Make / Model Search

Car reviews - Volkswagen - Caravelle - GLS people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Smooth automatic transmission, good visibility
Room for improvement
Decade-old design

28 Jun 2001

VOLKSWAGEN - people-mover pioneers since the 1950s Kombi - launched the facelifted Caravelle in 1997.

The former hippy icon has grown older and wiser with its ageing market by coming over all sophisticated. It now features sleeker headlight treatment to distance itself from the lowly Transporter van it is so clearly based on.

Therein lies the Caravelle's biggest hurdle. Against more glamorous rivals like the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler Voyager the VW competes in a tough market.

It may be one of the biggest but the Caravelle - now almost a decade-old design - is not the most refined, despite the independent suspension and smooth four-speed automatic transmission.

The safety conscious, semi-bonneted front engine layout results in an upright seating position. It gives the driver a sense of being behind the wheel of a bus.

The flip side is good visibility all-round, especially when parking. Another advantage is the "walk-through" cabin, enabling access from the front to the rear-most seats.

The ungainly T-bar automatic shifter is sharply angled toward the driver's seat, requiring a long reach down to operate, while the controls for the standard air-conditioning are equally fiddly and add to the haphazard ergonomics.

The dashboard most obviously betrays the Caravelle's T4-series Transporter heritage. While offering clear and comprehensive instrumentation and car-like heater/ventilation controls, the basic architecture is clearly designed to be hard-wearing and functional. At least it promises to last a long time.

The rear passengers benefit from the boxy buses' light and airy "room with a view" seating arrangements. A huge glass area (with centre windows that slide open) afford class-leading views for all.

Entry to either row of rear seats is through the left-hand side sliding side door, reminding the occupants of the Caravelle's commercial vehicle-based origins.

Every seat in the rear is large enough to accommodate adults in the same level of comfort as the front occupants while still leaving an abundance of luggage space. This is perhaps the Caravelle's biggest advantage over its more stylish competition.

A second air-conditioning system for rear-bound passengers ensures climate-controlled comfort.

On the road, the Caravelle is more driver friendly than its appearance suggests, thanks to its car-derived mechanicals.

Unsuspecting hippies may swear off acid for life if they try to locate the Caravelle's engine in the boot. Today's Kombi-by-any- other name is front-wheel drive and front-engined, and relatively gutsy to boot. A compact, 85kW, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine lives under the Caravelle's bonnet.

With the engine's 200Nm of torque available from just 2200rpm, acceleration is brisk. The steering response is good with the tight turning circle tradespersons have come to appreciate in the commercial variants.

The ride is firm but comfortable thanks to the long wheelbase and independent suspension. It soaks up bumpy road surfaces with ease, although body roll through corners is noticeable.

The front-wheel drive configuration, wide track and wheels at each corner layout all contribute to the Caravelle's reassuring stability.

At cruising speeds, noise, vibration and harshness levels are low, although the engine is a little loud when worked hard.

But strong headwinds at high speed really knock the Caravelle's performance potential and lift fuel consumption alarmingly. The big Volkswagen is obviously not the world's most aerodynamic vehicle.

The basic design harks back to 1990 and has held up surprisingly well in the face of curvy and egg-shaped rivals which may date more quickly.

If its boxy, non-conformist utilitarian looks appeal, then the very German Caravelle is still a capable and comfortable mover of people and their gear, and not at all bad to drive.

- Automotive NetWorks 06/05/1999

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

GoAuto can help you buy a new Caravelle

Customer Terms and Conditions – New Car Lead enquires


This is an agreement between GoAutoMedia Pty Limited ACN 094 732 457 of PO Box 18, Beach Road, Sandringham, VIC, 3191 (“we/us”), the owner and operator of the GoAuto.com.au website (“the website”) and the person wanting GoAuto.com.au to provide them with a lead for the purchase of a new car (“you”).

By completing a New Car Lead Enquiry, you agree to the terms and conditions and disclaimers and acknowledge the policies set out below.

Terms and Conditions

  • In order for us to effect a lead you must you must complete a New Car Lead Enquiry (“Enquiry”).
  • We will call you as soon as possible after you complete the Enquiry and certainly no later than the next business day. When we call, we will discuss with you your new car requirements.
  • You consent to our passing on the Enquiry and your requirements to an appropriate authorised motor car dealer as a lead.
  • We will contact you again in approximately eight days following your initial enquiry to check on the progress of the Enquiry.
  • While we will provide the dealer with the Enquiry and details of your new car requirements, we take no responsibility for what happens after passing on that material as a lead.
  • You acknowledge that we are a new car information service providing new car editorial information, pictures and prices to our customers as a guide only. Any new car prices published on the website are the manufacturers’ recommended retail prices and do not include delivery charges and on-road costs. Any authorized motor car dealer to which we pass on your Enquiry as a lead will provide you with full details of the price at which the vehicle will be sold to you.
  • You acknowledge that we do not sell motor vehicles. Any sale of a new car to you by a dealer after we have passed on your Enquiry to that dealer as a lead, is a sale by that dealer not by us.

Privacy Policy– New Car Lead Enquires

  • We take privacy very seriously. We understand that you will only complete an Enquiry if you can trust us to protect your personal information and use it appropriately. Our policy is to ensure that the personal information collected when you make an Enquiry is only used for the purposes of connecting you with an authorised motor car dealer.
  • We do not on-sell information collected from you or any other customer.
  • From time to time, we may email you with information or promotions that may be relevant for car buyers. You will continue to receive communications from us unless you tell us that you do not want to receive any advertising or promotional information in the future by unsubscribing from these communications.
* Denotes required field
** Australian inquiries only

Caravelle pricing

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here