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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caddy - Maxi Life people-mover range

Our Opinion

We like
Large interior space, comfortable front seats, good value, diesel economy, DSG transmission
Room for improvement
Ride quality, lack of third-row ventilation, lack of safety features

11 Dec 2008

THE Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life is the antithesis of the mid-$30K alternatives from Dodge (the Journey) and Kia (the Carnival and Rondo) with its very commercial flavour.

There is no mistaking the basis of this people-mover being a humble bread van, because in actual fact the Caddy Maxi is no doubt used somewhere as a bread van.

The squared-off style is without any pretence - this is a utilitarian van - no, sorry a people-mover - and it is all about the maximum (or should we say ‘Maxi’) use of space.

Even though it has a Euro badge, the name is sensible. Caddy Maxi Life. Picture yourself at a party where conversation swings to car ownership (“Really? I own a Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life 1.9 TDI with DSG, actually”) and it's likely to be one of a few times that disinterest sets in on the face of your conversation partner before you've even completed your sentence. Blurting out the fact you own a Getz at least allows you to finish before eyes glaze over.

The Caddy Maxi Life’s interior is huge, the front doors open wide and it’s an easy slide into the comfortable, supportive front seats. The side mirrors are usefully large, the controls simple to see and use and the driving position - with a rake and reach-adjustable steering wheel and height-adjustable seat (plus tilt and slide functions, of course) - should suit most drivers.

However, even though there are front and front-side airbags, the two rear rows are not protected by side or side curtain airbags. While the Caddy Van has a four-star Euro NCAP crash safety rating, the Caddy Maxi Life hasn’t yet been tested.

And even though there are acres of room every which way in the second and third rows - and very handy sliding doors on both sides to access them - the disappointment is with the seats themselves. They are hard and flat and frankly, uncomfortable. Perhaps kids might cope with them, but even better if they are still in child seats or booster seats.

The seat design yet again shows that the Maxi Life is really an adjunct to the Maxi Van. The second row is split 60-40 with the narrow side on the traffic side, meaning that if you are using more than one tethered child seat or booster and want to access the third row, you have to disconnect them to tilt the larger seat section forward.

The third row can be removed if you really need more space, but it weighs 35kg and is bulky. Lifting it out would be about as heavy and as fun as trying to carry three wriggling toddlers around. There is no ventilation for third-rowers, either.

The 77kW 1.9-litre diesel has minimal turbo lag, is reasonably smooth and isn't as rattly as some diesels. Its 250Nm is not quite enough for accelerating up long hill climbs even with just three adults on board, so while its performance seems acceptable most of the time, the Maxi Life doesn't inspire the sort of confidence required for big overtaking manoeuvres.

Even though patience is a virtue when you’re a parent driving a brood, it’d be nice to have a little more get up and go.

The five-speed manual is a little clunky to operate but is direct enough and doesn’t misbehave in any way.

But just as you begin to forget about the Caddy Maxi Life’s commercial parentage, a pothole or corrugation hits you with a reminder. You see, with a live axle suspended by leaf springs, the Caddy Maxi Life will cope with big loads (and probably ride reasonably with such a load aboard) but when unladen its ride quality is quite poor.

Even though it has a long three-metre wheelbase (which helps explain its poor turning circle of 12.2 metres) it can’t hide the rough ride or the rear axle’s want to skitter around. It isn’t dangerous, but this type of suspension simply cannot compete with the stability and ride control offered by its coil-spring competition.

While it's no sports car, the Caddy grips quite well through the corners, its 16-inch tyres an improvement on the 15-inch tyres fitted to its predecessor.

You won’t find yourself seeking out the nearest twisting road for a spot of driving pleasure but neither will you groan if you encounter such a road when in a hurry.

The Caddy Maxi Life will get point-to-point in the twisties without too much fuss and is an interesting alternative to the mainstream people-movers.

It is also good value, economical and spacious, and if these attributes are important to you and you're willing to forgive its flaws it could be a good choice.

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