Johannesburg – There are many things we love about the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi long-term-test bus that’s been part of our lives for about a year now, but what stands out most is the space. So as you could imagine, our editorial team often had that stereotypical squabble over the keys while blurting excuses like: “need to help my cousin-in-law’s step-uncle move a bed and twenty pianos across town”, “go on holiday to Tweebuffelsmeteenstootmorsdoodgeskietfontein”, or “hang out with my blow-up sheep”.

Our vehicle had the optional barn-style doors and they opened up to one barn of an interior, except it was a lot smarter in there and it didn’t smell of hay and manure.

Sure, you don’t get all the touchy-feely plastics and satin chrome decorations that VW Golf owners like to gloat about, but for what is essentially a panel van turned MPV, the Caddy’s inner quarters are very neatly styled and well finished. The plastics might be hard and the seat trim more durable than plush, but it has a quality about it that still feels more sedan than van.

Recently it was my turn to fight my colleagues for the Caddy’s keys when my wife and three fur children decided it was time for a trip to the coast.

The Caddy Maxi can seat seven in relative comfort and still swallow some luggage. The boot is not exactly huge with all seven seats in place, but you’ll still get a few big bags in there. We didn’t need seven seats, but our spoiled brats – a husky and two pugs – tend to enjoy a big boot and so we found ourselves removing the third-row bench, which was a quick and painless exercise.

Not so much all the pooch-proofing that I had to perform with all sorts of sheets and things before the trip, making me wish they’d fitted the panel van’s rubber flooring rather than carpets, but in the end the Caddy proved to be a remarkably dog friendly vehicle. The split doors make loading and unloading the hooligans particularly easy – in that Charlie’s not jumping out already while you’re trying to get Maggie in and the mad exit rush at your destination has a very useful bottleneck.

While the seating configuration is fairly flexible in that the second and third rows can be folded, double-folded or removed completely, the seats do lack a sliding function which would make the interior a whole lot more versatile. With a family of four or five going on holiday, you’d end up with way too much luggage space and – if the kids were big – not quite enough legroom for them to stretch out.

Back to my N3 expedition, what stood out was the effortless performance provided by the Caddy’s 2-litre TDI turbodiesel, which produces 81kW and 250Nm when mated to the five-speed manual gearbox, as is our test vehicle’s case.

If you go for the DSG, which costs R442 200 versus the manual’s R410 400 sticker price, you get bumped up to 103kW and 320Nm. That might seem tempting, given that 81kW doesn’t sound like enough power to move such a big bus, but I was pleasantly surprised by how strong the lower-output engine feels. You can really just stick it in fifth and forget about it, even up steeper hills.

But while the box and its ratios make the engine seem more flexible, a sixth cog would have made for quieter and more efficient cruising, given that the engine hums along at 2400rpm in fifth at 120km/h – which is a bit high for a diesel. The Caddy is still very economical, our vehicle averaging around 6.4 litres per 100km, but it could perhaps have been even frugler.

The ride is comfortable too, particularly surprising given that the Caddy is fitted with bakkie-like leaf-spring suspension at the back. But this is still a sugar-coated panel van and even apart from the ride, it’s never going to offer quite the same sound insulation or overall smoothness as one of VW’s normal passenger cars, yet it’s still perfectly tolerable in any situation, including a lengthy road trip.

Comfortline models come with all the basic comfort amenities, such as air conditioning, electric windows and a 12.7cm Composition Colour touch-screen audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and steering-wheel controls. Safety kit includes ESP stability control, post-collision braking as well as front, side and curtain airbags, albeit only for those upfront.

VERDICT

At R410 400 the Caddy offers lots of space for the money, and is nicely finished, styled and equipped by van standards. It’s a working class hero with a touch of VW classiness.

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi 2.0 TDI Trendline

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Power: 81kW @ 4200rpm
Torque: 250Nm @ 1500-2500rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 12.8 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 170km/h
Price: R410 400
Warranty: 3-year/120 000km
Service plan: 3-year/60 000km

IOL Motoring

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