REVIEW DATE: 08 Mar 2006
Commercial Vehicles And Petrol Engines Don't Tend To Mix All That Well But Volkswagen's Caravelle Van-Based People Carrier And Its 3.2-litre V6 Engine May Be An Exception. Steve Walker Reports.
Volkswagen's Caravelle isn't your typical commercial vehicle. In its Plusher forms, it's better equipped and more capacious than most full-size MPVs. It is based on the Transporter van, however, and is purchased extensively by travel companies, taxi operators and other businesses which need to get clients from A to B in a certain degree of comfort. For this kind of usage, the performance and refinement of a V6 petrol powerplant has obvious benefits - even if it falls someway shy of the diesel alternatives in terms of fuel economy. The Caravelle that we examine here has just such an engine and comes equipped for the purpose of bringing a touch of class to the people carrying genre.
Volkswagen class the Caravelle as a commercial vehicle for marketing purposes and that's good enough for us but after a look around the Range-topping V6 derivative, which is offered exclusively in Executive trim, you wouldn't put it down as any sort of van. Think of this Caravelle as high-end executive transport and you'll be close enough to the reality of it.
Power is supplied by a 3.2-litre V6 engine that generates 232bhp at a high 6,200rpm. You'll rarely find yourself venturing into the upper echelons of the rev-Range, though, because the 315Nm maximum torque is available just below 3,000rpm. There's strong acceleration available from low revs but under normal driving conditions, the V6 never comes across as anything but relaxed and unflustered despite the bulk of the vehicle it's propelling around. If you do put the hammer down, the 6-speed Tiptronic gearbox and the engine will contrive to get you to 60mph in 10.5s. There's a 127mph top speed to be explored where conditions allow too, marking the Caravelle V6 out as a vehicle with an unexpected turn of pace. What's more predictable is the average fuel economy figure of 21.9mpg and CO2 emissions that measure in at 310g/km. The Caravelle V6 is not a cheap vehicle to run but you must weigh this up against the benefits in performance given by its petrol engine.
"The V6 engine adds to the classy feel of the vehicle with its smooth power delivery and strong acceleration"
The Range-topping diesel unit in the Caravelle develops 173bhp and is a little less than £800 cheaper than the V6. On the road it's noticeably less refined with a harsher engine note that will prove more intrusive for passengers on long trips. The diesel is marginally more torquey than the petrol at low revs but the V6 unit's better top-end means it gets to 60mph around 2 seconds quicker. You'll get approximately 35mpg from the oil-burner which is impressive but its 216g/km CO2 emissions still place it in the top tax bracket. The diesel option gives most of the petrol's performance with markedly better economy but the type of customer who buys a £30,000 people carrier may well value the smoothness of the V6 enough to tip the balance in its favour. The Caravelle's arch-rival, the Mercedes Viano, is fractionally quicker and returns almost identical fuel economy figures in V6 form. It's more expensive and less practical but its handling is a little better thanks to rear-wheel-drive underpinnings.
The Executive trim level that's mated to the Caravelle's V6 engine lives up to its billing in some style. The Climatronic air-conditioning system works across three zones in the vehicle so the people in the back can enjoy a separate temperature to those in the middle and the front. There is also cruise control, 17" alloy wheels, leather upholstery, sports suspension and heated washer jets for the windscreen. Then there's the crowning glory of the electric sliding side doors and tailgate. These can be opened and closed remotely so you can play with them from your office window and surprise passers-by in the car park.
Externally, the Caravelle looks like the van with windows that it actually is, the chassis platform also forming the basis for Volkswagen's Transporter panel van. On the inside, however, it's up there teetering on the cutting-edge of MPV design in terms of innovation and practicality. The basis of the rear seating area is a rail-mounting system designed so that each chair can be individually manoeuvred or removed for greater flexibility. The seats slide along, and slot in or out of, rails cut into the cabin floor. So you can create the legroom, luggage space and passenger provision that you want. There are trays, storage options and cup-holders in abundance, including draws beneath each seat and a 'refuse bucket' (bin, to you and me) incorporated into the rear bench. There's also a freestanding table attachment that folds out to various sizes and offers yet more storage beneath, Plus the bench seat at the back can transform into a flat sleeping surface - after a bit of pushing and pulling.
The cab area up-front is similarly cleverly constructed, to the usual Volkswagen standards. It features a dash mounted gear stick plumbed into the centre console that frees-up floorspace for better walk-through access to the rear. This configuration shaves vital seconds off the time it takes a parent in the passenger seat to reach the back bench and apprehend a wayward child before they can 'make-over' their brother or sister with a felt-tip pen. The driving position and steering wheel are infinitely adjustable. So much so that, from Kylie Minogue to Jonah Lomu, virtually anyone's optimum driving position is attainable - it's just a matter of finding it. There are armrests on each chair too, along with supportive cushioning and fetching two-tone fabric.
The Volkswagen Caravelle is one of the most practical multi-person vehicles on the market. It's more spacious than the current crop of conventional MPVs and more luxurious than any minibus. The V6 engine adds to the classy feel of the vehicle with its smooth power delivery and strong acceleration. The interior feels well built and flexible, although space for manoeuvring the middle seats and the table is limited and you may find yourself getting in a bit of a pickle. Overall, it's a strong package that feels suitably opulent for transporting tired executives or demanding clients who should find little cause for complaint.
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