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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caddy - Maxi Van 1.9 TDI 5-dr wagon

Our Opinion

We like
Huge cargo, easy to drive, diesel performance and economy, comfortable cabin, dynamic abilities, available safety items
Room for improvement
Road noise intrusion

1 Dec 2008


SANDMAN, Sundowner, Drifter… could there be more evocative names slapped on a tarted-up panel van?

Like the CB radios and Farrah Fawcett-Majors hairdos of the same era, the panel van-with-a-paint-job was big, as well as big business, in its 1970s hey day, cornering the work/recreational vehicle market in the era of no Toyota Hi-Lux SR5s, emissions concerns or safe sex.

They were based on the humble Holden HJ/HX/HZ/Ford XC Falcon/Chrysler CL Valiant workhorse vans of the day (although there was also the latter XD Falcon Sundowner too, as well as the ultra rare Ford Escort Sundowner panel van – surely the Caddy’s spiritual predecessor), meaning thirsty and dirty six-cylinder or V8 engines, three or four-speed gearboxes, rear-wheel drive and – all-too-often – wayward (unpowered) recirculating ball steering.

So it should come as no surprise that thoughts turned to all these things and more, the moment we found we could easily slide in a queen-sized futon in the back of the somewhat less romantically badged ‘Caddy Maxi’.

Maxi… as in maximum, as in a 47cm longer version of the highly successful, 4.41 metre-long Caddy series launched in Australia in February 2005.

And that’s where the sexy ‘70s shagging wagon connection ends. Yep, there’s certainly enough room in one – at least two 225cm people can lie down in the back- but the Maxi is all about work, not R-and-R.

As if to underline this, “cargo volume has increased from 3.2m3 to 4.2m3 - a massive 31 per cent increase or in other words, one additional cubic metre!” screams the press kit for the 4.88m Maxi, fundamentally padding up the potential – as well as the unique appeal – of this 4200-litre load lugger.

To help achieve this, VW has stretched the wheelbase by 32cm and extended the rear overhang by 15cm. So while the Maxi loses the shorter Caddy’s pert proportions, it does not look too ungainly.

Ours also had a set of barn doors in place of the no-cost option long lift-up tailgate, and a rubberised floor to keep protect the van from the man (or woman) with up to 810kg of payload. It can also tow a 1500kg trailer, comes with a 100kg-rated tow ball, and carry an additional 100kg of stuff on the roof. No signs of a sunset-depicting mural, shag-pile carpets or a tinted bubble window in this Vee Dub.

That’s too bad, because entry to the cargo area is possible via one of two sliding side doors as well as the back one(s), with the aperture being Australian pallet-size rated. Cargo tie-downs (how kinky would these be in a Sandman!) and a domed cargo light are among the standard fixtures.

Like all Caddy models, the Maxi utilises a beefed-up McPherson strut front suspension design based on the outgoing Golf V, but loses its complex multi-link independent rear suspension for a simple leaf-spring set-up.

Besides being a cheaper solution, the two-layer Hotchkiss rear axle arrangement is what allows for the flat and wide rear-floor section. It certainly makes loading and unloading a cinch.

Further forward, the Caddy Maxi’s cabin may be a no-frills affair, but it cannot put a foot wrong.

Getting in is a pleasure thanks to large, wide-opening doors, while nothing could be simpler than swinging your posterior to plonk yourself upon the hip-height mounted seats.

These (chintzy) cloth-covered bucket items feature a handy height adjustment and angle rake (but no lumbar support adjustment sadly) just like many VW passenger cars do, which also seem to donate one of their reach-tilt-adjustable steering columns, complete with a neat three-spoke steering wheel.

Perched up comfortably with acres of room to stretch in, the driver is rewarded with ample space for feet, legs, shoulders, hips and head, while forward vision verges on the panoramic thanks to a vast windscreen and deep door windows.

The instrumentation boasts Golf-style blue night illumination, an outside temperature gauge and digital clock housed within the odometer and trip readouts, and very clear dials.

Residing in the upper section of the centre console is a pair of circular ventilation outlets, astride the easy-to-decipher heater/vent/air-con switches, and a large radio/CD/MP3 player below that. Look down further and you will spot a usefully large ashtray-cum-oddments storage drawer, and the only bit of carpet in the whole car… sited just ahead of the gear lever.

Besides a pair of cupholders, Maxi drivers also get a deep unlidded ‘glove box’, two door pockets, under-seat storage drawers (an option on the cheaper 1.6L petrol version), and a lipped full-width overhead storage area that has the ability to swallow more stuff than you might think.

If it wasn’t for the rubber mats and hard, plastic fascia and door cappings, you might very well be in a (very basic) Golf – and at night, with the power windows and door mirrors as well as cruise control and remote central locking all at hand, thoughts of this being a commercial vehicle fade away.

Car-levels of active safety also abound, with ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD, Electronic Differential Lock (traction control) and dual front airbags all included.

Buyers can also choose stability control (a $650 option), side airbags ($550) and rear parking radar ($790), while fog lights, alloy wheels, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors and a cargo barrier are also available for extra money.

It’s too bad you can’t order more sound deadening though, with the constant road-noise drone from the rear being the only real let-down. Still, while the diesel engine isn’t exactly the quietest unit on the block, it isn’t too disruptive or annoying.

The TDI tested uses a 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit, delivering 77kW of power at 4000rpm and 250Nm of torque at 1900rpm, and can be had with an enjoyably light five-speed manual gearbox (like our car had) or VW’s brilliant DSG dual-clutch sequential gearbox that acts like an auto.

A satisfying combination, the TDI/manual duo dishes out gutsy yet frugal performance capabilities, with plenty of low-down torque to keep hauling your cargo around with effortless ease. Drive within the maximum torque band of about 2000rpm, and you might even become unaware that this is actually a diesel, for it settles down to a low-resonant drone.

For the record, even though VW says the TDI sprints to 100km/h in 13.3 seconds, it feels considerably sprightlier, even with a hefty load on board. Better still, the Caddy Maxi’s thirst for diesel is officially pegged at 6.1 litres per 100km (or 6.7 if it’s a TDI DSG)

If you are coming down from one of the Asian forward-control vans, the Maxi will feel like a revolution, thanks to a stable, wide and quite unflappable stance that is backed up by responsive, linear, predictable and light to use steering. More than anything else, it gives the VW van very car-like driving dynamics, as well as an unexpected measure of fun to match its desired manoeuvrability.

Stable, grippy roadholding is another Caddy plus point, as are strong brakes with lots of resistance to fading after repeated hard stopping.

So what are we to make of this very modern take on the panel van?

While it’s a big fat nil for eliciting carnal pleasures, the car-like van itself is an unexpected pleasure to drive.

No Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, skin-tight jeans and a big fat mo, then, but you’re probably more likely to fall in love with this very intelligently executed metrosexual-man style van anyway.

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