Review: 2016 Volkswagen Caddy

Review: 2016 Volkswagen Caddy

Whether it’s due to the projected rise in tourism numbers,  the weakening rand, or the downgrading of sales figures for new cars by some manufacturers, it is interesting to note that two of the first launches for 2016 have involved commercial people-carriers. The arrival of Hyundai’s nine-seater H1 kicked off the new year, and recently we saw the launch of a new, extended range of the Volkswagen Caddy. Now into its fourth generation after its original launch in Europe back in 1980, the Caddy of today continues to improve on what has gone before, while at the same time remaining true to the original principles of the vehicle. As explained at a business presentation, “it’s about growing the range and entering new segments”.

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And about time too, because the third generation has been in production for 11 years, with total sales around the globe of 1.5 million units. New features and a more aggressive styling are perhaps the key ingredients of this updated model, and its looks have definitely moved away from a strictly — and rather boring — commercial application to a vehicle that will appeal to a wider cross-section of buyers. Although the basic platform remains the same for the Caddy, 70% of the vehicle is new.

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As already mentioned, the Caddy range has been extended to now include a Panel Van and Crew Bus — aimed at purely commercial customers — while the Trendline and Alltrack have been designed to find favour with private buyers. The Panel Van, Crew Bus and Trendline are available in either short or long wheel-base, and there is an option of three engines — one 1.6 MPI petrol and two 2.0 TDIs. The 1.6-litre engine with 81kW is only available with Panel Van and Crew Bus derivatives, while the 2.0 TDI engines, with power output ranging from 81kW to 103kW, are offered with Crew Bus, Trendline and Alltrack (previously the Cross Caddy) derivatives.

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The 1.6-litre and the 2.0 TDI which both put out 81kW, are available in combination with a five-speed manual transmission. The 2.0 TDI with 103kW is only available with the six- speed direct-shift gearbox (DSG) transmission. “Form with function” is probably not the most exciting label to carry, but has been an entirely fitting description of the Caddy. With this new generation, however, “flair” is a perfectly acceptable noun to use to characterise this car. The range is built at the company’s production facility in Poznan, Poland, with each model having a different focus and application. The Trendline is a comfortable seven-seater (this includes the driver) and will find particular favour with those looking for a true dual-purpose vehicle.

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A number of features include the facility to fold — or even remove — the back two rows of seats. Do this and your loading space is a whopping 3.03m3. The car looks attractive, with its black roof rails, daytime running lights, body-coloured bumpers, chrome detailing on the grille, 16- inch alloy wheels and smaller body-coloured door mirrors all lending a more modern look. New features include xenon lights, sharper edges to the doors and a tailgate spoiler. As standard, the Trendline has safety features such as driver, passenger and curtain air bags, automatic post-collision braking (across the entire range) and ABS. Optional features worth considering include folding tables on the backrests, parking distance control with rear-view reversing camera, and driver alert if the car detects that the person at the wheel is nodding off.

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The interior has been entirely redesigned, with notable features of the new look being the inclusion of an advanced touchscreen infotainment system, clever storage compartments, climatic air-conditioning, electric windows, and a revamped dashboard and centre console. It’s an easy vehicle to drive, as I discovered while undertaking a jaunt through the scenic wonderland of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. The derivative I had been given was equipped with the 81kW engine and five-speed manual box. Capable as it is, I would definitely fork out an extra R50000 and get the more powerful 103kW variant with DSG gearbox. The Panel Van will find favour with those in the business of transporting goods. Access to the 3.2m3 load area is via split rear doors and a sliding door on the passenger side. A second sliding door is available as an option. Payload ratings for the vehicle is up to 815kg. The Crew Bus, on the other hand, is the entry point of the range — prices start at R226800 — and has fewer comfort features.

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However, it does provide an affordable alternative in what is becoming an increasingly popular segment. This particular derivative allows you to carry up to five passengers (including the driver), but still offers a decent load space of 1.6m3. The rear row of seats can be removed and the option of a seven-seater package is available. The Alltrack ups the ante when it comes to comfort and refinement. Distinguishing features when looking at the outside of the Alltrack are the black trim panels on the wheel arches that house bigger 17-inch alloy wheels, black side sills, automatic headlamp activation with separate daytime running lights, silver roof rails and the lower edges of the bumpers. The black underbody protection is set off by additional silver accents, while Alltrack logos appear on the front grilles, at the back, and on the silver roof rails. Step inside and the Alltrack has a few nice features, including leather finishes on the multi-function steering wheel, aluminium-look pedals, Alltrack floor mats and an exclusive fabric seat trim. Being at the top of the range, it also comes standard with comfort features such as cruise control, rain sensor wipers, USB port and hill hold function. The three main principles behind the Caddy range are pretty straightforward — space, an attractive design and affordable running costs. It’s a simple formula but, done properly, it works.

Pricing: Caddy Panel Van from R234 000; Crew Bus from R226 800; Trendline from R351 200; Alltrack from R365 400

Bruce Fraser