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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caddy - Life

Our Opinion

We like
MQB underpinnings, safety tech, strong diesel engine, impressive ride and handling
Room for improvement
LED headlights are an expensive option, RCTA and rear AEB another expensive option

VW makes its Caddy van into a compelling take on the seven-seat people mover

26 Nov 2021



VOLKSWAGEN is not the first brand to bolt some seats into a commercial van and shout, “Ta-da! New people mover!”


Way back in the early 1980s Australians were subjected to the vinyl-seated Mitsubishi L300 Express before Toyota made the Tarago appealing rather than appalling.


Aiming for the appealing end of the spectrum, the fifth-generation Caddy now comes in two distinct lines. The stripped-out Cargo and a pair of people mover variants known as Caddy and Caddy Life.


To further improve the Caddy’s saleability, VW went to the parts bin and out popped the MQB platform on which to base it. This could be the masterstroke.


For the moment, pricing for the Caddy and Caddy Life is fairly straightforward and there is just the one diesel engine.


The Caddy TDI320 starts at $45,490 plus on-roads with 17-inch steel wheels, an 8.25 touchscreen, climate control, halogen headlights and a safety package that includes full length curtain airbags, city AEB, rear cross-traffic alert and centre airbags for the front occupants.


This is the kind of thing you get when you properly base a commercial vehicle on a passenger car platform.


The Caddy Life TDI320, starting at $49,990, swaps the steelies for alloys, adds dual-zone climate control, heat insulating glass, digital dashboard and some chrome bits on the exterior. 


On January 1st 2022, this pricing goes out the window because Volkswagen will add a new entry-level petrol version to join the current diesel-only line-up.


It’s not going to get cheaper, though, with the 84kW petrol starting at $46,140 before on-roads and the 320TDI topping out at $52,640 + ORC, a $2700 price rise. 


The company is offering a clutch of single options and option packs. Notable is the $1660 Navigation pack that adds more speakers, sat-nav and a larger 10.0-inch touchscreen. The options list is long and detailed and includes a lot of family and business-friendly bits and pieces that few other makers could match.


But is the Caddy Life worth considering against similar-priced but larger, purpose-built people movers from Honda and Kia? Or do a European badge and relatively city-friendly dimensions make the VW a winner?


Drive impressions


The Caddy is based on the long-wheelbase version of the Cargo, which at 2970mm is very long indeed and delivers a 3105 litre capacity with the two rows of additional seating removed. 


Returning the middle row leaves a still considerable 1720 litres and with the two separate seats of the third row in place, there is still 446 litres of cargo space, matching that of an SUV or small wagon.


Seated three abreast in the middle row would be mildly comfortable for short trips. The outboard seats feature airline-style tray tables that are popular with children and also double as cup holders. They’re not exactly sturdy, but fine for a book or propping up a tablet.


Each of the sliding doors has a long, deep pocket as well but there is no centre armrest in either the second or third row. 


Access to the third row is relatively simple, with two separate fabric pulls to drop the seatback and then tumble the middle row forward. You can get in from both sides, with a heftier haul required on the 60 side of the 60:40 split.


The third-row accommodation is little more than a pair of jump seats but comfortable enough. Even if you’re around 180cm you’ll cope fine for short to medium trips as long as you lift the head restraint into place.


Lots of glass means there’s tons of light, so it never feels claustrophobic but because the windows in the passenger space are fixed, you may have to ban fragrant food and drink. Or people. The air-conditioning is strong, but not that strong.


Sitting in the driver’s seat will be a familiar feeling for anyone who has driven a Golf, T-Roc or any other small or medium VW Group car.


A dead giveaway of this vehicle’s van origins is the lofty ceiling and the Life we drove for a few days was fitted with a two-thirds length panoramic sunroof, which deletes the overhead storage gallery.


The dash looks a lot like the Golf’s, reinforced by that car’s stubby gear-shifter poking out of the console. Ahead of the driver is a handy storage cut-out that will take papers or a tablet and even has a 12-volt socket to charge the type of device a lot of logistics workers have to use.


While the driving position is a little awkward at first, the level of adjustment in the very comfortable driver's seat reduces that feeling.


With so much glass around you, the outward vision is excellent and the side mirrors are big enough to see what’s going on. The lack of standard blind-spot monitoring is less of an issue given all the people mover’s windows but it would be nice if it were standard.


The only engine on offer for this first drive was the 2.0-litre turbo diesel, with 90kW and a very solid 320Nm.


A less powerful and rather less torquey petrol engine (84kW/220Nm) is on the way and is sure to be a leisurely experience. Both are Euro 6 compliant, with addition of AdBlue to the diesel to reduce tailpipe pollution.


People mover Caddys are resolutely DSG-only, Wolfsburg’s seven-speed dual-clutch driving the front wheels (the all-wheel drive 4Motion option is not available in Australia). The Caddy Cargo is available with a six-speed manual in petrol and lower-powered diesel variants, though.


The Caddy Life is an easy car to get moving and the TDI engine settles very quickly into a fairly quiet grumble as it warms.


While not as quiet as passenger car equivalents, the carpeted interior of the people mover Caddy is still fairly quiet. Road noise does come in from the rear of the cabin, which is understandable given the large space available to amplify the rigid rear axle’s road noise.


One of the improvements over the old platform – although sure to upset the purists – is the replacement of the rear leaf springs with coil springs. The rear axle is still rigid with a Panhard rod providing lateral location and while that sounds like a recipe for bounciness, it seems the switch to springs has been for the better. 


The obvious advantages of a rigid axle are for packaging, delivering a low, flat floor for the Cargo version and plenty of headroom and unobstructed space for the third row.


The not-unreasonable expectation that this would be a bit of a jumping jack lasts about a hundred metres. Speed humps and potholes are largely dismissed even when unladen and only a nasty concrete surface with big joints upset the ride.


Most of the rest of the time, the Caddy was a very pleasant rider with little in the way of noise and as converted commercial vans go, the Caddy is quiet and refined.


The front end is held up with the predictable MacPherson struts, with a calm composure even at swift cornering speeds. The Caddy will roll a little – there’s only so much an engineering team can do with such a tall body – but it never lurches. The brakes feel strong and, with their good pedal feel, won’t grate during a long day at the wheel.


Claimed ADR combined-cycle fuel economy figure of 4.9L/100km for the TDI320 we drove might be almost achievable as a few days in the city and suburbs, with little open road or motorway driving, delivered a reasonable 6.2L/100km.


Given the price, the Caddy is going up against purpose-built seven-seaters from both the SUV and people mover segments.


The key differences are, of course, the huge available load area with easily removable seating, the possibility of mixing work and play in the one vehicle and the advantages of a lower floor for simpler loading and unloading.


As such, the Caddy Life is one of the most versatile vehicles on the road today and judging from the performance of this people mover model, its donor commercial vehicle’s pre-pandemic dominance of the light van segment is likely to return.


And as for its presence in the recently reinvigorated people mover market, with Hyundai’s Staria joining the Kia Carnival and Honda Odyssey, does it have what it takes?


Yes and no. Those are more family-friendly people movers with all sorts of ideas to make them good for people carrying. But none of them can double up as workhorses.

That’s where the Caddy will pinch a few sales and it might pinch a few more for space-conscious owners of people transfer businesses.


And, of course, the Caddy doesn’t have that family van vibe.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Model release date: 26 November 2021

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