Fleet News

First Drive: Volkswagen Caddy

It's almost as though Volkswagen could not be bothered with the car-derived van market in the past.

Since the early 1990s, the Caddy badge, applied successively to a Mark 1 Golf-derived pickup and van, then a Polo-derived purpose-built van, have been lessons in how not to do it.

The Golf-derived pickup and van might have been tough, but they were also rough and overpriced. While the Polo-derived Caddy was better in every respect, it too was expensive and was overtaken by the opposition early in its life.

The low-key sales were therefore somewhat predictable. Contrast that with the attitude to the Golf and you can't help but wonder if car and van were produced by the same company.

That was then, but as of now, Wolfsburg has woken up and decided that it needs to get in line with its rivals, even if it is some seven years behind Peugeot and Citroen.

Consequently the latest Caddy, which went on sale this month, is bang up to date with a stylish integrated body, built on a platform shared with the Touran compact MPV. In fact, just like its rivals, there will be an MPV variant to follow in the summer. The Caddy Life will be available with seven seats.

Priced at £9,650 (ex-VAT), the Caddy SDI will maintain Volkswagen's expensive reputation, with prices to match Ford's Transit Connect. The 1.9-litre TDI model is £10,550 ex-VAT.

There will be no petrol or LPG vans. Premium priced it may be, but standard equipment includes ABS brakes, ASR traction control, a CD player, driver's seat height adjustment, reach and rake adjustable steering wheel and a solid/mesh full height bulkhead.

At the business end, the Caddy mixes it with the class leaders straight away, packing a gross payload of 815kg, or 819kg for the more powerful TDI version.

As Volkswagen is not slow to point out, this is more than any of its rivals except the Transit Connect. It's a similar story for the body volume, which at 3.2 cubic metres equals the class-topping Fiat Doblo Cargo.

As this figure suggests, it's also one of the biggest vans in its class. The 1,781mm load length is longer than the Vauxhall Combo, although only by one millimetre, while at 1,558mm wide, the load width is greater than all its rivals.

Maximum width between the wheel arches is 1,171mm, which means the Caddy can easily take a Europallet on board.

Six lashing points are provided in the floor to secure loads. The Caddy's trademark asymmetrical split rear wing doors are carried over to the new model, although a tailgate will be optional later.

According to David Williams, head of marketing at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, orders for five vehicles or more are defined as fleet sales.

On that basis, he reckons fleet business will account for some 60% of Caddy sales, most of which are likely to be the SDI model.

Despite its competitive weights and dimensions, Volkswagen expects only modest sales this year at 3,800, rising to just 4,500 in a full year.

Consequently, says Williams, no fleet targets have been set, but don't expect to see many Caddys on daily rental fleets. Volkswagen will be concentrating its efforts on gas, water, telephone and electricity companies.

Most fleet sales are handled through Volkswagen's network of van centres, operating separately from its car dealers.

Williams aid: 'Between 25 and 100, the centres can call on their regional fleet advisers to support the selling process.'

For larger sales, Volkswagen deals directly with its customers, with a dealer or team of dealers nominated to handle the business.

The Caddy Shuttle will be launched alongside the Caddy Life MPV in the summer, offering a more basic personnel transporter, aimed at business users.

Like the Caddy Life, the Shuttle will be available with up to seven seats and twin sliding side doors will be standard.

The 60/40 split rear seat can be folded or tilted with the optional seats behind. Whereas the Caddy Life will be offered through dealers holding the 'Life' franchise – a mix of van centres and car dealers, the Shuttle will only be available through van centres.

Prices for both will be announced nearer the time.

Behind the wheel

The Caddy's seamless roof welding gives it a very sleek appearance – it's one of the best looking vans in its class.

It not only shares its platform with the Touran MPV, but also the basic dashboard moulding, giving the Caddy a very car-like feel from the driving seat, helped by the amount of steering wheel and seat adjustment.

Plentiful stowage overhead, in the dash, in the large door pockets incorporating 1.5-litre bottle holders and the centre console should satisfy most users.

The rattle and clatter from cold will be familiar to seasoned VW diesel drivers, but it quietens down as the engine warms up and overall noise levels are low by van standards. The SDI engine feels surprisingly flexible for its modest power output, although we only drove a partially loaded model.

A full load would doubtless make performance far more leisurely. Despite the leaf sprung rear end, ride comfort was distinctly car-like while the Caddy proved agile and entertaining to drive. On the downside, the electro-hydraulic power steering is fairly lifeless and the van needed frequent correction in a side wind.

Driving verdict

If Ford can take market leadership with the short wheelbase Transit Connect, the similarly-priced Caddy could do a similar job for Volkswagen, because it is every bit as good. But with such modest sales planned for the UK, it is hard to see how its potential here will be realised.

Volkswagen's reputation for reliability and solid residuals should make it as attractive to small businesses as to fleets. With a ready-made van centre network at its disposal, what is Volkswagen waiting for?

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