Volkswagen's improved Caddy Maxi model is a stronger proposition than ever. Jonathan Crouch checks it out
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.
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.
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. Buyers get a range of two 2.0-litre TDI Euro6 engines, ranging in power output from 102 to 150PS. Customers can also opt for a DSG automatic gearbox. On the move, 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 102PS 2.0 TDI model. For that reason, we'd council you to stretch to the 150PS version of this engine if you possibly can. 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.
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. As before, opting for this Maxi model gives you 4.2m3 of loading volume rather than the 3.6m3 of the standard version. Plus there's 470mm more length, with 151mm of that accounted for by a longer rear overhang and 319mm squeezed into the wheelbase. Behind the wheel, this Caddy feels comfortable yet robust, and boasts smarter upholstery and switchgear, as well as enhanced stereo and infotainment systems. The standard five-inch touchscreen Colour Composition radio can be upgraded to a higher-tech Composition Media item, or buyers can specify the Discover Navigation system. Overall, the cabin's 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.
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.
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 this Caddy Maxi variant with its larger 4.2m3 load volume and greater 800kg payload. All right, so it's practical. But how will running costs add up? Well, all Caddy models can be specified as 'BMT' variants, the letters designating the way that 'BlueMotion Technology' modifications (a start/stop system and battery regeneration) have been fitted to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. A standalone BlueMotion variant also joins the range: with a 2.0-litre EU6 102PS engine and a five-speed manual gearbox, it can return 65.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 114g/km.
Volkswagen has a very effective LCV line-up and this much improved 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 150PS TDI engine gives it a brisk turn of pace too.
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