The sector is dominated by the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, taking nearly half of all sales in the UK, followed by offerings from Peugeot in the shape of the Partner, Renault with the Kangoo and Fiat providing the Doblo – soon to be offered in a seven-seat variant.
These companies also have highly competent 'proper' MPVs in their range – Citroen has the Xsara Picasso and C8, Peugeot has the multi-seated 307 SW and 807, Renault has two sizes of both Scenic and Espace, while Fiat has the Multipla and Ulysse.
And while Volkswagen is relatively new to the compact MPV segment, having launched the Touran last year, it seems there is a bigger plan.
The Touran shares many of its components – about half – with the Caddy small van (as does the new VW Golf), and Volkswagen is now launching an MPV based on the Caddy to fill a void in its own product line-up.
Some motorists – particularly business drivers – need the versatility of a van-derived MPV. A vehicle that contains many of the creature comforts of a car and five seats with much of the load capacity of a van.
This could be where the Caddy Life scores a few points over its rivals – where the Berlingo, Partner, Kangoo and Doblo started life as vans, the new Caddy was always a bit of a hybrid, visually similar to the Touran and with many car-sourced components.
However, like the Caddy, the rear doors are on van-like runners rather than car-like hinges, which many will find easier to manage.
There is a seven-seat option but removing the rearmost bench is a job for two people and with it in place there is hardly any luggage space.
The dashboard design is pretty much the same as the Touran, but where the glove compartment would be there is just a parcel shelf.
The engine line-up also dips below what is offered in the Touran – but is comparable with rivals – with a 75bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine kicking off the range, and diesel frugality starting with a normally aspirated 2.0-litre unit developing 68bhp.
Above those engines are 1.6-litre petrol and 1.9 TDI units found in the Touran range.
Unlike the Golf, diesel versions of the Caddy Life do not comply with Euro IV emissions rules, so company car drivers in SDI or TDI models will be forced to pay the 3% diesel supplement.
The UK engine line-up is still to be confirmed, but it is likely there will be an engine to compete with what rivals offer.
Volkswagen expects half of UK sales to be the 2.0 SDI versions, and 30% made up of 1.9 TDI variants, with both petrol models fighting for the remaining 20%.
As of now, only Volkswagen's commercial vehicle sales network has signed up to sell the Caddy Life, although selected VW car retailers are also expected to be recruited by the time the car goes on sale in July.
Just 300 vehicles have been allocated to commercial vehicle dealers this year, but full year sales are expected to increase when the selected car retailers have come on board.
And with the Caddy Life available in the main car dealers, it could prove a shrewd move for Volkswagen.
Those who can't quite justify paying for low-end Tourans could be steered towards a product which might have fewer frills and appear less sophisticated, but is still practical and cost effective.
Behind the wheel
IT would be easy to dismiss the Caddy Life as the 'poor man's Touran', but there's a lot more to it.
For a start, its similarity with the Touran means it is bigger than its rivals from Citroen, Renault and Fiat.
Maximum luggage capacity is 2.23cubic metres, it is the first to market with a seven-seat option, and standard features include ABS, four airbags, remote central locking, a CD player, electric windows, front foglights and electric heated mirrors, while options include air conditioning, heated seats, satellite navigation and ESP (electronic stabilisation programme).
There is a drawer under the driver's seat, a shelf above the windscreen, lots of cup holders and large door bins.
Taking to the road first in the 1.9 TDI the Caddy Life felt lively enough and would be expected to go on sale at less than the £15,800 or so of the Touran in entry-level S specification with the same engine.
With pretty much the same view from behind the wheel as the Touran, and similar architecture, it is like the Touran to drive for the most part.
The steering is precise but a little devoid of feel, and the front suspension components are shared with the Touran and Golf. The rear axle is designed for occasionally carrying heavy loads and has leaf springs – like a van – but anti-roll bars on both axles ensure the driving experience is more like a car.
The 2.0 SDI model is expected to take the lion's share of UK sales, and for an entry-level diesel seemed to do its job pretty well. It is never fast, but at the same time not really overwhelmed by the weight – at least when unladen. It could be a different story with half a tonne of assorted tools and mechanical equipment in the boot.
The 1.6-litre petrol engine will not be as popular as the diesels, with lower fuel consumption and less torque than the TDI, but it went about its business and was unperturbed by repeated hill climbs on the test route in northern Italy.
VOLKSWAGEN uses its commercial vehicle know-how to produce a simpler version of the Touran which is bound to appeal to cost-conscious fleets who need van practicality along with a car-like driving and ownership experience.
Whether it can put a dent in the Citroen Berlingo's stranglehold on the van-derived MPV market is another matter.
|1.4||1.6||2.0 SDI PD||1.9 TDI PD|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/5,000||102/5,600||70/4,000||104/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||93/3,300||109/3,800||103/2,400||184/1,900|
|Max speed (mph):||92||102||88||103|
|Comb fuel consumption (mpg):||34.0||34.4||44.1||46.3||CO2 emissions (g/km):||TBA||TBA||TBA||TBA|
|Fuel tank capacity (l/gal):||60/13.2|
|Service interval (miles):||variable|
1.4 1.6 2.0 SDI PD 1.9 TDI PD Engine (cc): 1,390 1,598 1,968 1,896 Max power (bhp/rpm): 75/5,000 102/5,600 70/4,000 104/4,000 Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 93/3,300 109/3,800 103/2,400 184/1,900 Max speed (mph): 92 102 88 103 0-62mph (sec): 17.9 13.7 20.5 13.3 Fuel consumption (mpg): 34.0 34.4 44.1 46.3 CO2 emissions (g/km): TBA TBA TBA TBA Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 60/13.2 Transmission: 5-sp man Service interval (miles): Variable On sale: July Prices (estimated): £11,500-£14,000