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SPACE VAN

Volkswagen's improved Caddy is a stronger proposition than ever. Jonathan Crouch checks it out

Ten Second Review

Today's compact van must, as far as possible, be all things to all users. Obviously there are limits, but the main contenders all now offer a choice of two sizes to potential customers. Volkswagen's improved Caddy is no different but brings a quality feel and a depth of design engineering that's missing from some of its rivals.

Background

Volkswagen's Caddy van has come a long way. The name does, after all, date 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 restyled Caddy is very different, sporting a pleasingly cohesive shape and running on the altogether more substantial platform of the MK5 Golf hatchback. The choice of standard and larger 'Maxi' bodystyles means that you can even get a passenger car version - the Caddy Maxi MPV - which offers a no-frills 7-seat people carrier to sensible-thinking families. Plus there are Caddy+ enhanced payload models, frugal BlueMotion Technology versions and 4Motion 4WD options.

Driving Experience

There's a diesel only-engine range for Caddy Maxi customers to consider and the overwhelming majority of UK van operators wouldn't have it any other way. The 75 and 102PS 1.6-litre TDI engines open proceedings and are adequately forceful for moving even the biggest Caddy Maxi and its cargo thanks to useful reserves of torque. The alternative, however, has quite the powerhouse - by van standards at least. Packing 110 or 140PS, the 2.0-litre TDI can really move. Its strength low down in the rev range is perfect for getting weighty loads off the line or up steep inclines. The cut and thrust of motorway travel is also greatly simplified when you've got this much of the good stuff under your right foot.

Both of the Caddy Maxi's diesel engines now use the common-rail injection diesel set-up that tends to be smoother and more refined. There's the usual diesel rumble at start-up but once operating temperatures are achieved, the Caddy goes about its business in a reasonably hushed manner. The driving position is nice and high affording good viability and easy access. The dash-mounted gear shifter has a nice, positive feel and the braking performance inspires confidence. The Caddy isn't as enjoyable to hustle along as some of the other offerings in this sector but its suspension irons out the bumps well for an overall driving experience with high levels of comfort.

Design and Build

The Caddy's front end has a new look, adopting the mix of clean, horizontal lines that already features on the Transporter. The standard Caddy offers a 3.2m3 load volume with a 720kg payload. Now that looked very class-competitive until rivals like Citroen's Berlingo and Renault's Kangoo started coming out with extended versions of their standard vans. Hence the availability of the enhanced payload capacity Caddy+ range and the bigger Caddy Maxi bodystyle.

With the Caddy Maxi, you've got 470mm more in length, with 151mm of that accounted for by a longer rear overhang and 319mm squeezed into the wheelbase. It all makes for a vehicle of 4,875mm in length with a 4.2m3 load volume - 1m3 more then, than the standard van. The maximum payload is increased too - to 800kg in a Caddy Maxi. Even if you really only need a small van, this version is well worth considering. You'll be glad you opted for it when the inevitable day comes when you turn up to collect a load bigger than advertised and find that it won't fit.

A braked trailer capacity of up to 1,500kg is within the Caddy's remit and pulling potential of this magnitude is rare in this sector. It's the Caddy's mass that allows owners to hitch-up such a big trailer. With gross vehicle weights between 2,205kg and 2,235kg, it's a much heavier vehicle than any direct competitor - few vans of this size even approach the 2,000kg barrier.

Market and Model

Standard equipment across the Caddy range includes Electronic Stabilisation Programme (ESP), ABS Anti-lock Braking System, Traction Control System (TCS), automatic hazard lights activation under emergency braking, a driver's airbag, speed sensitive power steering, remote central locking and a CD stereo with AUX-in socket. All Caddy Maxi models have twin sliding side doors and glazing rear doors with opaque glass. They also have a solid bulkhead which helps keep cabin noise down. There's the option of the DSG 7-speed semi-automatic gearbox for urban users, plus 4Motion 4WD if you want it.

As well as the panel van model, the Caddy Maxi can also be ordered in Window Van and 'MPV' forms. These bring additional people carrying options, with the Window Van taking a basic minibus approach with a carpeted floor and bench seats. The MPV model goes further, coming over a bit MPV with a more luxurious specification and various additional storage solutions.

Practicalities & Costs

Asymmetrically-split rear doors and relatively low loading height make the Caddy and easy loader but if the cargo is much larger than a single euro pallet, you'll need to be looking at the Caddy Maxi variant.

Running costs are never far from your mind if you've got enough sprogs to make buying one of these vans worthwhile. Whilst it's fair to note that the Caddy Maxi isn't one of the cheapest vehicles of this genre, it remains one of the most efficient to run and with beefy residual values, it's one that has very reasonable whole life costs. Even the punchiest 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine with DSG gearbox will return a combined fuel figure of 44.8mpg and emit just 166g/km of carbon dioxide although it's worth noting that these figures are attained with an unladen vehicle.

Go for a BlueMotion version of the 1.6-litre diesel and you'll get low rolling resistance tyres, modified gear ratios, regenerative braking and a Start/Stop system that means even better fuel economy and lower emissions. Economy rises from 47.3 to 54.3mpg while emissions drop from 152 to 136g/km. The CNG model is also very economical and excels in its environmental credentials, capable as it is of being run on Biomethane. CNG reduces carbon monoxide by up to 50 per cent and nitrogen oxide by 97 per cent compared to unleaded fuel. Plus there is zero particulate emission.

Summary

Volkswagen has a very effective LCV line-up and the Caddy is a key part of it. In Maxi form, it's a little bit bigger and that will be exactly what some operators need. The engines are sound, the styling is attractive enough and the interior has a real quality about it. You will pay a premium for that Volkswagen branding but residual values are strong and maintenance costs low, so that extra outlay up front might pay dividends.

If your load carry requirements are forcing you into a small panel van, the Caddy could be your saviour. As a compact van with extra space, it's affordable, manoeuvrable and a more enjoyable drive than the larger vehicle you were thinking about, whether you're taking to the back lanes or pounding the motorway. The 140PS TDI engine gives it a brisk turn of pace too.


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