REVIEW DATE: 25 Feb 2008
The concept of the van-based MPV may no longer be new, but that doesn't mean there isn't space for quality market entrants like the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life. Andy Enright reports
It's fair to say that the van-based MPV market suffers something of an image problem. Driving one of these vehicles is virtually admitting that you have procreated beyond your means and that as penance, you must seat your children in a position more usually occupied by frozen pizzas or bulk purchase sausage rolls. Almost without exception, these vehicles have been a budget way to shift bodies with very little attention paid to making the experience anything other than utilitarian. Volkswagen hope to alter this focus with the Caddy Maxi Life, a vehicle that's built like, well, like a Volkswagen.
As a company, Volkswagen have become very poor at doing cheap and cheerful in a cheap and cheerful way. Even their cheap and cheerful cars feel a notch above the rest, with reassuring materials quality and a resolute solidity in the way they drive. Therefore hitching the van-based MPV sector up by its bootstraps possibly wasn't the trickiest undertaking the company had ever set out to achieve. The Caddy Maxi Life, it may not astonish you to hear, is based on the Caddy Maxi compact panel van, a bigger version of the standard Caddy van model.
Just so you know, the Caddy Maxi is 470 mm longer than the ordinary Caddy and offers an extra 1.0 m³ load volume and up to 80 kg extra payload - meaning a 4.2 m³ load volume and a payload of up to 800 kg. In other words, it's a much more practical proposition when it comes to the business of turning a van into a practical 7-seater people-carrying MPV.
"In a market where shiny plastics and naff trims are accepted as par for the course, the Caddy Maxi Life is a cut above."
Although Volkswagen claim the Caddy Maxi Life goes head to head with models like the Citroen Berlingo Multispace and the Renault Kangoo, it is in fact a class removed from these vehicles. For a start, there's the option of seven seats - a rarity in this sector - and then there's the sheer quality of the thing that leads to prices a good deal more than you'd pay for the French models. The middle row of seats can tumble forward to permit access to the back, although if the driver or front seat passenger is very tall, there's not a great deal of available range for the seat to tumble into.
Coming from a Caddy origin, the Life doesn't feature the sophisticated multi link independent rear suspension of the Golf hatch but on a cost/benefit basis, that decision probably makes a lot of sense in this sector. The rigid rear axle is mounted on leaf springs, while there are anti-roll bars fore and aft to keep everything nice and rigid for more composed cornering. Van-based MPVs are rarely chosen for their edge of the envelope handling characteristics. The bodyshell is nevertheless extremely stiff which is vital given the huge apertures created by the twin sliding doors.
As we've suggested, the Caddy Maxi Life is a good deal bigger than many of its competitors and the wheel at each corner packaging means that it can get away with offering a seven seat option. The impressive luggage capacity also makes it an ideal choice if you need to haul about bulky lifestyle items and you don't fancy the prospect of buying a dedicated vehicle solely to support your hobby. A maximum braked trailer weight of 1,500 kg, or 750 kg unbraked, means that it can tow well too. The rear bench seat offers a number of options insofar as it can be partially folded, fully folded or folded and tipped while the optional rearmost bench can be removed without too much difficulty.
What will appeal to many buyers is the quality of the interior. In a market where shiny plastics and naff trims are accepted as par for the course, the Caddy Maxi Life is a cut above. It's not far removed from the driver environment of the latest Golf or Touran models and it offers seat height adjustment for the driver as well as height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel. There's certainly no shortage of stowage areas. Located beneath the driver's seat is a drawer and there's a storage area above the windscreen. There's also a number of cupholders dotted about the cabin as well as front door bins generously proportioned to allow the insertion of one-litre bottles.
Prices start at around £16,000 and all Caddy Maxi Life models include 'Climatic' semi-automatic air conditioning, electric front windows, carpet and full trim, sliding windows and childlocks on both sliding side doors, Isofix fittings for two rear seats, a generous overhead storage shelf above the driver, four luggage nets in the roof lining, a 12v socket in the luggage area, plus remote central locking, radio and CD with six speakers and front fog lights. Externally, the Life has a rear tailgate with heated window and wash/wipe, plus body coloured bumpers and mirrors - which are also electrically operated and heated.
One downside of the Caddy Life's generous dimensions and focus on quality is overall weight which is the highest in the sector. Although news of its heavyweight status might set alarm bells ringing amongst buyers who fear that the vehicle could turn out to be a bit of a porker on the road, Volkswagen have equipped the Caddy Life with a couple of engines that are up to the task. You're not going to be winning many traffic light Grand Prixs but neither will you be embarrassed when you need to get going. Two diesel engines are available. These are a 1.9-litre TDI PD 104 PS unit available with Volkswagen's advanced DSG gearbox or a five-speed manual 'box; plus a 2.0-litre TDI PD 140 PS engine with DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter). Both will return around 44mpg on the combined cycle.
It's the Caddy Maxi Life's focus on bringing a more sophisticated look and feel to the van-based MPV sector that will doubtless win it a significant quota of fans. The Volkswagen badge carries a decent degree of clout these days and although the Life is by no means the cheapest offering in the sector, many will feel it well worth the premium. If you'd rejected the idea of a van-based MPV on the grounds that they're dull to drive, ugly and make you appear a cheapskate, then the Caddy Maxi Life represents a well reasoned argument in favour. Being sentenced to Life suddenly seems quite appealing.
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|