Whether to buy a VW T4 vs T5 Transporter is a wonderful topic and so many debates and opinions around it! Here I will offer a balanced review and hopefully give you a bit of an insight to help you with your decision.
To go back a few years the decision of VW T4 VS T5 would most likely have been made based on budget as the T5 was still quite new the prices of even a standard panel van T5 was considerably more than a fully converted T4.
As I write this this in 2023 the cost of the T5 has dropped significantly and you can pick up a “Well used” example of a T5 for less than £4k which makes the decision process a little more lengthy for most.
Cost of a VW T4 vs T5
Ok, so let us start with a rough cost compare VW T4 VS T5 and look at what your money will buy. This is based on average prices on Ebay at a point in time and may not be exact like for like spec but should give you an idea of price ranges and overlap.
|VW Transporter T4
|VW Transporter T5
|High miles panel van
|High miles camper
|Medium miles panel van
|Medium miles camper
|Low mile, high quality camper
These were the best examples of the range and condition that I could find but of course the specifications are all very different as well as the interiors also. However this gives a ball park range to consider!
The interesting thing I found was that there are hardly any T4 Panel vans left on the market which means they have either sadly ended their days on the roads or have already been snapped up for a conversion.
This means that the price of the standard good condition T4 panel vans appear to be on the increase. If I were to put some money on the subject, I would say the T4 converted campers will start to raise in value over the coming years.
So what do the prices above tell us VW T4 VS T5? If we are on a really minimal budget and don’t mind a bit of work in doing the conversion yourself, then you can snap up a Transporter T4 for as low as £2,450! If you are set on joining the VW club with not much cash to spend then the T4 is your cheapest way in.
If however you can stretch a little more to a medium tier Transporter then actually the T5 may offer better value. The T4’s in the medium tier are becoming rarer meaning there is a bit of a premium to pay.
Generally (and this is a sweeping statement so please forgive me if you don’t fall into this) I would say that the medium tier T4’s will have had considerable money spent on them including rust prevention and quite likely some body work maintenance… Otherwise they wouldn’t be higher in value…
Owners of T4’s in the middle tier are also very likely to be “high quality owners” meaning the maintenance is quite probably more robust than the T5 counterparts.
That said if you aim for the upper end of the T5 middle tier you will of course find the same level of care but it is unlikely you will snap one of these up cheaply as the owners know their worth!
Safety of the VW T4 vs T5
So this is a really key consideration. As nice as the T4 is, it is unlikely that the owners will have focused any of their efforts on safety enhancements so we will consider standard specification VW T4 vs T5.
First of all if you are really interested in this subject I highly recommend watching the crash tests that are available on YouTube as these give you a real life demo under scientific conditions. Here is one for the T4 and here is one for the T5
Needless to point out that the more modern examples of the Transporter range will have the latest safety considerations, pre 1997 NCAP rating didn’t exist! The older T4’s were actually still producing the front middle passenger seat with lap belts. This was updated in later models to make all seat belts over shoulder.
The T4 was sold with the Airbag and ABS as “optional upgrades” but these cost in excess of £1k to add at the time. Due to the cost and safety being low on the agenda for most van drivers at the time, it is extremely rare to find a T4 fitted with either (I’ve actually never seen one although I am sure they exist somewhere).
The T5 was built with the latest NCAP considerations and scores can be found very clearly on Euroncap website. It scores 4 out of 5 stars in all of the tests including on the facelift models.
Typically the T5 has airbags for Driver and Passenger. Belt Pretensioners, Driver knee air bag, Side airbag, Chest airbag and a child airbag cut off switch for the passenger seat. The T5 also comes with the seat belt warning alarm if you are silly enough to drive off without it on.
As much as it pains me to say it. If you are concerned about maximum safety of your vehicle then on a VW T4 vs T5 compare the T4 is probably not going to be your first choice and the T5 would tick more of those boxes for you.
Style of the VW T4 vs T5
This subject is a huge talking point also, and if we are honest comes down to personal opinion for VW T4 vs T5 style. The VW T4 is fast becoming a classic and many fans of the model will say that it is a very beautiful looking piece of kit! Many would argue that the unique VW T4 style and design is superior to the curvier looking VW T5.
The VW T5 looks more uniform to it’s counterpart equivalents made by other manufacturers for sure and a lot of the T4 fans in the early 2000’s took a while to warm to the newer shape.
If we are honest, both models are extremely popular and rightly so as they both look absolutely stunning once converted and personalised to their owners’ taste. I do not think there is a right or wrong answer to this.
For me personally I prefer the older T4 and older models but only because they are becoming more and more unique and rare to see on the roads, especially in good condition.
The T5 is a very popular vehicle on the roads and I guess I like to be a little different to the majority. That said there are still plenty of T4’s about on the road but notably less than the T5’s these days.
The reliability of a VW T4 vs T5
This topic deserves it’s own blog and you can find links to these below! It is not uncommon to see both the T4 and T5’s up for sale with well over 200k on the clocks. When I was looking for examples on Ebay earlier in the blog there was actually a very beautiful looking T5 with 360k on the dash!
This tells us that in either guise both models can be reliable well into the 100’s and 1000’s if well maintained and cared for. The sad thing this most T4’s have reached the end of their life due to rust rather than mechanical failure which is a credit to the engines and high quality VW workmanship that dates back for many decades.
Yes, it is true that certain models have their strengths and weaknesses. The T4 for example is prone to electrical sensor issues (oil light and water sensor springs to mind).
The T5 suffered with exhaust manifold gasket failures at quite low mileage. There are a whole host of common problems with either model which I won’t go into detail here but may create individual blogs in the future.
To summarise the point however. Both T4 and T5 models are easily capable of hitting 300k miles with proper maintenance. The key to finding a good one is to get one with all the service history and stamps in the book.
Yes you may still get unlucky and have a big repair bill occasionally but that is all part and parcel of running a vehicle!
To conclude the topic for now, The T5 is a good choice if you can stretch your budget to a good low mileage example, either converted or in the standard panel van trim.
For those looking at getting started on a budget, the T4 is still the cheapest option but may come with reliability issues if you go for the cheapest one on the market. Check the service history for which ever you buy.
If modern safety is top on your agenda, the T4 is not for you. Stretch your budget and get your self a T5 that will have all of the modern NCAP features as standard.
As to the best style? I will leave that one to you to decide. Both the T4 vs T5 are incredible machines.