So just what do Volkswagen's top brass travel around in on official business? A Caravelle Business, of course. For years, Volkswagen's Caravelle range has been one of the company's best-kept secrets. Bigger than the Sharan MPV and unashamedly based on the Transporter panel van, albeit heavily modified, the Caravelle, and its more utilitarian Multivan sibling, occupy a niche that caters for those who want to transport more people than a seven-seat Sharan can manage, and with all their luggage to boot.
Briefly, the Caravelle is available with short and long wheelbases with anything from six to nine seats and a standard specification that's as complicated as it is comprehensive, and an accessory list as long as your arm. There are up to eight engine choices with two or four-wheel drive and prices that start at £19,992 on the road and rise to £27,747. The Multivan seats seven and starts at £20,661 on-the-road with a more universal interior layout that includes the possibility of making the biggest mobile bed in the history of mobile beds.
But those vehicles reckon without the Caravelle Business, perhaps the ultimate in sybaritic indulgence for those who want space and luxury in one big package. Approach the Business from a distance and it looks like a Transporter with windows. Closer inspection, however, reveals this is no 'van with windows'. Fetching metallic dark green paintwork, lowered suspension, alloy wheels, dark-tinted glass, body-colour everything and a simply enormous tailgate that doubles as a substantial rain shelter in inclement weather. Plus, of course, the tantalising promise of the subtle 'VR6' badge on the stubby bonnet.
Slide open the single side access door to the rear on the left-hand side of the vehicle - there is no access door behind the driver because a table folds out from the panel where it would be located - and it reveals a leather-clad interior that must have accounted for a herd of cows. Behind the driver and passenger are four substantial 'captain's' chairs with armrests which face each other over the foldable table; the middle pair swivel through 180 degrees while the rear pair are electrically adjustable.
Deep pile carpets, a television and video system, telephone system and even built-in coathangers on the backs of the rear seats. In the boot, which can take a substantial amount of luggage, there's a cool box for those essential in-journey drinks. Naturally, both front and rear passenger compartments are electronically air-conditioned and there's additional lighting for rear compartment passengers reading those vital company reports and meeting minutes. A final touch is provided by the built-in designer umbrella located handily by the door.
Up front, it's good news for drivers - or chauffeurs - as the 140bhp 2.8-litre VR6 petrol engine is fitted with automatic transmission. Reverse parking sensors in the rear bumper help position this large vehicle in tight spaces, and there's a full complement of leather-clad goodies, too, including a leather wheel, gear-shift knob and door casings. Naturally, the windows and doors are electrically operated. Thus, the Business is a doddle to drive, but in this configuration, the weight makes it extremely thirsty: we recorded average economy of just 17.2 mpg. Thankfully, other engine options are available, including a range of Volkswagen's 2.5-litre TDI units renowned for power and economy.
It's a specification to make even the most hardened luxury car lover weep, but the real beauty of the Caravelle Business is that it can seat six in total comfort in a low-key package that looks surprisingly stylish. The only catch is the price: with an options list that charges £3,000 for climate control, it's clear this will not be a cheap vehicle. Pricing hasn't yet been decided, but you're unlikely to see much change from £50,000.
The Business Caravelle was on the Volkswagen stand at the 1999 London Motor Show to gauge public reaction on the viability of right-hand drive production. Volkswagen uses the Business Caravelle as a chauffeur-drive vehicle on its own fleet so busy company executives can have meetings on the move. In the UK it could have a role as a mobile meeting room - it simply depends how you look at it: treat the Caravelle Business as a glorified MPV and you would be better off opting for a top of the range Sharan at about £26,000. But as a luxury car that's a competitive price compared with a BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Audi A8 - and, of course, you can't seat six in any of those....
However, Volkswagen has decided that the Business Caravelle will not go on sale in the UK despite show interest from companies wanting transport for directors, race teams looking for luxury support vehicles, pop star managers, bodyguards of Arabic royals and five-star hotels wanting a vehicle to collect guests and their luggage. Instead it has unveiled the cheaper Caravelle Limousine with fewer features at prices ranging from £34,256 to £39,085 on-the-road
The Caravelle Limousine can carry seven people and their luggage and features increased sound-proofing, electric sunroof, tinted rear windows for privacy, twin airbags, ABS brakes, air conditioning, leather seats, alloy wheels and standard metallic paint. It comes with a choice of two engines; a 2.5-litre 102bhp turbodiesel and a 204bhp 2.8-litre V6 and the option of Syncro four-wheel drive on the diesel model. Volkswagen expects customers to include companies wanting transport for directors and hotels wanting a vehicle to collect guests.
On-the-road prices are £34,256 for the TDI manual, £35,725 for the TDI automatic, £39,085 for the V6 and £38,134 for the Syncro. The four Caravelle Limousines bring the total number of Caravelles available to a mindblowing 58!