The MAN TGE is the large van you've probably never considered, but probably should. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
By and large, LCV brands are passenger car manufacturers who've ventured into the car market. But commercial vehicle owners have very different needs to those of car buyers, so you can see the appeal to the business market of a manufacturing brand purely dedicated to goods vehicles. IVECO and Maxus already claim to meet this need but there's also a marque that aims to take the advantages of a commercial vehicle heritage to completely different level: MAN. MAN Truck and Bus is an established German truck maker that's part of the Volkswagen group, so it's not surprising that its van sector offering is based on a Volkswagen model, the Crafter large LCV. Very heavily based as it happens. Take away the badge work and you'd struggle to see any difference at all between a Crafter and the large LCV model we look at here, the MAN TGE. Yet there are a number of reasons why the TGE might actually be slightly better buy than its Wolfsburg cousin. And here we going to find out why.
Once you settle into driving a large van like this, it's a very commanding experience. You sit high up in quite a car-like position thanks to the upright steering wheel, enjoying a supportive seat that's equipped with an armrest to prop a weary elbow on over longer trips. A pity then, that earlier Crafter engines tended to be relatively ponderous. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel unit is available in 102, 122 and 140PS outputs, plus there's a potent bi-turbo version putting out 177PS. All the engines will get you and your load where you need to be with deceptive speed. The smoothness and pulling power of this 2.0-litre unit is something that operators will notice in the first half a mile of use, even in the entry-level 102PS variant. Customers have a choice between front and rear wheel drive, plus 4WD, as well as the option of a manual or automatic gearbox. Trailers of up to 3.5 tonnes can be towed. Power arrives low in the rev range so that you don't have to row the thing along with the gear lever so much in town. On the open road, overtaking's easy too. It's the main reason why this vehicle has so much towing power too, all TGE models able to haul a braked trailer grossing at up to 2,000kgs. Further up the range, the differences with what went before are even greater, the top-flight twin-turbo 177PS BiTDI variant offering around 400Nm of torque.
Design and Build
The MAN TGE doesn't go to much trouble to hide its Volkswagen Crafter-derived parentage. The Crafter's two bar grill is here replaced by one with a piano black appendage featuring the MAN logo with the brand's lion badge just above. Plus there are model designation badges at the front on the front wings ahead of the doors and there's a badge on the back. That's about it. The driver's seat is multi-adjustable and the wheel can adjust for reach and rake, so it's easy to get comfortable. Once you are, there's plenty of space for all your odds and ends, with storage spaces aplenty. You get a large bin in each of the doors big enough to store a large road atlas and a 1.5-litre drinks bottle. Then there are large shelves above the windscreen and more shelves (one of which is big enough for an A4-sized clipboard) on top of the fascia. There are no fewer than five cup holders for that morning trip to McDonalds and a handy dash-mounted clip to deal with stray paperwork. You also get a large glovebox that can be air-conditioned to keep drinks cool. And useful jacket hooks on the B-pillars. All TGE models get a 5 inch centre-dash infotainment screen complete with USB and 12V sockets for charging and there's an optional Volkswagen-sourced navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen if you want it. As you'd expect, two or three people can comfortably travel side by side in the front, but if you're not using the middle seat, you can pull down its centre section and turn it into a table complete with two upholders and a pen-holder - ideal if you've paperwork to complete or if you're stopping somewhere to have a bite of lunch.
Market and Model
MAN has had to agree with Volkswagen that prices for this TGE won't undercut Crafter by more than around 5%. That means prices that, excluding the dreaded VAT, lie mainly in the £30,000-£35,000 bracket that you might expect for this class of large van, though in today's cut-throat market, that is slightly more than you'd pay for some mainstream rivals. Specific figures will depend on your choice of body shape. As with the Crafter, there are a wide variety of body, chassis and drive options. The panel van most will choose comes in a choice of three roof heights - Normal, High and Super-high. And you can choose between three different body lengths - Standard, Long and Extra-long. With Long and Extra-long variants, there's a longer wheelbase. MAN also makes available TGE Chassis cab and Crew cab body styles. The Chassis cab is available in the same three different lengths as the panel van, while the Crew cab can be had in both Standard and Long guises. All TGE models are decently equipped and can now be ordered with more sophisticated infotainment systems and greater degrees of electronic safety. Active driver assistance systems include ESP with trailer stabilisation, ACC Adaptive Cruise Control, a post-collision braking system, a side wind compensation system and a trailer manoeuvring assistant system. Buyers might also want a reversing camera, a parking distance monitor and a Rear Traffic Alert system. Optional LED headlights, cornering lights and a Light Assist set-up can ensure a clear view of the road ahead at night, while the TGE can also come with online services tailored to the specific needs of customers.
Practicalities and Costs
So, how practical will this TGE prove to be in everyday use? Well, the twin rear doors can be swung out in the usual way - to 90-degrees or onwards to 180-degrees if you release the stays. There's a reasonably low loading height which can be as little as 670mm and once you get your goods inside, the space available will of course depend upon your choice of wheelbase - Standard, Long and Extra-long. And you'll also need to carefully select your roof height, the choice being between Normal, High and Super-high, equating to interior roof heights of 1.65m, 1.94m and 2.14m respectively. There are four load compartment lengths varying between 2,600mm and 4,700mm. Load volumes vary between 7.5 and 17 cubic metres. The load width is 1780mm, narrowing to 1350mm between the wheel boxes. Payload capacity will of course depend on your choice of Gross Vehicle Weight - 3.0, 3.5 or 5.0 tonnes. The smallest models have payload weight of between 815-833kg, while the 3.5 tonne GVW version has a payload ranging from 1315-1333kg, depending on your choice of engine. In other words, if you select your TGE model carefully, pretty much everything you're going to want to carry will fit, the largest models able to swallow up to five euro pallets. A sliding side door is standard, with a second on the options list and it's worth pointing out that the height and width aperture of this is big enough for those pallets to be loaded in at the side. To keep your cargo from moving about, there are two load lashing rings on the B-pillar and between six and twelve floor-mounted ones, depending upon the vehicle length. If you forget to use them and everything slides forward, then you'll be glad of the standard full height bulkhead separating the load area from the cab. Half-height plastic panels are provided on the doors to try and protect the cargo bay but there's really no substitute for a proper ply-lining kit to cover the whole area properly. We'd also want to tick the box for the tailored floor covering. Running costs of course will depend on the engine and Gross Vehicle Weight you select but whichever TGE you choose, you'll find the 2.0 TDI Euro6 diesel engines to be extremely frugal, whether you choose them in 102, 122, 140 or 177PS guise. As a guide, you can expect to average somewhere between 32 and 36mpg in this vehicle on the combined cycle, depending upon the variant you're in. MAN offers the same 24/7 Mobile24 breakdown maintenance service on the TGE as you could expect to get one of its trucks. That means your van should be off the road for a short time as possible when maintenance is taking place. This package really differentiates the TGE from its segment rivals.
At first glance, you might wonder, as we initially did, why the Volkswagen group allows two separate brands to sell what is sensibly the same product, particularly given that one of them rather lacks customer recognition in our market. But not amongst the people who matter. Commercial vehicle fleet experts value the MAN Truck and Bus organisation's 100 year heritage building commercial vehicles. And it's a heritage some of them will be more inclined to trust than that of a passenger car manufacturer who've merely added a van to the corner of their showroom. Supporting that perception is this TGE models MAN Mobile 24 emergency service which is, quite simply, on a different on a different level from the back-up offered by rival brands who simply provide cover from a third party breakdown company as part of an after sales package. Plus an MAN dealer will be far more dialled into your business needs the passenger car brand would be. Add into all of this the design attributes of the Volkswagen Crafter, one of the big van sector's highest quality offerings, and you suddenly have what might even be the most sensible choice in the large LCD segment.