Fleet News

Road test: Volkswagen Caddy TDI

As the van manufacturers rush to fill in various niche areas so that every need is catered for, we journalists can no longer refer simply to ‘car-derived’ or ‘light panel’ segments. Recently yet another schism has occurred – sleek and stylish versus plain and practical. This new divide first raised its head when Volkswagen launched the new T5 Transporter last year.

While no-one can question this van’s practical credentials – indeed it won both the Fleet News light panel van of the year award and the What Van? Van of the Year in 2003/4 – the T5 hardly cuts a dash on the motorways in the way the Renault Trafic and its twin brothers, the Vauxhall Vivaro and Nissan Primastar, do.

It is a similar story with the new Caddy. It is big, solid and will suit most fleet needs. It’s just a shame that it looks so ugly.

Volkswagen, of course, would argue that fleet buyers don’t give a damn about what their vans look like – they concentrate instead on running costs and reliability. And I’d have to admit that the firm has a good point there, so will say no more about looks. It’s just that every time I see the Caddy parked on my driveway, I think to myself, what if…

Priced at £9,650 (ex-VAT), the Caddy SDI matches Ford’s Transit Connect. The 1.9-litre TDI model on test here is £10,550 ex-VAT. There will be no petrol or LPG vans.

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 wheelarches 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.

Outside

Having moaned about the looks of this van, our test model turned up at Fleet Towers clad in a natty set of alloy wheels and metallic paint, which will add £320 and £245 to the list price. The van still looked rather like a barn but these two extras make it as good as it will ever look. There are large plastic bumpers front and rear and side rubbing strips but no protection for those wheelarches. Side mirrors, meanwhile are big, wide and chunky.

In the front

If the outside looks big and hefty, the inside matches it. Entry is by central (not remote) locking and the doors resemble something you might find on the average butcher’s fridge.

The dashboard, meanwhile, looks like the side of a house and about as solid too. The top of the dash features a series of little trays which will hold all sorts of bits and bobs in place and there is another large shelf above the driver and passenger seat.

There are two cup holders in the centre console and those thick doors allow for a cola bottle bin in each side – a first in this size of van.

Standard specification, as already stated, is high and our test van added electric windows and heated mirrors at £240, air conditioning at £675 and sat-nav at £1,320.

With full adjustment on both driver’s seat and steering wheel, there was no problem finding a comfortable position.

The driver’s seat is just hard enough to be comfortable on long journeys and features lots of side support.

In the roof there are grab handles on each side for when the going gets rough.

In the back

In the same week as I tested the Caddy TDI, I happened to have a Fiat Doblo Cargo parked next door and the VeeDub seemed to dwarf the funky little Italian. But in fact, the load volumes are similar at 3.2 cubic metres, although the Caddy trounces the Doblo Cargo on payload at 819kg to 625kg.

The test van featured dual side sliding doors (£220) which operated with an uncanny silky smoothness. In the load bay, the Caddy had a ribbed plastic floor and hardboard side panels up to half height, while the floor featured six load-lashing eyes.

On the road

At launch, the only van on offer was the lower powered SDI, offering just 69bhp, and many of the journalists at the time complained about lack of power.

But the beefed-up TDI with 104bhp on tap has no such problems – it is lusty and lively and will soon wind this van up to a top speed exceeding the magic ton.

Power steering is too light for my liking and doesn’t really give much of a feel for what’s going on between wheels and road, but handling is crisp and neat and, despite its size, the van seems to enjoy being thrown into corners.

Volkswagen has eschewed the current trend of moving the gearstick up on to the dash, but the floor-mounted item is a short throw one and snicks into place in a most satisfactory manner.

Those standard ABS brakes and traction control are a real step forward in terms of safety and Volkswagen should be praised for making them a first in the sector.

Making my fleet choice in any van road test, I mostly advise business buyers to choose lower powered models.

However, in this case – unless your business happens to be the transportation of feathers – the pick must be the TDI.

It may cost an extra £900 but it could prove more cost-effective in the long run.

Drivers in the SDI may become disgruntled by its lack of power and will be tempted to nail their right feet to the floor and leave them there.

According to Volkswagen, fuel economy at a constant 56mph is 53.3mpg for the smaller engine and 55.4mpg for the larger one, but this could suffer terribly under a heavy-footed driver. The TDI is likely to prove more economical in real-life terms. And don’t forget that drivers who don’t like their vehicles are likely to abuse them in other ways too.

Verdict

I PROMISED not mention the looks, so will ignore them for the purposes of this verdict. There are so many plus points for this vehicle that Volkswagen could hardly fail to increase sales over the old model. It’s a winner.

Model: Caddy 2.0 SDI 1.9 TDI
Engine (cc): 1,968 1,896
Max power (bhp/rpm): 69/4,000 104/4,000
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 103/2,200 184/1,900
Max speed (mph): 88 103
0-62mph (sec): 20.5 13.3
Gross payload (kg): 815 819
Load volume (cubic metres): 3.2 3.2
Transmission: 5-sp man 5-sp man
Prices (ex-VAT): £9,650 £10,550
Service intervals: 10,000 miles

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