Volkswagen Caddy 2011

Volkswagen Caddy 4MOTION Review

Rating: 7.0
$36,490 $45,490 Mrlp
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Volkswagen has launched an all-new addition Caddy 4MOTION.
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Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life TDI320 4MOTION 2.0-litre common-rail direct-injection turbo-diesel six-speed DSG (Direct Shift gearbox), 103kW/320Nm: $45,490 (Manufacturer’s List Price)
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Van TDI320 4MOTION 2.0-litre common-rail direct-injection turbo-diesel six-speed DSG (Direct Shift gearbox), 103kW/320Nm: $36,490 (Manufacturer’s List Price)

Volkswagen Australia has launched an all-new addition to their highly successful Caddy line-up of vans and people movers called the Caddy 4MOTION.

‘4Motion’ is ‘Volkswagen speak’ for all-wheel drive and it’s standard fit on both the Caddy Maxi Life and Caddy Maxi Van model variants.

CarAdvice was at the Australian launch of the vehicle this week, which included a test drive program from Albury/Wodonga to Falls Creek and back. Plenty of time to get to know the all-wheel drive Caddy and what is a first time offering in the light commercial segment.

First up was the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life. Its full model description is the TDI320 Caddy Maxi Life Comfortline 4MOTION. It might have started out in life as a compact commercial van, but in this guise, it’s a highly accomplished seven-seat people mover with a crazy amount of space and impeccable road manners.

Despite the total absence of any soft touch materials (besides the seats and headliner) there’s a premium feel to the cockpit of the Caddy, which also extends across to the stripped out Maxi Van. It’s a combination of all-black plastics that are nicely patterned and a highly functional console and switchgear layout, including the oversize air conditioning vents (and plenty of them) and a thick-rimmed three-spoke sports-style steering wheel donated from the Golf.

The fabric-upholstered seats (from the Volkswagen Polo) are superbly comfortable, even after a few hours behind the wheel. There’s plenty of side bolster too, which keeps your torso firmly in place so as you can properly enjoy the unusually good on road dynamics the Caddy Maxi Life is blessed with.

The second-row seats maintain a similar level of passenger comfort and are split-fold, while the third row is a bench seat set-up but does fold flat. In fact, if you want to use your Caddy Life 4Motion for house moving runs or trips to the local tip , all rear seats fold dead flat for easy high capacity loading. But if that’s not enough, you can easily remove the rear seats completely (row-by-row) for a Maxi Van-like load capacity.

Most people movers in this segment lose much of their luggage capacity with all three seat rows in the upright position, but that’s where the Caddy Life is the standout vehicle. Not only is the aperture of the tailgate completely unencumbered for both width and height, allowing for dishwashers, washing machines and dryers to slide right in, but also there is a tonne of space behind the third row.

Being fathered by a commercial van does have its benefits; like dual sliding doors that allow easy ingress and egress for passengers in tight spaces at the Mall.

Rear seat passengers in both rows have the benefit of stadium-style seating with guarantees excellent all round vision, and there's a stack of clever little storage spaces throughout the cabin in addition to the usual cup holders.

Although the Caddy Life does have a storage cover to hide goods in the rear cargo area there’s also a drawer under both front seats for the likes of laptops and other expensive gear that’s best hidden from potential preying eyes.

Normally, you wouldn’t expect a light commercial vehicle that’s basically been given a people mover makeover to provide anything close to a dynamic driving experience, but again, the Caddy Maxi Life delivers exactly that.

Under the bonnet sits a Common-rail Direct-injection turbo-diesel developing 103 kW and 320 Nm between 1500-2500 rpm. It’s more than enough grunt to get the Caddy moving in a spritly manner. It pulls hard from either a standstill and makes rapid progress during mid range acceleration on up to our national speed limit, or beyond. Engine noise from the diesel is well muted too, so it’s pleasant enough on a long drive even under load up the steep assent to the Falls Creek Ski Village. Not bad at all for its 1790kg kerb weight.

Equally significant to the Caddy Life’s car-like drivability is the standard fit six-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) transmission. They might be a touch jittery in stop/start traffic, but that’s about where any criticism of Volkswagen’s DSG starts and stops. It’s a small price to pay for the driving pleasure that comes with lightning fast shifts in both the auto and the sequential manual mode, which we used, on the twisty climb up the ski village. There’s also a ‘Sport’ mode that will hold the forward gear ratios longer for maximum revs under heavy acceleration, but it’s more fun using the especially tactile shifter.

Even better on the cold and wet roads that we were traveling on is the added safety and additional traction provided by Volkswagen’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system. Caddy 4Motion uses a fourth generation Haldex clutch (Volvo all-wheel drive models also use Haldex systems) which in simple terms apportion the desired level of drive torque to the rear axle when slip is detected. It’s an extra level of passenger safety especially in potentially dangerous environments such as snow and icy that are part and parcel of ski trips.

Hill Start Assist is another standard feature on the Caddy Maxi Life that can take the stress out of driving a vehicle of these proportions in hilly cities such as Sydney. That’s particularly so with a DSG box as they have a tendency to roll back on a hill the moment you lift off the brake. It's much like a manual in that respect, but that characteristic is totally eliminated with the Hill Start Assist function, which holds the vehicle a couple of seconds when you lift off the brake pedal.

Additional safety features include a range of active and passive systems including Electronic Stability Program (ESP), four airbags up front (although no airbags for rear seat passengers due to the commercial platform this vehicle is based on), Daytime Running Lights, Dusk Sensing headlights and rain sensing wipers and an Auto Dimming rear-view mirror.

There are in fact very few options available on the Caddy Maxi Life as it comes standard with a full suite of creature comforts including Park Distance Control – rear, Front Fog lamps with cornering function, Climatronic Dual-zone air conditioning, Multifunction steering leather steering wheel to list only part of the inventory.

Disappointing though is the absence of standard Bluetooth phone and music streaming - both of which should be considered safety features these days.

The Caddy 4MOTION is a tall vehicle; 1.893 metres from the wheel to the roofline, but that won’t be a problem for ninety-nine percent of undercover car parks. You also don’t expect such a cumbersome looking vehicle (at least from the rear end perspective) to be in any way zippy to drive. But let me assure you, it is exactly that, zippy and responsive. Volkswagen engineers have well and truly sorted the suspension tuning on the Caddy. It’s like the more you drive it, the more you like it.

In fact, for the first few kilometres you tend to treat the Caddy as though you would a commercial delivery van. But with nicely weighted steering and little if any body lean on turn-in, you no sooner start to push on with a surprising level of enthusiasm.

The suspension tuning on the Caddy 4MOTION provides an entirely Golf-style ride complete with a planted feeling on the road, even at speed through bends. Poor quality roads surfaces are simply ironed out by the Caddy. The level of pliancy this vehicle offers is as refined as many cars with fully independent suspension. You see, the Caddy Maxi Life can’t escape it’s commercial heritage, so you won’t be all that surprised to know that there’s a more robust leaf spring set-up down the back.

We also got some time behind the wheel of the purely commercial Caddy Maxi Van, which due to its lighter weight by nearly 100 kilograms feels even more agile and spirited than the Maxi Life, at least without a load in the back.

Again, it’s the on-road dynamics coupled with the low down torque of this engine and smooth power delivery by the DSG gearbox that makes this vehicle such a joy to pilot. Add to that the additional safety benefits of the 4MOTION system and you’ve got a vehicle that is able to deliver goods to places off the beaten track such as building sites and ski resorts.

There wasn’t a squeak or rattle in either of the Caddy 4MOTION vans and that was over a range of different road surfaces. You get the impression that this is very solidly built vehicle and could handle plenty of abuse in a typically commercial environment.

With a combined fuel economy cycle of 6.7/6.8L/100km for the Caddy Maxi Van and Caddy Maxi Life respectively, they are both frugal and relatively ‘green’. That’s especially so when you factor in their standard fit Diesel Particulate Filter and Euro 5 emissions status.

Without doubt the Caddy 4Motion offers buyers a premium choice in the segment. When you add 4MOTION to the equation there is little that can challenge this unique package of practicality and driveability, but it comes at a price.