Something big is happening in the small van sector. All of a sudden that cosy little world of Citroën Berlingos, Vauxhall Combos and Volkswagen Caddys is bifurcating into two distinct species.
Later in the year, Citroën and Peugeot launch a new Berlingo/Partner which sees an increase over the old model in terms of loadspace and payload and in February, Volkswagen launched this new Caddy which – as suggested by its name Maxi – ups the load carrying capacity of its standard brother.
As the original Berlingo, Partner and Caddy will continue on sale, that means that effectively we now have two sectors where last year we had one – I suppose we’ll have to call them small van sector and not quite so small.
These manufacturers just don’t appreciate what problems they cause for the motoring press!
The Caddy Maxi is 470mm longer than its standard brother and boasts a payload of up to 800kg and loadspace of 4.2 cubic metres, up from 3.2 on the standard model.
To put things in perspective, this load volume is now bigger than that offered by the old Citroën Dispatch, which was always considered to be in the class above the Caddy.
In addition to the panel van on test here, there is also a five-seat crew van and a model called Life, which is an MPV seating seven people in three rows.
There is a choice of engines – a 1.9TDI PD offering 104bhp at 4,000rpm and 185lb-ft of torque at 1,900rpm and a 2.0-litre unit offering 140bhp.
Our test model featured the DSG six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the standard five-speed manual.
Standard specification is high and includes remote central locking, full bulkhead, ABS brakes, EBC (engine braking control), electronic brakeforce distribution, and a TCS
traction control system.
ESP Plus, an advanced traction control system incorporating driver steering response, is extra at £282.
Prices start at £12,650 ex-VAT and our test van weighed in at £14,050 ex-VAT.
It came loaded down with extra goodies including electric windows and heated door mirrors (£255), air conditioning (£725), 15in alloy wheels (£360), comfort pack, which
includes carpets and underseat storage (£215), body-coloured bumpers and wing mirrors (£180) and metallic paint (£295).
Behind the wheel
I’ve always held the Volkswagen brand in the highest esteem and I was, in fact, one of the judges who awarded the Caddy the title of Fleet News small van of the year in March.
A week with this van confirmed that my vote had been put in the right place. As soon as you climb aboard the Caddy, you
know you are in a vehicle that simply oozes quality.
It feels a lot tougher than most of the opposition and I can see these vans still buzzing around the UK in 20 years time.
Our test vehicle turned up at Fleet Towers looking a treat, but note from our earlier comments that there are a fair amount of paid-for extras tacked on to make it look like
this – £2,030’s worth to be precise.
Many fleet buyers would scoff at paying all that extra money and they may have a point.
But if you run a high profile fleet that wants an upmarket image, it could be worthwhile coughing up. In the front, the cab proves to be typical German fare – nothing fancy but everything solid, practical and where it should be.
The dash looks as though it might have been hewn from a single piece of plastic.
It’s so chunky that in a fight between it and a sledgehammer, my money would be on the dash every time.
Meanwhile the seats are hard but very supportive over long journeys, although the full bulkhead means that you can’t have the seat back in a slouched position.
I ended up in a slightly awkward ‘sit-up-and-beg’ pose during my test week.
There are lots of little cubby holes dotted about, while the CD player is a nice quality one, not one of those cheapo affairs you sometimes find in vans.
In the back
In the cargo end, we find side sliding load doors on both sides.
It’s a nice extra to have but I would have thought it a bit OTT personally.
Meanwhile the rear doors are split 60/30 and there are no fewer than eight load-lashing eyes.
The Caddy must be unique in having two coffee cup holders in the load bay! – no doubt this is because the van doubles up as an MPV.
There isn’t a lot of padding in the rear end and I’d definitely recommend a dose of ply-lining, which is cheap and will keep this vehicle spotless, even among the rigours of a
busy fleet life.
At selling time it can be removed and will pay for itself time and again.
On the road
The engine is a bit rattly on start-up and isn’t one of the most refined in the business, but under way, this van fairly flies along, with a 0-60mph time of 13.3 seconds an a top speed of 103mph.
I really wouldn’t recommend the higher-powered unit unless you want to rush round the country delivering urgent blood supplies or suchlike.
The 104bhp on offer here is plenty for most fleet needs and although I didn’t scale any huge mountains during my test week, I can’t see this powerplant struggling anywhere.
It’s a real ride-on-rails experience too – the Caddy must be one of the best sorted vans for handling in its class.
The DSG gearbox is a pleasure to use, especially in city traffic where it will save a
whole lot of pressure on the clutch foot and leg.
The lever can be nudged to the left and ‘paddled’ up and down to change gear manually if required but I can’t see why anyone would want to bother with that.
In auto mode the changes are totally seamless and Volkswagen reckons that fuel economy won’t be any more than with the manual.
On the combined cycle VW reckons 40.9mpg – not at all bad for a vehicle of this size.
Volkswagen manages the build quality that some other manufacturers only dream of and this van is a well-deserved winner of its Fleet News title.
The bigger version can do nothing but enhance the Caddy’s reputation even further.
Model: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi 1.9TDI DSG
Max power (bhp/rpm): 104/4,000
Gross vehicle weight (kg): 2,350
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 185/1,900
Payload (kg): 800
Load vol (cu m): 4.2
Fuel economy (comb): 40.9
Prices (ex-VAT): £14,050