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Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caddy - Maxi Van range

Our Opinion

We like
Extra payload over Caddy, cargo area access, cabin space and comfort, diesel performance
Room for improvement
No temperature gauge on 1.6 petrol, cargo barrier an option

23 Apr 2008

THERE are only few compact vans available to commercial buyers, and while they may start out being the perfect size, it is not unusual for a business to out-grow them. The problem is that there is no slightly bigger commercial available. Volkswagen believes it has the answer to such a dilemma.

The Caddy Maxi van is a compact commercial with just that bit more. Really it’s a stretched Caddy, but offers more load-carrying flexibility than the short-wheelbase Caddy without incurring the cost and size penalty of taking the big step up to something like a Transporter.

Volkswagen argues many new franchisees are intimidated by the larger vans and couriers don’t want or need the extra capacity for their city runs in tight streets. The Caddy Maxi adds a useful cubic metre of space and 80kg of payload at a $2750 premium over the short-wheelbase Caddy (which will continues on alongside the Maxi in the Caddy range).

Looking at the Maxi van from the front or rear does not really tell the story - its sheetmetal looks identical to the Caddy van. In profile though, the Maxi is clearly longer than the short-wheelbase derivative.

Volkswagen is taking the commercial market far more seriously than it ever has, with the support of a dedicated commercial sales and marketing team to sell the vehicles. The Caddy arrived late in 2004, the new T5 Transporter in 2005 and the LT replacement, the Crafter, in 2007.

The Maxi Van shares the Caddy’s convenient cabin, accessed by wide-opening front doors. The SUV-like high hip-point means that you don’t need to drop down into the seat, which should be ideal for couriers or others who are in and out of their work vehicle on a regular basis.

The seating position is height-adjustable for driver and passenger, and the Maxi van has that typical German seating that appears uncomfortably firm on initial acquaintance but somehow seems to improve significantly after long hours at the wheel.

There is ample storage space at the Maxi driver’s workstation, with large door pockets, two dash-top storage recesses, a centre console arrangement and a ceiling storage pocket. It all works very well, and all controls and instruments are easy to get at.

The neatest storage feature is the underseat bins (standard on diesel, optional on petrol). While the seat has to be moved forward on its runners to gain access, the deep tub will fit a back pack-size bag and once the seat is returned to the driver’s preferred position it neatly obscures the storage location from prying eyes. It’s almost like having your own personal storage locker at work.

There is no difficulty with manoeuvring the Maxi van, although those unfamiliar with a windowless van may find they need some time to get used to the lack of over-shoulder view (though side windows are an option).

While the rear vision out of the split barn doors is not perfect, the important side mirrors are large and provide an excellent view. Like the T5, the Caddy’s left side mirror is taller and narrower than the right side, which reduces the chance of knocking the mirror while still providing ample vision.

The 1.6-litre petrol engine hums along well, the low-rpm response and ability to rev cleanly and smoothly its attributes, although you get the feeling that its performance, which feels just acceptable when unladen, will quickly become sluggish when loaded up.

The diesel is the pick of the two engines, and it is easy to see why 75 per cent of Caddy short-wheelbase buyers prefer it to the petrol engine. There is very little turbo lag off-idle and not only is there plenty of the characteristic mid-range turbo-diesel torque but also the ability to rev out in a petrol-like fashion to the 4500rpm redline and beyond.

Easing off the line when in a hurry, it’s hard not to break traction in the diesel even when taking off on a dry, smooth surface.

The manual transmission is direct and light to change gears even if it not the quickest-shifting gearbox around. The DSG transmission model was not available to sample at the launch, but having driven vehicles with that drivetrain before, there is no doubt it will be the pick of them, although the TDI DSG is $7000 more expensive than the range-opener, the 1.6 petrol.

The Maxi’s ride quality is surprisingly good for a light commercial load-carrier. Even though it is not silken smooth, the ride does not have the abrupt reaction to bumps that knock the wind out of you, as do many commercials.

While Volkswagen gave journalists the opportunity to load up the Maxi van, it was with cardboard boxes, to represent the volume capacity of the load area. A more interesting test would be with around a 400kg payload on board, so obviously without having done that we can’t comment on loaded ride, handling and performance. Volkswagen claims many will only occasionally take full advantage of the Maxi Van’s payload capacity in any case.

The Maxi van’s steering is light and while it does not telegraph every pebble of the road surface it points the small van with an easy, direct response.

The Caddy Maxi launch program did not contain any twisting roads to sample the van’s cornering capacity but the tall load carrier fitted with commercial load-carrying tyres is not destined for a sports-car role. Yet it feels nimble and quick to drive in the cut and thrust of Sydney urban and intra-urban traffic, and that is all that probably counts for such a vehicle.

The Maxi van is a worthy addition to the Caddy range and will provide commercial buyers a logical step-up in size without an untenable step-up in price.

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