17 years of heritage. We still see some of those original T5 fully galvanised shells come through the workshop completely free of rust. The shells are hard wearing, long lasting and very robust.
In using this same shell for the T6 and T6.1, Volkswagen have employed all of that heritage (if it ain’t broke…) which we know prolongs the life of your vehicle and helps it hold its residual value long after many other vehicles have lost theirs. Your van should be able to age gracefully with you and whatever adventures you throw its way.
The load space on the 6.1 is up to 2,975mm long, with up to 1,940mm high loading area, plenty of cab space and the ability to separately lock the cargo compartment and cab. Extra security features for peace of mind.
The dimensions of the T6 remain identical to the T5 both inside and out, meaning that should you look to upgrade your camper in the future from the earlier model, any fittings and fixtures should be easily transferable.
One small tweak that we love is on the shell of the tailgate model T6, which now has a handy line running below the number plate – a great natural place to create a two-tone paint job if that’s your thing!
One small tweak we wish Volkswagen had made? Moving the aerial from the centre of the van – the current positioning makes it a little trickier to install an elevating roof!
Like any good facelift, there have been changes to the bumper, lights and bonnet, and if you sat the T6 alongside its older brother, you would notice the difference. Volkswagen have worked hard to make the T6/6.1 the most car-like van yet. We like the LED daytime running lights, which VW have taken straight from their car range.
The T6.1 again saw only minimal cosmetic changes but we believe it was tweaked in preparation for an electric version. There is increasing demand for a fully electric, high performing T6 as we all become more socially and environmentally conscious, so investing in the T6.1 may ensure your camper is ready to join the green revolution.
The T6 boasts Volkswagen’s Bluemotion Technology which reduces overall fuel consumption with measures like low rolling resistance tires, which create less friction with the road, and the automatic stop/start feature which switches the van off when not moving, rather than idling the engine.
We think the T6 is the most economical van yet, boasting 49.7 mpg on the diesel model. Volkswagen also released a 2 litre petrol version later on.
Embracing modern technology, the T6 offers VW’s Automatic Post Collision Braking system – this innovative feature applies the brakes automatically after a collision, which reduces your speed to just 6mph, meaning less chance of a secondary collision.
We love the Front Assist feature in the T6 too which keeps an eye on your distance and speed relative to the traffic ahead. Front Assist will give you a warning if you get too close to oncoming traffic and even apply the brakes to help avoid a crash.
The Tyre System Assist programme offers a constant review of the pressure each tyre is showing and warns of any deviations from the set or optimum pressure.
The 6.1 also comes with a rear view camera to aid parking in the rear wing door option – the most car-like feature to date. As part of Park Assist, the T6.1 offers side protection monitors which alert you with both visual and audible alerts if you’re getting too close to obstacles, including other vehicles, walls or pedestrians. These are the most hi-tech safety features we’ve seen from VW thus far.
We also love the fact that the Transporter 6.1 is available to order with 4MOTION all-wheel drive, dual clutch gearbox DSG, Hill Descent Assist, Hill Hold Assist and mechanical differential lock which offers impressive off-road capability.
Again, here there haven’t been major changes but VW have adjusted some of the little bugbears we had to make a better driving and camping experience
Mercifully the cup holders have been updated on the T6! Yes, we’re being pernickety but those on the T5 were hard to get to grips with when driving and were not particularly robust.
We’re pretty chuffed with the new fabric on the front seats of the T6.1 – for us the T6 was just a little bit dull.
And if you think that was picky, wait for it… the gearstick housing in the T6.1 has been adjusted by about 50mm which is brilliant for taller
drivers whose knees definitely would have been rubbing on the T5 and early T6 models on longer journeys – trust us!
The 6.1 offers double stowage in the doors too – extra space for all of your necessary extras that need to be close at hand when you get on the road.
The T6 also has improved storage space in the cab with the addition of more pockets in the door and an extra pocket on the dash which provides a little more flexibility.
You have two options for trim on the T6.1 – Startline and Highline. The Startline is the standard set up which gives you a touchscreen entertainment panel, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port for hooking up your devices, as well as remote central locking and the safety features mentioned above.
The Highline option improves the black bumpers and steel wheels of the Startline to integrated body coloured bumpers and alloy wheels. VW have chucked every car luxury at the Highline with heated windscreens and mirrors, a leather steering wheel and gear knob parking sensors, cruise control (and relax) as well as climate control.
When thinking about your conversion project, the Transporter 6 offers amazing levels of adaptability with a choice of two wheelbases and two roof heights. There are also four weight classes giving you a range of gross vehicle weight options from 2.6 tonnes to 3.2 tonnes. The 6.1 retains the Transporters decent height in the load compartments which again gives so many options when it comes to converting.
Things get a little fancier inside with the T6.1, which has a high spec digital dash, not dissimilar to the Tesla offering. It also offers the latest radio and navigation systems with full connectivity, up to 8 inch touch-screens and an integrated eSIM card, driver assistance systems and wireless smartphone charging for ultimate ease of use. Phew! That’s a pretty impressive list!
In short, we always recommend investing your money in the best base vehicle you can afford to keep you adventuring year after year. The T5 still gives you a robust base to start your conversion from but if budget allows, the improved engine, environmental credentials and fuel economy of the T6 or 6.1 will set you up for a long and happy vanlife.
However, one of the best things about Volkswagen is that whichever model you go, for the residual value outperforms any other vehicle out there time after time.
We love talking about this stuff so if you still have any questions on the big T5 vs T6 question or would like to discuss your project, get in touch!
A comprehensive guide looking at all aspects of choosing and buying a base vehicle for your camper
It’s a simple question but a hard one to answer and depends on many different factors