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CADDY RAISES ITS GAME

The updated Volkswagen Caddy van rewards buyers looking for the largest breed of compact van with a quality feel and a depth of design engineering often missing from obvious rivals. Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

With a more efficient engine range, this latest version of Volkswagen's popular Caddy adds class-leading running costs along with sharper looks and higher specifications to its already impressive list of attributes. As a result, if you're looking for something Citroen Berlingo, Renault Kangoo or Ford Transit Connect-sized, it's a difficult option to ignore.

Background

The Caddy name dates back to 1996 when all this LCV really offered business buyers was a Volkswagen Polo with a metallic shed bolted on the back. Today's version is very different, launched here in 2004 but substantially revised at the end of 2010 to create the model we're looking at here, equally comfortable depending on bodystyle in dealing with either packages or people. As before, the remit of this ' Volkswagen of small vans' is based around challenging the largest compact LCVs on the market, family hatchback-based models like Citroen's Berlingo, Renault's Kangoo, Fiat's Doblo Cargo and Ford's Transit Connect, but at the same time, offering a higher quality feel and ownership experience.

And it's a concept which has met with some success, especially since a larger 'Maxi' model was added to the range in 2008. As a result, nearly 800,000 examples of the pre-facelifted version of this LCV still fill global business parks from Melbourne to Munich. Volkswagen though, can't afford to settle back and enjoy such success, with tough rivals sharpening running costs and claiming higher levels of practicality. Hence the need for this much improved version featuring a more efficient range of common rail diesel engines, smarter styling, improved specifications and added safety..

Driving Experience

Under the bonnet, apart from the 109PS 2.0-litre petrol engine used in the minority interest CNG gas-powered version, it's a diesel-only line-up - and a far more efficient one these days. The top of the range 140PS 2.0 TDI variant may be tempting, but the reality is that most sales will actually be based around 1.6-litre TDI units offered with either 75 or 102PS and available in either standard or frugal BlueMotion Technology guises.

The 102PS variant comes with a pokey 250Nm of torque, the same in fact as you get from one other rather intriguing option, the model I'm trying here, the 110PS 2.0 TDI 4MOTION. Yes, that's right: 4WD in a compact van - a useful thing to have if your deliveries take you to slippery building sites or along rutted tracks. As with all VW SUVs, this is a set-up designed always to provide power to the wheels with most traction. Normally, it'll pull you from the front, but should conditions change, in a split second, 4MOTION can spread power to the rear wheels if required and immediately stop power to any wheel losing traction.

On the move, though this vehicle still rides on the floorplan of an old Golf MKV, handling is still assured, sharpening as usual as the weight you're carrying rises. And performance? Well to be honest, it's rather too leisurely in the least powerful 75PS 1.6 TDI model, rest to sixty occupying nearly 17s. For that reason, I'd council you to stretch to the 102PS version of this engine if you possibly can, the same increment here taking a far more acceptable 12.2s on the way to an academic maximum of 104mph, the same kind of pace as is achieved by the 2.0 TDI 4MOTION model I'm trying here. In contrast, the fastest 2.0 TDI 140 variant makes sixty in 10.0s on the way to 116mph.

What else? Well, a braked trailer capacity of up to 1,500kg is within the Caddy's remit and it's worth pointing out that pulling potential of this magnitude is rare in this sector. The reasons why have much to do with this vehicle's substantial mass. With gross vehicle weights between 2,175kg and 2,350kg, it's a much heavier LCV than any direct competitor. Many vans of this size after all, don't even break the 2,000kg barrier.

Design and Build

Understandably in such a practically-orientated market, Volkswagen designers didn't bother to spend much of this revised model's improvement budget on aesthetics, though the monobox shape does have a slightly sleeker look thanks to the adoption of the same kind of smarter front end used in Volkswagen's larger Transporter van, as well as on its Amarok pick-up.

Behind the wheel, it's all neat and unfussy with dark grey plastics prevailing on every surface. And thanks to beautiful build quality from the Polish Poznan production line, an air of sturdiness that's uncommon in small LCVs. Storage provision is good too, with four cupholders, a decent-sized glovebox, dash-top trays and door bins large enough to hold an atlas or a 1.5-litre drink bottle, plus the option of extra stowage compartments under the seats. There's also a long shelf above the windscreen, though the presence of only a small lip along its leading edge would lead me to worry about its contents being deposited on my head during sudden inclines or under hard acceleration. Paperwork and clothing won't be too much of a problem but, just for safety's sake, keep hammers, tins of paint and drinks flasks in the door pockets.

Market and Model

Most Caddy models sell in the £12,000 to £17,000 bracket, excluding the dreaded VAT. To graduate from the standard bodyshape to that of this Maxi model, you're looking at a premium of around £1,250, model-for-model. As for competitors, well check out comparable rivals like say Citroen's Berlingo, Peugeot's Partner, Fiat's Doblo Cargo, Renault's Kangoo, Nissan's NV200 or Ford's Transit Connect and you could be looking at a few hundred pounds more or less than Caddy prices but there won't be too much in it - not bad when you consider that this Volkswagen will probably be worth a little more when you come to sell it.

The most obvious Caddy bodystyle decision to make is obviously between standard or 'Maxi' shapes. There's also the option of a kombi version if your van will sometimes need to carry more than one passenger. Go for the Maxi variant and if your business emphasis is on people rather than packages, then you'll also have the option of a 7-seater window van variant, also offered with more car-like trim in 'Caddy Maxi Life' form. In both cases, both second and third seatinmg rows can be removed to return your Caddy to its natural capaqcious state. But whatever bodyshape you choose and whichever 1.6 or 2.0-litre TDI suits your budget, you should find that the standard equipment on offer covers most of the basics. So remote central locking, a 12v socket in the dashboard, an anti-dazzle rear view mirror, an MP3-compatible CD stereo with aux-in socket, driver's seat height adjustment and pleasingly, a proper full-sized spare wheel come across the range.

Safety-wise, daytime running lights and ESP stability control these days also make it to the standard rosta to sit alongside a driver's airbag and the usual electronic braking and traction aids. It's a pity though, that you have to pay extra for a front passenger airbag. A nice touch though, is the way that the hazard lights flash under emergency braking to warn following motorists. On passenger models, there are isofix child seat mountings too. All Caddy Maxi models add a second side sliding door to the single side door you get with the standard bodyshape and there's a proper full-height bulkhead on the Maxi rather than the half-height with plastic mesh upper-section arrangement offered on the smaller version.

Practicalities & Costs

As usual, let's start at the business end. Though the lifting tailgate that you get on passenger carrying versions of this van is an option, the asymmetrically-split rear doors that come as standard will suit most businesses, as will the relatively low loading height - anything between 560 and 594mm, depending upon the variant you choose. The doors themselves are 1181mm in width and 1116mm in height, so most of what you want should go in as long as it's not much larger than a single euro pallet. If it is, then you'll need to be looking at the Caddy Maxi variant, which adds 470mm to the vehicle length, increasing load volume from 3.2m3 to 4.2m3. That means a loadspace length that rises from 1781mm in a standard Caddy to 2250mm in this Maxi version. Either way, you get a loadspace width of 1552mm, narrowing to 1172mm between the wheelarches. Half-height hardboard trim offers some protection from interior scrapes and dents but as usual, there's no real substitute for a proper ply-lining package.

The cargo room is easy to access too, thanks sliding side doors large enough to slide a pallet in and out of thanks to a width of 700mm and a height of between 1244 and 1262mm, depending upon the bodystyle you choose. Standard Caddys get a single side door with a second as an option, but Maxi models like this one all come with doors on each side. So size-wise, most of what you want to carry will probably fit - but what about weight? Well, payloads are slightly up on before, ranging between 620 and 766kgs, depending upon the variant that you choose. To keep heavy items in place, there are six fold-away lashing eyes to tie things down. Should you forget to use it and find everything sliding forward, you'll be glad of the full-height bulkhead fitted as standard on this Maxi variant - there's a half-height affair with a plastic mesh top on the standard model.

All right, so it's practical. But how will running costs add up? Well, with savings of up to 13% promised across the board from the more efficient Euro5 engine range with its Diesel Particulate Filter technology and more efficient Servotronic power steering, operators' expectations will be high. But most will be looking at one of the 1.6-litre TDI versions and with these, you've the option of paying around £400 extra for a BlueMotion Technology model. Here, a package of tweaks including revised gearing, low fiction tyres, brake energy recuperation and, most importantly, a Stop/Start system that cuts the engine when you don't need it in urban traffic or at the lights - all of this cuts fuel consumption by up to 11.7%, so you'll get between 4-6 more miles out of every gallon than you would if you'd opted for a standard Caddy. Combined fuel figures range from 53.3mpg for the 75PS variant to 55.4mpg for the preferable 102PS model, giving users a useful operating range of around 700 miles from the 60-litre fuel tank.

Summary

Volkswagen has a very effective LCV line-up and this improved Caddy is a key part of it. The load practicalities are sound, the styling is attractive enough, the interior has a real quality about it and it's good to see that safety has been further prioritised. Most importantly perhaps, the improved engine range also means that this van now has a set of running costs that are right up with the class best.

It's true that there are slightly bigger rivals in the compact van sector but for the majority of operators, the 4.2m3 of space offered by this largest Maxi Caddy will be quite sufficient, for many of them alleviating the need to stretch up to buying something Transit or Volkswagen Transporter-sized. A quality choice then - from a quality brand. As this Caddy sets out to prove, good things come in little - and not so little - packages.


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