SINGAPORE (March 6): A half-van, half-people-carrier hybrid, the VW Caddy can quickly morph from one into the other

Forrest Gump famously said: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” The same can perhaps be said for a car reviewer. Initially, when I was heading to Volkswagen’s Alexandra Road showroom to test-drive the new Caddy, I did not exactly know what it was. VW already has the five-seater Sports van and the seven-seater Touran and Sharan in its line-up. So, I assumed the Caddy would fit somewhere in the middle. I was wrong. The Caddy is a half-van, half-people carrier hybrid that can quickly morph from one into the other.

The Caddy has seven seats, but you would never guess that by looking at it. From its exterior, it looks like a compact commercial van — because that is what it originally was. But VW decided to add five seats to the back to turn it into a multi-purpose vehicle. So you are essentially buying two cars in one. A van with lots of cargo space in the back when you need it, and a seven-seater people carrier when you have a large family in tow. It also sits within the Category A Certificate of Entitlement classification.

VW’s original Caddy was a two-seater van, but a growing number of customers in Europe were ordering the seven-seater passenger version. So, it decided to launch a new-generation Caddy with the five additional seats already in place. Volkswagen is German for “people’s automobile”, so this move made sense. The new model also gave its German designer the opportunity to make the Caddy less van-like and more car-like.

This is a tough challenge as the Caddy still has van-like qualities and features. Size-wise, it stands at 1,858mm tall and 1,793mm wide, giving it a boxy shape. Combine this with its sliding doors and large boot door, and there is no hiding the fact that this is more of a van than a car.

Sleek and sporty will never be two words you could use in the same sentence as the Caddy, but that is missing the point. This is a practical people- and cargo-mover that will never be bought for its looks. But, thankfully, this new-generation Caddy is less van-like than its predecessor, because of a new front-end that fits within the standard VW range and mostly resembles the Touran.

Inside, the Caddy feels less van-like and far more in tune with a car, with a high level of quality and refinement. From the 6.33in touchscreen infotainment system to the multi-function controls on the steering wheel, there is an immediate sense of Volkswagen familiarity and user-friendliness.

The five extra seats are not just a cheap afterthought. They are draped in leather and Alcantara trim, and positioned to give ample legroom to the passengers across the second row and back seats; the third row is really designed with children in mind.

Folding tables on the back of the front seats make for a child-friendly interior, as children are likely to be the most frequent occupants in the back, along with maybe a helper or grandparent. The back-row seats can be taken out to give more boot space, although this is a two-man job as they are quite heavy. This turns the Caddy quickly from a seven-seater with a small boot into a five-seater with a big boot.

Inside, there is a handy speaker system that lets you project your voice to the back row. Another smart thing about this new Caddy is the number of clever storage solutions dotted around the cabin. This includes a large crater on the dashboard for keys, wallet and phone, along with a large overhead storage unit above the driver.

The drive is also not what I expected. The Caddy has a 1.4l turbocharged straight injection engine, which produces 123bhp and 220Nm of torque, so it is no slouch. Instead, it is pretty punchy for its shape and drives more like the Touran than a van.

Taking a corner at speed is a little more challenging given its height. Apart from that, there were no other limitations, making for a breezy and entertaining ride. With a price tag of under $125,000, a rear-view camera and cruise control, the Caddy is definitely value for money — a car and a van in one model.

VW CADDY
$121,400 including COE
Engine: 1,395cc, 16v, turbocharger
Power/torque: 125bhp/220Nm
Fuel consumption: 5.8l/100km
0 to 100kph: 10.9 seconds
Top speed: 183kph

Justin Harper is a freelance journalist with a passion for all things fast

This article appeared in Issue 768 (Feb 27) of The Edge Singapore.