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First drive: My Fair Caddy

In for the long haul: Volkswagen's refreshed Caddy is due in Australia in December.

Improved efficiency, interior, safety and engineering make a more polished VW Caddy

7 Sep 2010


VOLKSWAGEN has sent its small-car based Caddy commercial van and Life people-mover spin-off to finishing school, ushering in significant refinement, comfort, safety and driveability improvements.

On sale in Australia from mid December after its global debut at the IAA commercial vehicle expo in Germany later in September, prices will not be revealed until closer to launch.

But expect little or no upward movement as Volkswagen is determined to grow the market in which the model dominates in Australia.

The MY11 makeover reflects a thorough facelift and not a complete model cycle change, meaning that the fundamentals of this vehicle are that of the third-generation model released during 2004 in Europe (and two years later in Australia).

Visually, all three GP-series Caddy models (including the Maxi long-wheelbase variant – 3002mm versus 2682mm – released during 2008) adopt a Golf/Polo-inspired nose treatment complete with daytime running lights, as well as a comprehensive interior overhaul, redesigned wheel trims, and different colours. The sheetmetal forward of the windscreen is new.

But it is the delivery of fresh direct-injection Euro 5-emissions rated four-cylinder drivetrains, with forced-induction petrol and diesel engines and DSG dual-clutch transmission choices, that set new from old, helping to make up the 2000 or so changes to the MY11 range.

The old 1.6-litre petrol engine is history, replaced by a variation of the 1197cc 1.2-litre TSI unit found in the recently released Polo light car.

In Europe it is available in two states of tune – 63TSI producing 63kW of power at 4800rpm and 160Nm of torque from 1500 to 3500rpm, or 77TSI delivering 77kW at 5000rpm and 175Nm from 1550 to 4100rpm. Both are five-speed manual only for the Caddy.

Interestingly the more powerful engine is more economical and carbon dioxide emissions friendly, averaging as little as 6.6 litres per 100km and 154 grams per kilometre of CO2 pollution on the Euro combined cycle respectively, compared with 6.7L/100km and 156g/km.

3 center imageAccording to Volkswagen Australia’s commercial vehicle manager, Phil Clark, exactly which TSI will make it Down Under has yet to be determined. Our guess is the latter, since it is available in both regular and long-wheelbase Nevertheless, more than 80 per cent of Caddy buyers have gone for the diesel in Australia, and that is not expected to change for the MY11 version.

So Volkswagen is rolling out two closely related common-rail engines in 75TDI 1598cc 1.6-litre (75kW at 4400rpm/250Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm) and 103TDI 1968cc 2.0-litre (103kW at 4300rpm/320Nm from 1500 to 2500rpm) sizes.

Not much separates their economy and emissions outputs (from 5.6 and 6.1L/100km and 147 and 161g/km respectively) either.

The smaller diesel introduces the seven-speed 7DSG gearbox but the other sticks with its predecessor’s six-speed 6DSG unit. Both engines and transmissions are closely aligned to similar units found in the existing Golf Mk6.

Other engines available abroad include an 80kW 2.0-litre CNG Compressed Natural Gas EcoFuel, and the eco-focussed Caddy BlueMotion’s 75kW 1.6-litre TDI diesel returning as little as 4.9L/100km and 129g/km. But neither is slated for Australian release in the foreseeable future, Mr Clark says.

4MOTION all-wheel drive is also on offer, but unlikely as there is no demand for it in this country, and the premium required would price the vehicle out of contention, he added.

Functionality is king with Caddy and so Volkswagen has engineered it so that all rear seats can be removed to ease loading and increase capacity to 3030 litres (Maxi: 3880L), while creating a level floor area of 1781mm (Maxi: 2250mm).

Meanwhile, the dashboard gains Golf-inspired instrumentation, a new centre console area and lockable and lidded glovebox, while the rear interior panels in the Life are far less utilitarian than before.

There has also been an upgrade in options such satellite navigation, parking radar, Bluetooth connectivity and adaptive cornering lights (which are integrated into the front fog lights).

Other technological and safety upgrades include the standardisation of ESP stability control, along with Hill-Start Assist that momentarily applies the brakes to reduce stalling or rolling on inclines.

But the automatic idle-stop and Brake Energy Regeneration advances are limited to the BlueMotion for now.

Whether Australians will see the optional Flexi-Seat Plus pack on the Maxi, which increases cargo space on the front passenger’s side and brings total capacity to a class-leading 4.7 cubic metres, remains to be seen.

Payloads vary from about 750kg to over 850kg depending on the model.

Otherwise the MY11 Caddy continues on much the same as the model it replaces.

Both are based on the Golf V/VI small-car platform, and are built in Poland, employing a beefed-up MacPherson strut front suspension design – but losing the donor hatchback’s expensive multi-link independent rear suspension for a leaf-spring set-up that provides simplicity and cost saving as well as a low and flat rear floor section.

The two-shell body structure will probably include twin sliding side doors offering a 70cm-wide by 124cm-high aperture for easy access to the rear of the cabin.

A huge shelf exists above the front-passenger compartment, while a pair of underfloor, sliding door and overhead net compartments also exists, along with cargo tie-down hooks and 12-volt outlets.

Year-to-date until the end of August, Caddy sales are up 4.9 per cent, and Volkswagen expects to build on this next year with the help of the two-pronged diesel option (currently only the 1.9-litre Pumpe Dusse engine is available in the outgoing model) to broaden the van’s appeal.

And although Life volume is down (by 7.7 per cent) over the same time frame, the company expects the upgraded cabin trim, quieter powerplants and reduced road noise intrusion will help turn the people mover version around in 2011.

Furthermore, the introduction of the flagship 103TDI Comfortline wit the 7DSG and long list of optional extras will elevate the Caddy Life into Japanese seven-seater people mover territory, Volkswagen hopes.

“It will enable us to expand into an area that we were not essentially in with the old model,” Mr Clark said, adding that the new roof rails opens the Comfortline up to tubs, bike and ski applications.

“And we will also see a good opportunity to grow the Maxi into the one-tonne van market it will force people to ask themselves whether they really need the size and bulk of a traditional one-tonne van,” he said.

Drive impressions:IN MANY ways, the Caddy best encapsulates why Volkswagen has been such a successful brand in Australia.

Utilitarian, affordable and functional it may be, but the panel van from Poland majors on unpretentious design, high quality engineering and simple driving pleasure.

Like the Golf back in the 1970s, the Caddy has crept up on us and set a template that is likely to become the segment yardstick.

But for better or for worse, Volkswagen will not leave a good thing well enough alone, so out comes the GP facelift version of this third-generation commercial vehicle.

There’s a Golf/Polo-aping nosecone, significantly improved dashboard design, better seats and a whole lot less racket coming from the engine bay compared with the old volume-selling 1.9L TDI Caddy.

So while you would tolerate the previous version’s cabin to enjoy its myriad other pleasures, now you are likely to appreciate the classy instrument dials, supportive new seats and more fully furnished rear part of the Life people-mover version. The old car looked like a work-in-process – although hard cold plastic surfaces still predominate in the Caddy GP.

The big news, however, is the new direct-injection turbo powerplant line-up.

VW predicts that most buyers will go for the new 75kW 1.6-litre common-rail diesel, and with good reason, since it offers the cheapest automatic in advanced and economical 7DSG guise. A strong slug of mid-range torque, smooth operation and impressive flexibility are further 75TDI plus points.

And even more so for the 103TDI Life Comfortline 103kW seven-seater version we briefly sampled, since all antes are upped quite a bit for the flagship drivetrain to deliver a compelling reason not to buy a profligate SUV or dreary people-mover.

That Caddy goes, sounds and feels like a regular diesel wagon rather than a commercial vehicle spawn. Refinement and ease are real 103TDI highlights.

On the other hand it is likely to be expensive the DSG in both diesels need a hefty helping hand via a determined right foot to overcome the low-speed lag. And overtaking duties also need care since that turbo takes an eternity to rouse into action.

Plus, the Caddy is prone to running wide through corners (oversteer) if pushed hard – and the extra mass over the front wheels cannot be too much of a help here.

So, for all these reasons, both of the 77TSI 1.2-litre turbo petrol Caddy manuals we sampled (short wheelbase Van and LWB Life Trendline) proved to be a bit of a revelation.

Small, yes peaky, sure in need of lots of revs before it would hitch up her skirt? Definitely.

But the tiny turbo powerplant punches well above its weight, with lots of flexibility for response acceleration, as well as a sweet, sweet propensity to rev all the way to the red line.

Fully laden it will seem tardy unless the driver is determined to wring its neck, but the 77TSI always feels like it is ready to take it.

Better still, find a corner, and the lighter mass over the nose compared with diesel-powered Caddys, combined with the spirited 1.2-litre turbo belter under the bonnet, and the little commercial vehicle does begin to zig and zag through turns in a most un-van-like manner.

However, the adoption of the ancient five-speed manual gearbox when the Volkswagen passenger cars get the six-speeder is disappointing. The ride deteriorates markedly when the roads do, betraying its commercial vehicle origins. There is still a tad too much road noise intrusion, and why is there no DSG on offer with the 77TSI? Otherwise, as sampled on glorious German roads, the Caddy has edged further ahead against its (admittedly) innocuous rivals.

Right now nothing seems to come close. Of course the competition will eventually come a-chasing, but until then, the MY11 Caddy has drawn a line down the middle, setting the standard for the competition to comply to.

Just like all good proper Volkswagens should.

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