What is it?
There’s a good chance you’re already familiar with the Volkswagen Caddy; the German brand’s popular little van is a common sight up and down the land. Like the larger Transporter and its Caravelle cousin, VW will also sell you a Caddy with extra seats and a plusher interior, the Caddy Life.
If that’s not big enough, there’s the version we’re testing here, the seven-seat Caddy Maxi Life. This gains 470mm in overall length, which equates to an extra 340 litres of load space. Unlike many car-based MPV rivals, this means you can carry seven people and a decent amount luggage at the same time.
Given the commercial roots of the Caddy Maxi Life, it’s no surprise to see that the engine range is quite limited, with a maximum output of just 148bhp. There’s a choice of a 1.- or 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engines, or a pair of 2.0-litre diesels. We’re sampling the 123bhp 1.4 TSI with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.
What’s it like?
You might expect a 1.4-litre engine to struggle in a 1700kg MPV, and to be honest, sometimes it does. Driven sedately and in an urban environment it proves to be smooth and willing, pairing up nicely to the dual-clutch auto ’box. Take it out on the open road however, and you’ll have to thrash it pretty hard to make swift progress.
The real issue here is torque; there just isn’t enough of it low down. It isn’t overly frugal either, so you’re unlikely to see much better then economy in the high 30s. As for the handling, soft suspension and tall, squidgy tyre sidewalls mean it’s comfortable most of the time but tends to bounce and crash at the back over broken asphalt – a trait that’s most noticeable when the rear is unladen.
As you’d expect, this means the handling is safe, secure and grippy, but not in any way exciting or enjoyable. The steering is precise but there’s little to no feel filtering up from the front tyres. If you do push, there’s plenty of lean from the body before the nose gently runs wide.
It doesn’t matter how much carpet, additional glass or clever tech Volkswagen throws at the Caddy Maxi Life, there’s still plenty to remind you of its commercial vehicle origins. Step inside and you’re treated to a dashboard that has nicely textured plastic, chrome trim and well-damped controls, but ultimately it all feels rugged and utilitarian on closer inspection.
You’re unlikely to find any soft materials in the cabin, just plenty of hard and unyielding plastic. That’s not to say it’s badly put together; everything feels solid, only in a very workmanlike way. Still, there are plenty of advantages to being based on a van.
A simple leaf-sprung beam axle at the back may not do the ride and handling any favours, but it does mean you get a perfectly flat load bay with a very low floor. Couple this to a high roof and you get a cabin which is light and airy and offers great visibility for passengers in all three rows.
If you need to carry things rather than people, you can remove the second and third rows of seats entirely to free up a whopping 3370 litres of load space. The laod bay even took a full-size fridge freezer lying down inside with room to spare. A word of warning though – you’ll need at least two people to lift out the heavy benches.
Should I buy one?
If you want to be able to carry seven people and their luggage for less than £30,000, there’s not a huge amount of choice out there. Ultimately, a Ford Grand Tourneo Connect is not only similarly spacious but also much more enjoyable to drive and significantly cheaper.
If, however, you need seats six and seven on an occasional basis only, and don’t need vast amounts of luggage space, we’d be more tempted by the Caddy’s traditional MPV rivals. A Volkswagen Sharan may not be quite as spacious, but it’s better to drive, has a better interior and should prove to be just as economical.
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life 1.4 TSI 125 DSG
Location West Sussex; On sale Now; Price £24,647; Engine 4 cyls, 1395cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 123bhp at 5000-6000rpm; Torque 162lb ft at 1500-3500rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; Kerb weight 1687kg; 0-62mph 10.9sec; Top speed 114mph; Economy 48.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 133g/km, 21%
What is it?