Despite forming the basis of the Transporter van, the German manufacturer is eager to distance the new model – which can trace its ancestry back to 1953 – from the image of a commercial vehicle with windows.
The group is marketing it primarily through the car dealer network, although it can still be ordered through the network of specialist van centres.
Volkswagen expects to sell about 350 units from its van centres with 1,000 units sold though the car dealer network.
David Williams, Volkswagen head of marketing, said: 'Of our 89 van centres, 60 will sell the Caravelle. In total, around 250 dealers will sell it. We have a dedicated Volkswagen sales network to sell to businesses, such as taxis or ambulances, and vehicles which are used by businesses.'
An on-the-road price of £24,750 for the entry level 1.9 TDI, producing 103bhp, places the Caravelle in the middle of the MPV market, narrowly undercutting the Renault Grand Espace 2.2dCi Expression at £24,810. The Chrysler Grand Voyager 2.5 CRD LX pips it at £24,100 while the entry-level diesel Toyota Previa 2.0 TD T3 costs £21,455.
However, there are also two versions of the five-cylinder 2.5 TDI pumpe duse diesel powerplant developing 128bhp and 172bhp respectively, and there will be a 232bhp 3.2-litre petrol V6, with automatic transmission and four-wheel drive options available on higher powered variants.
The Caravelle's main advantage over its peers is that it features much more space than the average full-sized MPV. Available with six or seven seats, slide rails on the floor allow seats to be moved into several positions and there is a rotating extendable centre table for added variety.
Standard specification on the SE includes twin front, side and head airbags, central locking with alarm, 16-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, and CD autochanger. Lower and higher spec models will also appear in 2004.
Behind the wheel
DESPITE Volkswagen drumming it home that the Caravelle is a car, it certainly doesn't feel like one behind the wheel.
But that doesn't mean it is a bad drive. With its nimble clutch and light steering, the Caravelle is decent enough on the road, easy to manoeuvre and has a great all-round visibility.
First up for driving was the 128bhp 2.5-litre TDI, which feels powerful enough in the Caravelle. Plenty of torque low down the rev range means it moves swiftly away and at motorway speeds feels like it is begging for more.
However, the roar of the diesel engine has a tendency to drown out conversation at higher revs. The Caravelle does look more like a van than an MPV from the outside – which is hardly surprising bearing in mind its Transporter platform – but a look inside at the swivelling seats, extendable table and rear bench which transforms into a bed soon has you convinced of its MPV qualities.
The more powerful 172bhp 2.5-litre TDI PD offers stronger acceleration and better fuel economy due to taller gearing – 35.3mpg against 34.4mpg for the 128bhp. But it is nearly £2,000 more, offsetting any running costs advantage. The less powerful version will be more than adequate for most fleet needs.
|Model||1.9TDI||2.5 TDI||2.5 TDI|
|Torque (lb-ft):||184||250||295||Top speed (mph):||98||99||116|
|Comb economy (mpg):||36.6||34.4||35.3|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||208||221||216|