A price that isn't as sharp as it once was, and a ride that is sharper than we'd hoped: those are two elements that make the 2017 Volkswagen Caddy Runner an option that requires some weighing up.
The Volkswagen Caddy Runner is back once again, with the value-focused base model bringing new tech as part of its latest iteration.
In 2016, for instance, the price was $1000 lower, and in 2015 it was $1000 lower again. And when VW launched the Runner model back in 2012, it was a much more attractive $19,990 drive-away deal.
But now there’s more kit than ever before, including some benchmark level safety equipment: forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking, as well as driver fatigue monitoring. That’s standard, and you can’t even option it on any of its rivals vans. So if you’re buying for a fleet with strict safety requirements, it’s worth bearing in mind.
Still, though, the VW misses out on a rear-view camera at this price point, which is disappointing considering you can get that potentially life-saving tech in a cheaper Citroen Berlingo (from $21,990). And that Citroen has rear parking sensors (the VW doesn't) and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
The updated Runner retains its touchscreen media system, which earlier versions didn’t get, though the 5.0-inch screen isn’t at the cutting edge in terms of connectivity. You have to get into a dearer Caddy to even have the option to option the bigger screen with Apple CarPlay, too.
That said, the screen in the Caddy is simple to use, and it has the requisite Bluetooth phone and audio streaming to keep businesspeople contactable on the move. It’s quick to connect and reconnect, has good call clarity, and the menus of the media system are simple to learn, while the controls are all logically placed.
Indeed, that’s one thing that separates the VW from many of its van rivals: it is a very car-like cabin.
From the flat-bottomed, leather-lined steering wheel with piano black highlights and smartly placed buttons, to the Polo-like dashboard and controls and the comfortable sculpted seats, no other van feels quite like it. And it has the must-have airbag coverage, with dual front, front side and head airbags standard.
It has nooks and crannies for you to store odds and ends aplenty. The door pockets are large and deep, with bottle-holders moulded into them, and there are cupholders between the seats, though no covered storage down there. As you’ll find in most of these vans, there’s an overhead folder holder for, er, folders, laptops and the like, and unlike some other vans in this class, the USB port is logically located in front of the gear-shifter, with a spot big enough for a large smartphone to sit, too.
That said, there are some shortcomings. There’s no fold-down armrest for the driver, and while the storage is very good, there’s not quite as much dash-top stowage here as there is in a Citroen, for example. It also misses out on vanity mirrors – what if you want to look your best for that next quote? Tut-tut, VW.
The Caddy also didn’t reflect the brand’s premium status in some aspects of its road manners.
Its suspension clunks heavily at the front end over sharp-edged bumps, the rear can jolt too, when empty. We loaded up 350 kilograms of ballast thanks to our mates out at Crown Lift Trucks, and things settled down at the rear with weight over that axle, but the front-end was still sharp.
Its steering is quick to react and offers good feel to the driver’s hands, and while it is light enough to twirl when you’re parking, it also offers good weighting at higher speeds for cornering assuredness.
Even in base model Runner spec, the Caddy has a turbocharged engine: a 1.2-litre four-cylinder with 62kW (at 4800rpm) and 160Nm (at 3500rpm), with a five-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive.
It's no powerhouse but it is perky comparative to some of its less grunty rivals – it can run out of puff ascending hills in high gear, but when you’re getting things moving is where it shines brightest, accelerating from a standstill with vim and vigour.
There’s good linearity to the way it builds speed, and straight out of the box – we picked it up with just 38km on the odometer – there was no adjustment required. The gearbox shifted smoothly, the clutch was well-weighted and with good feel to the pedal.
That turbocharged engine helps it claim the lowest fuel use of these three, at just 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and after a few hundred km of tooling around with and without weight (it managed both with the same level of ease), we saw a miserly 6.8L/100km.
So it drives well – the chassis is well balanced and it doesn’t roll around too much – but a Citroen, Fiat Doblo or Renault Kangoo ride better than it when there’s nothing in the back, and that may be in part due to the fact it is very light: the Caddy weighs 1321kg, which is 50kg less than an equivalent Fiat and 240kg less than a Berlingo in this size specification.
Owing to the fact it has no floor-level sound deadening, there was noticeable road roar both at low speeds and on the highway. It was annoying at times, but what could frustrate you more is that you’ll likely damage the floor of your van when loading, particularly if you’re forking items in.
The standard rear barn doors help in this regard – they span 1183mm wide (narrower than some rivals) and 1134mm tall, with a stepped section that may prove hard to negotiate as it requires some deft driving from the fork operator.
If you’re side loading, there’s a single door on the kerb-side only (get into any other Euro small van and you have dual side doors), and that aperture measures 701mm wide and 1097mm tall. The cargo space itself is 1259mm tall, 1556mm wide (1170mm between the wheel-arches) and 1779mm long, making for a 3.2 cubic-metre area with six wide set floor-mount tie-down hooks and a payload of 779kg.
Volkswagen may not be first to come to mind for affordable ownership, but the Caddy has a solid ownership promise on paper.
It comes with a five-year capped-price service plan, with maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km. The average cost over that five-year/75,000km period is $470. The warranty cover on the Caddy is three years/unlimited kilometres, and buyers get Volkswagen roadside assistance over that period, too. If you buy before the end of financial year, you’ll get a five-year/unlimited km plan if you finance the vehicle through VW.
There are plenty of reasons to buy a Volkswagen Caddy Runner, then, but also a few that may see you wish to shop around and see what else is out there.
If it were me, I’d want a camera and CarPlay if I were buying a Caddy, and the more power-packed engine in the more expensive auto version (from $29,390 plus on-roads – 1.4-litre turbo, 92kW/220Nm). And if I were buying a budget van, I’d want it to be more wallet-friendly than this.
Click the Gallery tab above for more images by Sam Venn.
Thanks again to our friends at Crown Lift Trucks for their help loading up the VW Caddy.