For small business owners on the hunt for a new vehicle, the case for investing in a small panel van is quite strong. They’re generally quite cheap to buy, the engines offer decent fuel economy, tax is low thanks to their status as commercial couriers, VAT can usually be claimed back, and there’s plenty of space in the back for cargo. There’s also quite a few options on the market from which to choose, ranging from the likes of the cheap as chips Citroen Berlingo to the Ford Transit Connect or Volkswagen’s popular Caddy at the top of the pile.
Vans aren’t generally my forte, as a rule, but I do know that they’re generally not very sporty, nice to look at, or offer much in the way of driving dynamics, though you could possibly make the same argument for the Dacia Sandero. The Volkswagen Caddy, however, is a different story. Though I wasn’t expecting much, I was surprised about how pleasant my Fortuna Red test model was to drive (and look at) – handling that is quite similar to a passenger car is one of its biggest selling points. It’s a more than capable motorway cruiser and tackles main and back roads (including, and very specifically, narrow forest roads in West Cork) without any great difficulty, both loaded and unloaded, albeit with an expected amount of body roll. It also performs admirably in traffic and tight spaces thanks to nicely weighted steering and solid power delivery regardless of speed.
The 150hp 2.0TDI engine (75hp and 102hp variants of the 2.0L block are also available) in my test model funnels power smoothly throughout the five gears – there’s plenty of overtaking oomph, particularly when the cargo bay is empty. If you’re likely to face a lot of traffic every day, the DSG automatic gearbox is well worth the upgrade. Fuel economy is quite fantastic, averaging 5.2L/100km (54mpg), while the suspension irons out the majority of bumps, particularly if you place some cargo over the rear wheels. So far, so good.
The Caddy’s cabin isn’t anything special, though still among the best in class – build quality is quite good, as is the dashboard layout. The seats are very comfortable and head space is abundant, though your legs miss out on extra room, particularly on the passenger side. Overall it’s like driving a cheaper Golf with the back seats missing. The materials are very plasticky though undoubtedly hard-wearing, which is what the average customer will be looking for. It’s not overly insulated – the roar of the 2.0TDI can be easily heard at lower speeds in particular, unsecured load in the back can be a little distracting, the fuel tank can be heard audibly sloshing around (took a while to figure that one out), and whenever I approached 80km/h there was a distinct whistling noise emanating from somewhere around the windscreen.
But alongside the driving experience, practicality is where the Caddy scores highest. Within the cabin there are a number of nooks and crannies ready for tools and paperwork – a handy square compartment on top of the dashboard, side pockets that can hold a large bottle of water comfortably, a small-ish glove compartment, and room behind the two front seats as well. A roof shelf extends across the full width of the vehicle, invisible from the outside, handy for storing smaller odds and ends. Storage trays under the seats are an optional extra.
And then there’s the rear load space inside which you can fit a standard Euro pallet, accessible through the boot door (either a somewhat awkward lifting tailgate or split side hinged rear doors that can fold back 180 degrees) and via an impressively wide sliding door on the passenger side. The short wheelbase version can carry a payload of 762kg and tow up to 1,500kg, with a load length measuring almost 1.8m, while the longer wheelbase Caddy Maxi offers 832kg – the Transit Connect still has the edge here at 1,000kg, and there’s no high roof option in the VW. It is quite sturdy in the back, all tough plastic and protectors, as well as six anchors for securing your load, and you get another two in the Maxi model.
Because it’s more of a premium vehicle, the Caddy weighs in on the expensive side, though does tend to hold its value well. A starting price of €17,490 (including VAT) will get you the base model 75hp short wheelbase panel van (a little underpowered) rising to €29,810 for the top of the line 150hp version. Should you require a little more luggage room, the Maxi Caddy starts off at €19,815 with a more powerful 102hp engine, topping off with the 150hp version for €27,810. All of the engine options are diesel-powered, paired with a variety of five, six and seven-speed manual or automatic gearboxes (I’d opt for a six-speed manual or seven-speed auto given the choice).
So what do you get for your hard-earned money? The list of standard equipment on the base model is decent, including cruise control, hill hold control, regenerative braking and brake assist; adding a leather steering wheel, body coloured bumpers and a driver alert system under the Trendline trim level. Things get a little bit more luxurious (for a van) in Highline, including a multi-function steering wheel, alloy wheels and air conditioning. Carpet, front and rear parking sensors, roof rails and an alloy spare wheel are added as standard if you opt for the Alltrack spec, a more rugged version of the Caddy that turns it into something of a van/SUV crossover. There’s also a lengthy options list, but only a few items really catch the eye. Park distance control with a reversing camera is a must (€301), the sat nav will set you back €407, while a hitch can be factory fitted for €646.
There are plenty of options in the small van market and depending on what you want – more load space, better fuel economy or a cheaper price – there are other options besides the Caddy. But, if you want the best all-rounder, combining comfort, practicality, driving dynamics and load space into a rather good-looking package, it’s a very strong contender.