Caddy means business

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.

Practicality

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.

Cost

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.

Volkswagen Caddy review Ireland

 

 

Enlarging the Mini

The new Mini Countryman might have ‘Mini’ emblazoned front and back, but there’s nothing small about it. The second generation of Mini’s chunkier compact crossover is larger and wider than its predecessor, though it’s a little sharper and leaner on the outside.

Looks might be subjective, but I think it’s fair to say the new Countryman isn’t good-looking in the traditional sense. Like all Minis since 2000, the Countryman has a bulbous air about it, like someone who’s overindulged a little too much at dinner. Having said that it’s got a nice stance on the road, and if you’re opting for a colour beyond the usual black or red, Island Blue with the go-faster Cooper stripes lends a great degree of attractiveness.

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Introducing Project Giorgio

On a recent sunny Sunday in the Powerscourt Hotel, the car park was full – as you might expect – of varying Mercedes, BMW, Audis and Range Rovers. In the midst of them all and stealing most of the admiring looks was the new Alfa Romeo Giulia.

Developed under the Giorgio platform, bringing the rear-wheel drive Giulia to life was something of a daunting task for Alfa – taking an entirely new platform from concept to tarmac within a timeline of three years as part of the brand’s expensive relaunch plans. But the result is quite stunning, visually speaking, a sporty five-door saloon that combines Alfa’s rich heritage with the driving experience you expect. There’s no denying that they’ve created a head-turning beast.

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Cross Country with the Volvo V90

Earlier this year I spent a week behind the wheel of the Volvo S90, the first Volvo I’ve been in since the family 340, a 1991-badge hatchback that was better known for its safety than performance. An immediate contender in the executive market, the S90 is a fabulous car – powerful yet sleek on the outside, very comfortable on the inside, filled with gadgets and quite fun to drive.

The V90 (and its Cross Country version) is essentially an S90 with a squared rear end, albeit with a few tweaks here and there. It’s not quite as good looking, in my opinion, though both share sleek lines, a forward stance and that aggressive Volvo prow – there’s no mistaking it for anything else on the road. Having said that, the V90 Cross Country is one of the most stylish estates on the market today, in a segment perhaps more known for practicality than looks. Straddling the line between estate and SUV, it’s been raised 60mm compared to the ordinary V90 (offering a more composed ride), but doesn’t look any bit awkward on the road.

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Swedish delight

S90

When I was about five years old, my parents purchased a grey 1991 Volvo 340, a 1.4L compact five-door hatch that was renowned more for its safety than its performance. I remember it because it was one of the first cars to follow our luminous green Ford Fiesta, and because it had wipers on the headlamps. Five-year-old me was quite tickled by this – clearly some sort of mistake had been made at the factory. That marked the last time I was in a Volvo until quite recently, when I sat behind the wheel of the new S90.

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Decisions, decisions: Audi’s updated A3

One of my favourite places to drive in Ireland is Cork, right after the Wicklow Mountains. Getting there is relatively painless on the motorway (though a little boring), Cork city – compared to Dublin – is actually quite pleasant to drive around, even during rush hour, and the countryside boasts some nice and twisty roads combined with a truly beautiful landscape.

My most recent trip to the Rebel County was spent behind the wheel of an Audi A3 saloon. Audi, like fellow executive brands BMW and Mercedes, has spent a great deal of time and effort in building a range of vehicles to suit every need and desire, from the entry level A1 for urban dwellers who want something small and light on its feet, to the R8 supercar for (at €235,000) the very wealthy petrolheads. The A3 is somewhere in the middle – not too big and not too small, not the cheapest Audi on the market, but not the most expensive either.

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