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Volkswagen's Caddy Maxi offers an interesting take on the van-based MPV theme. Andy Enright reports.
Van-based MPVs have, to date, failed to disguise their utilitarian roots. The Volkswagen Caddy Maxi offers a rather more upmarket feel and a drive that's a good deal more spirited than most. As a compromise between relative sophistication and solid common sense, the Caddy Maxi works extremely well.
The problem with van-based MPVs is easy to identify. It's the lingering feeling that no matter how much glazing you have around the outside, when you're behind the wheel you'll still feel as if you're delivering pizzas. No matter how hard many manufacturers have tried to get away from the light commercial origins, these vehicles can't shake off the faint whiff of deep pan pepperoni. But if you were to lay odds on anyone to crack this thorny issue, it would be Volkswagen. With a range of increasingly sophisticated passenger cars, Volkswagen has decided to sprinkle a little of that urbane charm onto its Caddy Maxi, a van-based MPV that's a cut above the norm. The challenge is to do so while still keeping prices in the ballpark that van-based MPV customers expect. It's a tougher challenge than you might expect.
Think of yourself driving a van and the behavioural changes that might ensue. Any semblance of driving subtlety will probably fly out the window. Clutches are dumped, steering wheels yanked into corners while courtesy to other drivers takes a back seat. I'm not sure why this happens but you're doing well if you can ignore the macho spectre of White Van Man. Where the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi scores is that it feels surprisingly like a Golf. The fascia will be familiar to Golf drivers and unless you catch a peek in the rear view mirror, the driving characteristics aren't a million miles away, either. No, it's not as supple at speed as a family hatch, but then that's only to be expected with its longer wheelbase and roomier interior. Far less expected is the option of Volkswagen's incredible DSG twin-clutch gearbox. This sort of thing is usually reserved for GTIs and such like but it's available with the 101bhp 1.6-litre TDI diesel and the 138bhp 2.0-litre TDI units. Disappointingly, the most interesting model in the Caddy Maxi line up, the 109bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel with 4MOTION all-wheel drive, has to make do with a mere manual box.
It's hard to fault the Caddy Maxi for interior space. Thanks to its high roof, it puts quite a few full-sized MPVs to shame with its impression of airiness and the tale of the tape shows that the roominess isn't imagined. Even with all three rows of seats in place, there's a luggage compartment that's 620mm long and can hold 530 litres, putting paid to the perennial MPV gripe that when the vehicle is full of passengers there's nowhere for their bags to go. Fold the rear seats and this rises to a whopping 1350 litres, which sounds bigger than my first studio flat. The seats themselves are finished in hard wearing fabrics and the rearmost two rows can be split, folded or removed. You may need help with the latter as they're not light, but it's hard to argue with the Caddy Maxi's overall versatility. Twin sliding doors also means that it's easy to pile in and out en masse, plus you don't have the grey-hair inducing spectre of your kids panelling the doors of other vehicles in car parks. It all feels extremely solidly built from the no-nonsense seating mechanism right up to the reassuring soft-blue backlit fascia.
Although you can specify a Caddy Maxi in white with steel wheels, go for a decent metallic finish and a neat set of alloys and it looks anything but van-like. The range is broad, encompasses three mainstream powerplants and also offers some very interesting options. Volkswagen has kept prices realistic in order that customers can specify precisely the vehicles they want with features such as the DSG twin clutch gearbox, rear privacy glass, parking sensors and a leather-trimmed multi-function steering wheel that allows you to control the stereo. This can also accept input from an AUX IN socket in the glovebox so that you can knock up a playlist on your iPod and worry about avoiding the Dairylea Dunker that's being launched from Row 2. Volkswagen also offer BlueMotion options with the Caddy Maxi for those looking to reduce costs still further and even a petrol/CNG version that really slashes costs for those who are looking to cover bigger mileages or who may just not get on with diesel engines. It's worth remembering if you're choosing one with family holidays in mind that the petrol/CNG model won't be allowed on Eurotunnel.
Running costs are never far from your mind if you've got enough sprogs to make buying one of these van-based MPVs worthwhile. Whilst it's fair to note that the Caddy Maxi isn't one of the cheapest vehicles of this genre, it remains one of the most efficient to run and with beefy residual values, it's one that has very reasonable whole life costs. Even the punchiest 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine with DSG gearbox will return a combined fuel figure of 44.8mpg and emit just 166g/km of carbon dioxide although it's worth noting that these figures are attained with an unladen vehicle. Go for a BlueMotion version of the 1.6-litre diesel and you'll get low rolling resistance tyres, modified gear ratios, regenerative braking and a Start/Stop system that means even better fuel economy and lower emissions. Economy rises from 47.3 to 54.3mpg while emissions drop from 152 to 136g/km. The CNG model is also very economical and excels in its environmental credentials, capable as it is of being run on Biomethane. CNG reduces carbon monoxide by up to 50 per cent and nitrogen oxide by 97 per cent compared to unleaded fuel. Plus there is zero particulate emission.
As an exercise in managing compromise, the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi is a triumph. Volkswagen has managed to keep prices competitive for this type of vehicle while at the same time injecting enough sophistication to distance it from its light commercial roots. That it has done this without compromising practicality in any significant manner marks the Caddy Maxi as one for the shortlist. With its neat styling and rugged utility, the Caddy maxi is a proper multi-role vehicle, and in 4MOTION guise it even has the chops to tackle the worst the British winter can throw at it. If you need a vehicle that can discharge some arduous family responsibilities and emerge unscathed, the Caddy Maxi is well worth a look.
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