Volkswagen's rejuvenated Caddy Life offers an interesting take on the van-based MPV theme. Jonathan Couch reports.
Van-based MPVs have, to date, often failed to disguise their utilitarian roots. The Volkswagen Caddy Life 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, this 'Life' model 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 the latest version of its Caddy Life, 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 remit 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 Life 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. Buyers choose between a couple of Euro6 2.0 TDI diesel engines, developing either 102PS or 150PS. Handing is assured, through slightly less firm than it would be in a Caddy van, to take account of this Life model's passenger-carrying remit.
It's hard to fault the Caddy Life 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. As with the van, you get the choice of standard or lengthened 'Maxi' bodystyles. The larger one offers three rows of seats and space for up to seven. Here, 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 all the seats and this rises to a whopping 3,370 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 Life'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.
Prices for the short wheelbase model with the entry-level 102PS 2.0 TDI engine start at around £15,600. If you want the 'Maxi' seven-seat version, the asking figure rises to around £18,000. If that's beyond you budget, it's worth knowing that Volkswagen also offers a more basic 'Caddy Maxi Window Van' model for only just over £17,000. Although you can specify a Caddy Life in white with steel wheels and be like 'white van man', we'd suggest you don't. Go instead for a decent metallic finish and a neat set of alloys and this model looks anything but van-like. The range offers a choice of standard or 7-seat 'Maxi' bodystyles and a choice of 102PS or 150PS vesions of the 2.0 TDI diesel engine. Volkswagen has kept prices realistic in order that customers can specify precisely the vehicles they want with features such as 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 at the same time as avoiding the Dairylea Dunker that's being launched from Row 2.
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 Life 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 a vehicle that has very reasonable whole life costs. All the latest Euro6 models feature BlueMotion Technology modifications as standard, which include low-rolling-resistance tyres as well as regenerative braking and stop/start systems. As a result, the base 102PS 2.0-litre TDI diesel variant will return a combined fuel figure of 65.7mpg and emit just 114g/km of carbon dioxide, although it's worth noting that these figures are attained with an unladen vehicle.
As an exercise in managing compromise, the Caddy Life 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 Life as one for the shortlist. With its neat styling and rugged utility, the Caddy Life is a proper multi-role vehicle, especially in seven-seat 'Maxi' guise. If you need a vehicle that can discharge some arduous family responsibilities and emerge unscathed, this Volkswagen is well worth a look.