Road Test: VW's Caravelle goes upscale

By Jesse Adams Time of article published Apr 1, 2016

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ROAD TEST: Volkswagen Caravelle 2.0 BiTDI Highline 4Motion AT

By: Jesse Adams

This is Volkswagen’s new Caravelle. Hard to tell, isn’t it? Launched in South Africa late in 2015, it’s the sixth version of the now 66-year-old bus, or, T6 if we use VW’s nomenclature.

So, it’s different from the T5 then, right? Well, yes and no. The T6 has a subtly restyled front end, and a majorly restyled dashboard, but from the front seats back it’s identical to the previous Caravelle. We’d prefer to call it a facelift to be honest, but hey, who are we to argue with the world’s second biggest carmaker?

The Caravelle is a vehicle this publication’s more than familiar with, as we had a T5 in our fleet for a long-term test in 2015. We adored that vehicle. So much space, a comfortable driving position, flexible seating arrangements and a punchy yet reasonably efficient two-litre bi-turbodiesel engine (the same as in the Amarok bakkie).

Good thing all of those aspects are left untouched in the new model. In fact, we picked up right where we left off with our cherished T5 and put this one straight to work hauling furniture (with the seats folded, of course), taking doggies to the park, and as family transport for a long weekend away in the bush.

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But let’s talk about what’s new. Our T6 test unit came in top-end Highline specification, so here the new dash plays home to a 6.3 inch colour touchscreen complete with navigation and VW’s clever proximity sensor system that pre-empts finger prods and pulls up sub-menu selections otherwise hidden from view. It’s the same screen as you’ll find in high-spec Golfs and other VW products, and it brings an air of freshness and modernity to the cabin.

As does the dashboard itself. Where the T5’s fascia was swathed in acres of hard plastic, the T6 ups quality perception with glossy black surfaces, complemented by textured aluminium elements. The small square trip computer between the speedo and tachometer has been updated with more detailed colour graphics, and the gear-lever and steering wheel are now a bit classier in design than the ones used previously.

We have a love/hate relationship with the Caravelle’s second two seating rows. They’re brilliantly versatile, with the second two seats tilting, swivelling and sliding into various positions. The last row also tilts and slides, offering either more or less cargo or legroom. It’s all very luxury limousine back there, and if retractable blinds on all side windows aren’t rockstar enough, a centre island (again, sliding) which pops up into a nifty, circular table is perfect for five whisky tumblers... or kiddies’ sippie cups. Whatever.

We just wish VW could make extraction of the seats more convenient. They’re all excruciatingly heavy, and eight fiddly little clips in the mounting channels can be a monkey puzzle to remove and replace, on the occasion when you need to use this box-shaped van for moving a queen-size bed.

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Besides being a flagship derivative, our test vehicle was also fitted with 4Motion all-wheel-drive, adding R32 500 to the Highline’s R841 000 base price (you can also get 4Motion in the lesser specced and lower priced Caravelle Comfortline). Seems like a bargain option to us, especially if out-of-town holidays frequent your family’s calendar.

The added traction also allows the Caravelle to carve a niche for itself in our market, as there are no other buses offered here with drive to all wheels.

The 4Motion came in very handy for me on a trip with the in-laws to a Thabazimbi game farm where recent rains made mucky trenches of what are normally bone-dry sand paths. I probably could’ve managed most of it with an ordinary front-wheel-drive Caravelle, but the extra grip counted for confidence if nothing else.

I have no doubt the 4Motion system will better enable the bus to cross washed-out or muddy roads at wet game parks and suchlike, but with its longish wheelbase and relatively low ground clearance it’s probably better to leave true offroading for better equipped SUVs.

I covered plenty of distance with the T6 during our week-long test, at all sorts of speeds on many road types and the trip computer reflected an average of just over 10 litres of diesel usage per 100km. It’s a decent figure for such a big vehicle, but it also tells us the all-wheel-drive system has pretty much no affect on fuel consumption. Our front-wheel drive long-term T5 with the same 132kW/400Nm engine and seven-speed DSG gearbox averaged almost identical figures while we had it.

Once past a spot of turbolag on pullaway (some of which can be overcome with the transmission in Sport mode), this TDI motor and twin-clutch gearbox merge wonderfully into a smooth, torquey and quick-shifting drivetrain package. It’s fairly quiet too, and even with a full load never felt laboured at all. It ticks over nicely at idle speeds on slow bush drives, and sails effortlessly on the open road.

VERDICT

The T6 takes an already well sorted people-mover package and adds just a touch of class. Those heavy seats, though ... surely something can be done to make them lighter and easier to take out. - Star Motoring

FACTS

Volkswagen Caravelle 2.0 BiTDI Highline 4Motion AT

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel

Gearbox: 7-speed automatic

Power: 132kW @ 4000rpm

Torque: 400Nm @ 1500-2000rpm

0-100km/h (claimed): 12.1 seconds

Top speed (claimed): 188km/h

Consumption (claimed): 8.8 litres per 100km

Price: R873 500

Warranty: 3-year/120 000km

Maintenance plan: 5-year/60 000km

Follow Jesse Adams on Twitter @PoorBoyLtd

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