MANUFACTURERS are always on the lookout for new niches in the market, and one of the latest trends has been the conversion of light commercial vans into a combination of van, SUV and MPV – a sort of “one size fits all” approach. Although this will always have only limited appeal, it certainly has merit for the family or business needing lots of space for kids or goods, or both. The VW Caddy was conceived in Brazil, uses a Golf platform with some modifications, and is manufactured at a VW plant in Poland.

Achieving stunning styling with a van-based vehicle is a mission impossible, and ever-conservative Volkswagen stuck to the basics with its design of the Caddy. The front looks sensible, a sort of mini Touran appearance, with attractive headlamps adding to the appeal. The rear, unfortunately, looks very slab-like, with lacklustre tail-lights and a massive rear window. Large, protruding grey plastic bumpers offer sensible protection for lights and paintwork. The standard configuration offers a single sliding door on the kerb side, but a matching sliding unit for the driver's side can be ordered as an option. Access to the rear is via a large tailgate, the handle of which is placed low down, requiring some back-bending to release it, followed by a couple of steps backwards to clear the swing of the 1,1m-deep door. In addition, the handle’s lip is rounded, making it difficult to grasp.

Interior ambience is dominated by the usual VW black facia, consisting of a large area of hard plastic, but exhibiting respectable quality of finish. The overall quality of panel fit is also of a good standard. The effect of the dark facia is softened by grey door trim, seat material and roof lining, the latter only covering the front cab section. Behind this is a hardboard ceiling-panel. There is no covered glove compartment, but an overhead full-width rack above the windscreen provides space to stow items out of sight.

Interior side panels in the rear are body-colour painted steel, and therefore prone to scratching, but, fortunately, a carpet covers the floor area. Windows are of the wind-up type in front, with the one in the sliding door as well as that on the opposite side using sliding panes to allow in fresh air. This, together with the omission of an armrest, helps to keep the sliding door slim. Access to the rear seat is good, but when exiting the high sill and intrusive B-pillar can trip you up if you’re not careful.

Seats are typical of this type of vehicle, offering average levels of support up front, but being rather rudimentary and flat in the rear. Although the driver’s seat is not height adjustable, a relaxing driving position is possible with the help of a reach-and-height adjustable steering wheel. Front head restraints are also fully adjustable, a much-appreciated aid to driving comfort. Covered storage compartments below the rear passenger’s feet are large but shallow, and can be used for concealing small items.

Instrumentation is straightforward and clear, but no temperature gauge is fitted, only a warning light. The instrument cluster is illuminated in VW’s unique blend of red and blue tones. Pity that the optional sound system’s back-lighting could not be dimmed sufficiently to avoid irritation. Passive safety is enhanced by a driver’s airbag on this base model, whereas the more expensive Life version has a full complement of front and side airbags.

Controls are logical and easy to use. The exterior mirrors are suitably large, actually wider on the right-hand side and deeper on the kerb side, but can only be adjusted by opening the relevant window and prodding the mirror with one’s fingers. Although remote central locking and an alarm/ immobiliser are standard, air-conditioning is an option.

Behind the rear seat is a huge utility area capable of swallowing 552 dm3 of goods. Unfortunately, no covering shelf is supplied. On collapsing the 60:40 split rear bench, a sizeable 1 824 dm3 of utility space is available. The real beauty of a notso- pretty high-roofed body becomes evident when the need to transport large items arises. Be it a washing machine, bicycles or large pot plants, the Caddy swallows most items upright. The loading height is pleasantly low; but make sure there is enough room for the tailgate to clear.

Performance is acceptable for the Caddy's size and mass, but it does require a good deal of foot-flat driving to keep up with the traffic flow. Revs are needed for nippy acceleration, meaning frequent down-changes. Luckily, with VW’s typically slick and positiveaction gearshift, keeping the motor on song is a pleasurable pastime. Both red line and limiter come into play at 6 500 r/min. Top speed is mediocre at a true 168 km/h, due to a largish frontal area increasing drag, but more important is the satisfactory cruising ability at 120 km/h, which is relaxing and effortless. Acceleration to 100 km/h took 14,35 seconds.

Braking was a touch disappointing. In our test sequence, we usually achieve an average time of close to three seconds to stop from 100 km/h with ABS-equipped cars. In this case, we only managed an average of 3,35 seconds. The ABS was pumping frantically during the stops, suggesting that the suspension was working overtime to keep the tyres in touch with the road. The brake servo lost its vacuum quickly and, on start-up, there would be no braking effort until the engine had run for a second or two. So the message is “keep the handbrake on till the engine has started”.

The excellent ride comfort on smooth roads makes this a great long distance cruiser. But on rougher stuff, bumps upset the rear suspension when unladen and the set-up seemed under-damped, which could lead to some pogo-stick antics when loaded. Handling showed a fair deal of body roll due to the highish centre of gravity, but once settled into a corner, the Caddy tracked true, with a warning light informing the driver that traction assistance from Bosch was at hand. Steering is assisted by electrical power, not always a successful marriage, but in the Caddy’s case it had a similar feel to hydraulic power assistance, with a light but positive action.

Test summary

Like other similarly-shaped van conversions, the Caddy offers bags of space within reasonably compact dimensions. Although not scoring highly in terms of style, performance or handling, the VW shines in its ability to swallow up vast amounts of cargo. It is generally a pleasure to drive and will appeal to a wide spectrum of buyers. Apart from this model, a TDI-engined version is also available. But the price escalates quickly as extras are added, and this could negatively influence the purchasing decision.

Original article from Car