The 2016 Volkswagen Caddy range launches at a particularly opportune time for its German maker.
Sales of light vans are booming, running at 17 per cent higher in 2015 than they did last year, with 3673 finding homes so far. In other words, this is a hot segment to be throwing a new model into.
Especially when you consider that the outgoing Volkswagen Caddy already reigns as the king of this scrappy mosquito segment, with 1695 sales this year so far — that’s a commanding 50-ish per cent market share.
And as you can read in detail here, the Polish-made 2016 Volkswagen Caddy gets a large range of updates that theoretically make it stronger than ever. In essence, it’s now more closely related to the Golf than the Polo — just like the 1980 original.
And more interesting is the fact that this is just the first wave, with the entire diesel line-up and the cut-price 1.2-litre Runner petrol model (white paint, manual gearbox, bugger all in the way of options) coming in 2016.
All told then, what we have here is Volkswagen’s attempt to swat away the Renault Kangoo (1071 sales YTD, making hay while the Caddy diesels are on stop-sale), Suzuki APV (494), Citroen Berlingo (280) and Fiat Doblo (124).
The launch 2016 Caddy range comprises three variations on the commercial side — regular- and long-wheelbase cargo vans, and a five-seat crew van — plus regular and LWB five- and seven-seat people-mover versions.
We’re going to lump them all together for now, simply because this review is being written following the Australian range launch event, and our time behind of the wheel of each was customarily limited. We’ll get a few through our garage soon for more detailed assessment.
Right off the bat, the most interesting thing about the new Caddy range is under the bonnet. There’s no diesel — yet. The 2.0-litre unit that’s coming here in early 2016 has to get a re-flash to meet its claimed NOx outputs. Dieselgate strikes.
Still, for now we have a pretty good substitute — a TSI220 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine making 92kW at 4800rpm and 220Nm between 1500 and 2500rpm.
These figures are well up on the outgoing 77kW/175Nm turbocharged 1.2-litre engine in the 2015 Caddy. To simplify, the 2016 Caddy has a Golf engine, while the 2015 version had a Polo one.
Fuel consumption on the combined cycle kicks off at 6.0 litres of expensive 95 RON fuel per 100km with the slightly more frugal DSG fitted. This is about 10 per cent better than before.
This engine is matched to either a six-speed manual gearbox or, crucially for the brand, a seven-speed DSG automatic that gives buyers the new option of a self-shifter, albeit at a steep $3000 premium. All for now are front-wheel drive.
All told, the 92TSI engine is just as sprightly here as it is in the Golf, because there’s 100kg or so difference in the unladen weights, though the longer wheelbase models and ones with seven seats are obviously going to be comparatively strained under load.
This type of vehicle is designed principally for inner-city work, and that deep reservoir of low-down torque, and the generally well-behaved and un-hesitant DSG do a fine job of hustling about. It spanks all of its rivals for power and torque, and the option of that auto gives it a key selling point over some.
Given the van’s car-like underpinnings — the PQ35 architecture is used in part on cars as diverse as the Beetle and Tiguan — and the super-light electromechanical steering, the Caddy is quite nimble to punt around.
As is customary for this type of vehicle, it has a car-like and comfortable seating position and steering wheel with reach/rake adjustment, and soft dampers that give a decent urban ride. However, there’s still a fair degree of road noise and booming from the cargo area. More than some rivals, based on first impressions.
Even unladen, the Caddy settles after sharp bumps and humps pretty well and rarely feels skittish. The body control is good, and its handling predictable. Its all-round disc brakes also have good pedal feel and ample ‘bite’.
The tight turning circle of between 11 and 12 metres depending on spec makes it a handy little city companion, though the fact you have to pay extra for reversing sensors, let alone a camera, is a little too parsimonious on VW’s part. If you don’t also option side windows, it’s a tough thing to see out of.
The cabin, likewise, feels made to a higher standard than the Kangoo, Doblo and co. There’s a little more glitz here, in the form of that car-like flat-bottomed multi-function steering wheel, and having four standard airbags is good.
As ever, the fit-out consists of hard-wearing plastics, which are well screwed together. The French and Italian rivals really don’t compete here. The base versions get a decent 5.0-inch touchscreen, all the requisite connectivity, cruise control/speed limiter and a digital speedo.
There are also lots of storage options, including a big open tray on top of the dash, an open area under the fascia and above the glovebox, big door pockets with 1.0L bottle holders, sliding drawers under the seats and a signature big shelf stretched above the windscreen.
But the glitzy options that Volkswagen is trumpeting are generally extra-cost on both the vans and people-movers (excluding the Maxi Comfortline range-topper). Read all about the full specifications for the vans here, and the people-movers here.
That nifty Apple CarPlay/Andoid Auto system on a 6.3-inch screen $1190. Add a further $800 for sat-nav. You can also get a package with autonomous brakes and radar cruise control — for $2260.
This is all fine, and even if it costs extra it's still segment-leading. We do wish, though, that Volkswagen didn’t insist on charging $590 for parking sensors. Meanwhile to get a reverse-view camera, you have to pay $1090, on top of an extra $100 for a roof-hinged tailgate in place of the standard barn doors. Safe to say there’s a bit of margin there…
To the rear. We’ll do the cargo vans first. For context, the Caddy is about 200mm longer than a comparative Kangoo, and has a longer loading area and greater payloads. Only between the arches is it narrower, though both can fit a pallet.
It’s also almost identical to before, meaning existing buyers will easily move their racking etc. from their old Caddy into their new one.
The SWB Caddy measures 4408mm long, 2065mm wide with mirrors and 1836mm high on a 2682mm wheelbase. The LWB Caddy Maxi and crew van versions are 470mm longer and sit on 324mm-longer wheelbases.
The base SWB at launch has a 773kg payload, climbing to 847kg for the Maxi. If you regularly carry 200kg or more, Volkswagen urges you to buy the reinforced rear suspension option with stronger leafs and different bump stops ($390 on the SWB, $690 on the Maxi). That's cheeky.
The cargo volumes vary from 3200 litres (SWB) to 4200L (Maxi), both 200L more than a Kangoo. The Maxi crew van is differentiated by its foldable three-person bench seat in the rear, which reduces cargo volume by about 60 per cent when in use.
The load area is 1779mm long in the SWB and 2249mm long in the Maxi, while all are about 1170mm wide between the arches (a standard pallet is 1165mm).
The sliding side doors are 701mm x 1090mm (you get one as standard on the SWB you can pay $690 for a second, while there are twins on the Maxi).
All versions get between 6-8 lashing rings, hardboard side panels and a 12-volt socket in the back. But unlike the Doblo, you have to pay for a cargo protector on the floor and a crash barrier.
The van launch range starts at $28,190 plus on-road costs for the Maxi petrol-manual. Meanwhile the Caddy SWB is DSG-only until the Runner arrives, kicking off at $28,990. The crew version kicks off at $29,690.
All of these are a few grand pricier than the Kangoo/Doblo/Berlingo and co. But then again, in all cases, the Caddy feels like the more composed, rounded and talented offering.
It’s a markedly better car in almost all areas, though the competition will hot up properly when the $23K-ish Runner and the diesels hit town. Until then, the nature of the line-up is a little different to most rivals in this highly cost-sensitive market. Now is the time for Renault to push.
What about the people-mover?
As with the Caddy van variants, there are two body sizes — the SWB and Maxi. The former comes standard with five seats and 750L of cargo space, or for an extra $990 you can option a third-row bench that cuts cargo space to 190L when in use and not folded/removed. Clever touch, that.
The Maxi is standard with seven seats (2+3+3). There’s a very commendable 1350L behind the second row and a still good 530L behind the third. It’s a surprisingly capacious, genuine seven-seater with rear vents and a few Isofix anchors for $34,990 plus on-roads.
The $37,990 model comes with extras such as alloy wheels and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and is one we might have to put against a more traditional car-like people-mover soon…
You can see why Europeans love these things. Sure, the windows only slide and it’s noisier than more car-like rivals, but it’s a Mary Poppins bag in terms of space. The big issue is the fact the curtain airbags only cover the first and second seat rows — though that’s still better than some van-based people-carriers out there.
From an ownership perspective, all Volkswagen Commercials get a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and capped-price servicing at 12-month/15,000km intervals.
To the verdict. The Volkswagen Caddy van launch range is only half complete, with the cut-price Runner petrol and all of the diesels still in the pipeline. As such, we have the slightly upmarket versions on offer.
Luckily, the new engine and cabin (especially if you add a few options), as well as the super car-like driving dynamics and good capacities, mean it deserves its current slightly premium positioning.
Having driven most contenders relatively recently, it’s clear to yours truly that the Caddy certainly reflects its ‘newness’ by being the most rounded package on the market. If you can stretch, do. If you can’t, wait for the Runner or haggle very hard on a Kangoo.