New Caddy: First Drive — Hole in One

Driven 2005-01-21 by Bernd Felsche
Photos: VW Nutzfahrzeuge *
Late last year, I spoke to the local Volkswagen Commercial Centre about getting a test drive of the new Caddy that'd been announced. Unfortunately, the Caddy that they had, was still in captivity, behind a fence and without dealer prep. They reckoned that it'd be available some time after January 4th.

A couple of days ago, they called to say that a Caddy panel van was ready for a brief test drive. I had about half an hour to spare the next morning and was within spitting distance so I dropped in to kick the tyres.

Shortly thereafter, one of their sales rep's Paul was showing me some of the key features of the Caddy TDI; the demonstrator having a second, optional sliding door; standard central locking, "barn doors" at the back, with the kerbside one swinging out to almost 180 degrees after a latch is released. Those full-height holes provide access to over 3 cubic metres of load volume; the cargo can weigh as much as 750 kg in the TDI.

White panelvan

Blue panelvan
interior The exterior is just as functional. A high roof puts the top of the van at about 1.8 metres; close to a T5's height. The unpainted (thankfully) bumpers wrap around the front front and back.

The driver and passenger get the full passenger car treatment; radio/CD, airbags, etc. It's not pretty but it's well laid out. Interior trim in the cargo area is very business-like. Bare metal floor and sides of the storage area provide maximum volume. VW will probably make rubber mats and cargo nets available as options; as they do in Germany. There are several tie-down points on the ribbed floor to secure loads when the vehicle is moving.

And move it does: Paul took the helm on the outbound journey; having gained sufficient experience and confidence after practising the night before; apparently much to his delight. Unloaded, progress was quite impressive. The diesel engine was unobtrusive. Barely audible is closer to the truth as I found myself checking the tacho at idle to make sure that the engine hadn't stalled. At about 70 km/h, noise from the empty load area was surprisingly low. A large empty space usually amplifies road and suspension noises from the rear axle.

I fidgeted around on the passenger seat, exploring various storage recesses including the wide, overhead shelf that I'm sure will get lots of use when the vehicle is earning its keep. Occupants are well catered for; seats are firmly comfortable, there's room in the door pockets for large bottles of refreshment and the airconditioning provided a cool refuge; while filtering out the smoke from bush fires.

Then it was my turn and I proceded to take advantage of the copious adjustment possibilities of the seat and electric side mirrors. The steering wheel was just about right so I didn't bother to explore its scope of adjustment.

The clutch is light and has well-defined engagement. The big handle in the middle seems well-connected to the transmission and you can easily feel the gear positions. During normal driving, the right gear simply seems to fall into place.

Steering is quick, light and direct, though there's little feedback (feel). Although the front of the Caddy disappears out of view when in the driver's seat, the corners are just about where you expect them to be so that you can steer around obstacles when things get a bit tight.

Driver's cab.

Brakes are ABS as standard and they start to work almost at the top of travel. Just a light touch results in an immediate reduction in speed. It takes some getting used to.

The TDI engine's torque characteristics make the Caddy almost too "easy" to drive. Top (5th) gear is useful above 70 km/h; with the turbo fully on boost from around that speed providing for consistent performance until way beyond WA's maximum speed limit. Even off-boost, the diesel lugs along quite nicely with no jerkiness or complaint. All of that means is that the driver doesn't constantly have to stir the gearbox. It also bodes well for the clutch.

Van on the

No surprise at all then to learn that the VW Caddy, especially with the TDI engine, is very much in demand in established markets such as Germany.

So who's in the market for one? There are certainly less-expensive small, two-box vans on the market, but they don't offer the Caddy's load capacity in terms of volume and weight. Nor do some offer convenient sliding doors, ABS brakes or a magnificent TDI.

The Caddy is smaller and more maneuverable than one-box vans; and will certainly fit into smaller spaces.

Blue van

Caddy Life on the
Room to
stretch out in the Caddy
Volkswagen only have the panel van version of the Caddy available in Australia for now. This is no doubt expected to attract trades people and couriers for whom a T5 is too unwieldy. At just shy of $25,000 (plus dealer delivery) for the TDI it's not a cheap panel van to buy but the TDI goes a long way to reducing the total cost of ownership over the life of the vehicle.

The petrol-engined 1.4-litre panel van costs $5000 less to buy; but you lose on carrying capacity and miss out on all that wonderful torque from the TDI. And if I understood correctly, you also miss out on remote lock/unlock.

When the windowed Caddy Kombi or Caddy Life [left] with another row of seats becomes available in maybe 6 months, it'll challenge the station wagon and mini-van market segments. Even those looking at a Golf (with which the Caddy shares most of its drivetrain and front suspension) may be tempted to look at the Caddy as a daily runabout. Which is I guess a difficult choice for the Volkswagen Group to make; trading off Golf sales "lost" to the Caddy against addressing a wider potential by having such a vehicle on the showroom floor.

Barn doors or
Photos are of German-market models with various options fitted. See your dealer for standard Australian fitments

Copyright © 2005 Bernd Felsche, Perth, Western Australia
All Rights Reserved