Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caddy - Van
MQB underpinnings, safety tech, strong diesel engine, impressive ride and handling
Room for improvement
LED headlights are an expensive option, RCTA and rear AEB an expensive option
Smash-hit VW Caddy has been caught by Renault but new model refreshes the challenge
26 Nov 2021
THE city van segment is not one a lot of people think about, so it may come as a surprise to many that in 2019, Volkswagen’s Caddy absolutely dominated in Australia with 70 per cent of sales, sometimes higher in the years before that.
Renault closed the gap in 2020 and 2021 but the world has gone mad, so that may be a blip.
Perhaps in an effort to prove that it was just a blip, the fifth generation of the Caddy arrived in Australia in August. Given Australia went especially mad during that time, it’s only now that we have had the chance to drive the all-new machine in both Cargo and people mover versions.
The biggest news for the Caddy 5, as it’s known, is the shift to the VW Group’s MQB platform. Pretty much every front-wheel drive car in that huge group is built on MQB, which is meant for transverse engines.
A practical result of this is a decade or so of continuous development and a great deal of knowledge around what can be done.
Building a nearly five-metre-long commercial van is a logical thing to do given the cost savings, parts availability and compatibility, as well as the fact it should be much easier to make it nice to drive.
So has Volkswagen succeeded in making its Caddy more car-like and, more importantly, is it good enough to reclaim the sales crown from its French rivals?
The Caddy’s main competitors are from Europe in the form of the Peugeot Partner and Renault Kangoo. The latter has been the main challenger in the last couple of years but both of these are bouncy tin cans. The Peugeot is the better to drive and shares much with the 308 in its cabin but it’s obviously a commercial vehicle.
Likewise, the Caddy Cargo shares much with its Golf quasi-sibling. This includes the stubby gearshifter, steering wheel, media system (an 8.25-inch touchscreen) and car-like driving position.
The Caddy Cargo’s cabin is a fairly grey place to be, with various shades of it in the plastics that make up the dash, console and door cards.
Even the door handles are a dull grey, a contrast to the metallic effect of the Caddy people mover. Cheeringly, the headliner is a lighter colour, so it doesn’t feel too dark.
The 8.25-inch screen looks a little marooned in the space left over for when you select the 10.0-inch screen option. It lacks sat-nav but does have two USB ports for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Unlike the larger screen option, you have to use the shortcut button to the climate controls and then contend with sliders to set the temperature and fan speed. The on-screen targets need to be much bigger than they are to make that a simple feat while on the go, this fact alone a good argument in favour of investing in the larger unit.
The basic Cargo arrives with a body-coloured, unlined cargo bay separated from the driving cab by a grille and window.
In short wheelbase form there’s just the sliding one door on the passenger side with a 695mm opening. The rear barn doors open to 90 degrees and then with the push of a lever will open a further 90 if you’re backed up close to your load.
The Maxi adds a further 215mm to the wheelbase, wider 836mm door openings on both sides of the cargo area and a slight increase in load height. Where the short wheelbase will take two Euro palettes, the Maxi can take two larger Euro 3 palettes and both sizes can be loaded from the side through the Maxi’s bigger sliding doors.
Load area options include either rubber or plywood floor for an additional cost and you can also opt to fit a lifting tailgate.
Based on the Cargo Maxi, the Crewman adds a row of seating for three behind the cab and removes the grille. The floor is plastic throughout and the seats can be removed to convert it to the full van experience.
The Cargo Maxi’s volume is 3.7 cubic metres versus the 3.1 cubic metres of the short wheelbase. For the short wheelbase, payload ranges from 692kg in the dual-clutch petrol, rising to just over 720kg for all other variants.
The Maxi takes a little more, from 725kg for the dual-clutch petrol and up to 754kg for the manual petrol and TDI320 dual-clutch.
Towing is rated at 1400kg for the manual petrol, with the rest of the range rated up to 1500kg braked. The roof of both versions can take a maximum of 100kg. GVM figures start at 2150kg, up to 2350kg for the Cargo Maxi and 2450kg for the Crewvan.
Convenient storage is a very strong Caddy feature. The dash has a full width slot that opens up over the instruments and there you can put papers, a clipboard, a tablet or a proprietary device. Some models have a 12-volt charging point there to enable charging.
The doors have long deep pockets and the console has two trays, two cupholders and a console bin with an armrest on top. Overhead is a gallery storage area, which would take a golf umbrella and various other odds and ends that aren’t too heavy.
The sliding doors also have deep, long pockets for further items and storage trays and cubbies in the rear section. What are cupholders for the absent third row are still in the Cargo and Crewvan.
The Caddy 5 range is available with a 1.5-litre turbo petrol and a 2.0-litre turbodiesel. The petrol is a four-cylinder with 84kW and 220Nm and in the Cargo can come with either a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch that VW calls DSG.
The 2.0-litre diesel also has a manual option but produces 75kW and 280Nm whereas with the DSG paired with the diesel it produces 90kW and 320Nm. The Crewvan does not come with the manual option and neither do the people mover or California editions.
As the only Caddys available at the moment are DSG-equipped diesels, that’s the only combination we’ve driven. As with the petrol, the diesels are Euro 6 compliant and both have a claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 4.9L/100km.
The Caddy we drove put diesel away at the rate of 6.1L/100km, which is still good going given most of our driving was in the city.
Performance is predictably strong when unladen, the front wheels chirping on a heavy throttle. The DSG picks up smartly in most situations but can be caught out when managing a quick transition where the engine has just cut out to save fuel but you want to get going again quickly. The rest of the time shifts are quick and smooth and the paddles add a bit of unexpected sportiness.
The 17-inch steel wheels are covered with slightly garish silver wheel covers and shod with low rolling resistance Continental EcoContact 6 tyres.
However, they’re surprisingly grippy in dry conditions and render the Caddy quite agile. The high sidewalls mean the ride is unusually cushy for this kind of vehicle, which is something of a revelation after driving the fun-but-bouncy Peugeot Partner
MacPherson struts take care of the front suspension, as is de rigeur on any MQB-based Volkswagen Group car. The big change for Caddy 5 is the rear suspension. The previous model used leaf springs but these have been replaced with coils. The rear axle itself is still rigid and located by a Panhard rod for compactness, allowing for the flat floor and wide load area.
While the ride will obviously become a little bumpier over potholes and speed bumps when the Caddy is loaded up, the impressive way it handles these obstacles is much like a well-sorted hatchback. The Maxi version is always going to be better given the longer wheelbase, but the overall setup keeps body roll in check while offering impressive comfort.
The electric steering is light and easy for parking, with good weight once you’re underway. Similarly, the brakes feel strong and the pedal reacts promptly and without slack. A long pedal in a working van would be quite draining during a day at the wheel.
Less confidence-inspiring is the overly fish-eyed reversing camera making it a bit ropey to place without double-checking through the windows, made much more difficult in the steel-sided Cargo versions.
Another irritation is that while the passive safety protection for passengers is excellent, reverse cross-traffic alert and rear AEB would be a welcome standard addition to the spec list.
But the Caddy 5 is something of a revelation. It can be quiet and easygoing even with an empty cargo compartment, comes in a wide range of specifications and seating arrangements and has class-leading passive safety.
It’s also a van that doesn’t feel like a workhorse waiting to be trashed. While plenty of owners will give it an absolute flogging at least it’s a van that gives back with a solid driving experience, some nice features and plenty of comfort.
On these strengths, Volkswagen can expect to once again dominate the compact van segment with its new Caddy. If you’re in the market, you’d be mad to not consider buying one.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 26 November 2021
All car reviews
Click to share