So with the old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' in mind, the Caravelle's latest incarnation – due to go on sale late this summer – bears a marked resemblance to its father, although just about everything else has been changed.
The new vehicle will be called Multivan on the Continent but as it is pitched against the likes of the Renault Grand Espace and Mercedes-Benz V-class, Volkswagen has wisely dropped the name here and decided to continue with Caravelle.
The Caravelle can trace its roots right back to the original VeeDub 'splitty' microbus so can boast that it was the original people carrier.
At the launch in Valencia, Volkswagen chiefs were careful to call the Caravelle a car, although interestingly it will be sold through the network of VW commercial vehicle centres across Britain.
Based on what is essentially a van body, the new Caravelle boasts much more space than the average MPV and the concept for this vehicle is apparently centred on the principle that everything is possible. Thus the Caravelle can be used as a people carrier, an office or even a bedroom if necessary.
At the heart of this versatility is a set of rails on which rear seats and a centre console sit. All the seats can be moved backwards and forwards, swivelled round through 180 degrees or removed altogether.
Press a button and the centre console rises to form a table, complete with drinks holders and ashtrays. There is also a host of innovative ideas such as rear side airbags and an audio system which projects the driver's voice to loudspeakers near the rear row of seats, allowing conversation without the driver taking his or her eyes off the road.
One of the most impressive features is the sliding side doors which, on top models, glide silently backwards and forwards and snick shut electrically.
Three different trim levels will be available, offering seats for either six or seven people plus luggage space. The Basicline has six seats and is available with only one sliding door. It features ABS brakes, air conditioning, central locking, front airbags and camper bed rear bench or side table. Comfortline has an additional sliding door, seven seats, central table and carpeting. Highline is the premium version which adds leather seats, climate control, cruise control and two electric side doors.
Out goes the old slab-like dashboard, replaced by a more stylish one with horizontal positioning of the instruments on a centre panel. The gearshift moves from the floor to the dashboard, making for a slicker action and the seating position is car-like. In the back, with all the rear seats removed there is 4,500 litres of cargo space. The floor even features six lashing eyes, effectively turning the car into a van.
Under the bonnet goes a new set of engines, both petrol and diesel. The entry-level model has a 1.9-litre four cylinder diesel engine offering 104bhp and 184lb-ft of torque. The 2.5-litre five cylinder diesel offers 130bhp or 174bhp and 250lb-ft or 295lb-ft of torque and the 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine has 115bhp and 125 lb-ft of torque. There is also a blistering 3.2-litre V6 engine offering 230bhp and 236 lb-ft of torque.
Both five and six-speed manual gearboxes are available, along with a six-speed automatic gearbox and eventually, there will be an all-wheel drive Syncro version. Volkswagen is promising that prices will be no more than for the old model.
Behind the wheel
I'VE never understood these moaners who go bleating on about MPVs not being car-like enough. Surely you either want a vehicle that will lug loads of people and luggage around, or you don't. What's the point of squashing seven people into a Mercedes-Benz Vaneo when they could be lounging about stretching their feet out in comfort in a Caravelle?
Volkswagen's new Caravelle is about as car-like a vehicle as you are likely to find at this size. The steering wheel is small and points at a similar angle to the average car and while the driving seat is high, it doesn't feel as though you are sitting on a stool, as with some vans.
On the rolling hills around Valencia, we were able to sample a range of Caravelles and the throng of motoring hacks present all agreed that the Caravelle is a smooth and stylish performer.
Volkswagen quality shines through, from the fit and finish of the panels down to the feel of the knobs and switches. You only have to see how many ancient Volkswagen vans and Caravelles are still happily cruising along the world's highways to realise just how good their quality is.
It may resemble the older incarnation but the nose has been made more snubby and the corners rounded somewhat differently to give the vehicle a more 21st century feel. Anyone boarding a Caravelle for the first time will spend a good 15 minutes or so poking around finding little nooks and crannies and saying things like: 'wow – that's a great idea.'
Volkswagen seems to have thought of everything. You can have the conventional seating, or the middle seats can be turned round to form a little meeting room.
First on the blocks was the 174bhp five-cylinder diesel, complete with leather upholstery and that oh-so-impressive electric sliding door. My co-driver and I slipped into those comfortable captain's chairs, pressed the electric side door button and suddenly the hustle and bustle of the city could be heard no more. It was eerily quiet in fact. Firing up the 2.5-litre motor didn't make a jot of difference either – there was no diesel death rattle, no vibration and no noise.
A nice light clutch, just enough feel through the wheel and the slick dash-mounted gearbox made the Caravelle feel a world ahead of its forerunner – and with 174bhp on tap, we soon left the other testers in the dust as we headed for the orange groves and olive plantations that surround Valencia.
The Caravelle may be based on a van but its ride, handling and general demeanour are good enough to challenge the best MPVs. The second drive was in the 105bhp version and though lacking the sheer grunt of its big brother was by no means a slouch.
Despite Volkswagen's efforts to stress that the Caravelle is a car, buyers may not be convinced easily. But if your fleet needs a vehicle which is big, smooth, comfortable and versatile, the Caravelle must be pretty near the top of the list.
|VW Caravelle fact file|
|Model||2.0||3.2 V6||1.9 TDI||2.5 TDI||2.5 TDI|
|Top speed (mph):||101||127||98||99||116|
|Comb economy (Mpg):||25.7||23.2||36.6||35.3||35.3|