Overall rating: 4/5
The Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life isn't alone in being a passenger car derived from a light commercial vehicle, but it does adjust to perform the task somewhat better than most others on the market do. We review one of the range-toppers.
In the Metal:
At first glance, there appears to be little in the way of exterior changes to the new Volkswagen Caddy. In fact, you would be forgiven for thinking it was merely a mid-cycle facelift, but it is largely an all-new vehicle. The entire front-end is new, taking on a more modern but still instantly recognisable Volkswagen family appearance. Flowing back from that is a more sculpted bonnet and a sharp character line that runs along the front doors just above the handles.
Under that bonnet is a new setup comprising of more powerful and economical diesel engines along with altered suspension components and geometry. Other chassis parts have been adopted from Volkswagen's now widely used MQB platform. A similar approach has been taken with regard to the rigid rear axle design too, which, according to Volkswagen's chassis engineers, now enables less roll thanks to new stabilisers.
The cabin is where the bulk of the changes are seen. Volkswagen has been keen to give the Caddy a nicer ambience inside and the new dashboard design along with the materials used throughout certainly accomplish this. Where the previous model felt bare, this new Caddy presents a more car-like dashboard design. Some of the plastics remain quite hard-wearing to the touch but look to be of a higher quality than before.
All but the lowest trim grades get the 'Composition Colour' five-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system and although generally basic looking it performs acceptably well. A larger 6.5-inch system can be ordered and has the option of integrating your smartphone and its native apps through either MirrorLink or Apple Car Play.
In the rear, there is seating for three and the option of adding a second row of seats that brings the total carrying capacity up to seven. Given the Caddy's van roots, the rear offers an abundance of different seat and stowage combinations. With a third row of seats in place boot space does become limited but smaller items can easily be stored in the many bins dotted throughout the cabin. It might not feel as luxurious in the back as more mainstream five- or seven-seat MPVs, but the Caddy errs on the more utilitarian side of the street. If you want something more luxurious, Volkswagen offers the Touran. Rounding off the rear is a sharper image that matches the front, although the standard vertical lift tailgate is huge and weighty, making it less than practical in tight car parks.
It's important to remember that the Caddy Maxi is van-derived and so won't drive as well or offer the same levels of refinement as the likes of a Citroen C4 Picasso or Ford Grand C-Max. But once you accept that fact the spacious Volkswagen does perform well, and manages to feel more solid than its rivals. The 2.0-litre TDI engine is offered in four different power outputs starting at 75hp, but this 102hp version is better suited to the task of carrying lots of people and luggage. Buyers get a manual gearbox as standard but the optional DSG automatic unit tested here is well worth the extra if your budget can cover it.
The previous Caddy was no bad car really, but even so, the improvements can be felt when the two are driven back-to-back. Aside from the much-improved engine, the cabin is quieter and its performance on uneven surfaces does feel improved. The Volkswagen actually performs better when carrying a load too, and with some passengers on board it drives far more like a car than a van. Its steering is precise and combined with the new suspension setup does an excellent job of disguising its mass when on the move.
What you get for your Money:
Volkswagen has yet to confirm Irish prices for the new Caddy but when the vehicle was officially unveiled, we were told to expect only a price increase of around one to two per cent. As with other Volkswagen models there will be a choice of trim grades, ranging from the entry-level Conceptline, followed by the familiar Trendline, Comfortline and Highline.
The range of engines, all of which are based on the latest 2.0-litre TDI unit, each incorporate Volkswagen's BlueMotion technology. Power outputs range from 75-, 102- and 122hp to 150hp. The 122hp unit is offered only with the 4Motion all-wheel drive transmission.
Building on an already successful formula Volkswagen has managed to better the Caddy. This has come in the form of improved cabin and on-road refinement along with new engines that, despite growing in cubic capacity, offer less emissions and better fuel economy. It will remain the choice of a small number of buyers due to its van heritage, but those seeking big space and versatility should look in its direction.