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Road Test: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life

Review by Peter Maniatis - 7/October/2008

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

The Caddy Maxi Life is... Well... I'm not entirely sure.

It looks like a van but purports to be a people mover, or MPV as some people call them.

I'm beginning to like more of what I see from Volkswagen at the moment – great value for money transport for the most part – but what is to be made of this novel incarnation?

At first look I was aghast, thinking what on earth am I going to test drive this week. 

But let's look at the basics: it's got a torquey 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine, a large boot, plus three rows of seats. 

Practicality is one of its strong suits, but it wasn't until I saw the price of under $35k that I really started taking notice.

People movers are not what you'd call the flavour of the month at the moment, but there is still demand for these sorts of cars and there'll be no denying that many of us at the Motoring Channel were curious about this vehicle from Volkswagen.

So I decided to approach my week of test driving the Caddy as a bit of a novelty – give it a go – see what happens I thought.

Make: Volkswagen
Model: Caddy Maxi Life
Price: $34,990
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Engine: 1.9-litre 4-cylinder petrol
Seats: 7
Safety: 4 airbags (driver/front passenger (x2), front side (x2)), ABS, EBD, TCS
Car Supplier: Volkswagen Australia


Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

Volkswagen's Caddy Maxi Life is an intriguing
car, one that grows on you the more you drive it

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

Even with three rows of seats, the
Caddy Maxi Life has good boot space

Engine: 1.9-litre 4-cylinder, turbo diesel

The transversally mounted 1896cc 4-cylinder engine has an inline cylinder layout with a cast iron block and alloy cylinder head. It uses single overhead camshafts (SOHC) that work with 8-valves (2-valves per cylinder). The engine uses direct injection and features both a turbocharger and intercooler to increase torque. It will run on diesel fuel and has a 60 litre fuel tank.

Fuel consumption: 6.3L/100km
CO2 Emissions: 166g/km

Max Power: 77kW @ 4000rpm
Max Torque: 250Nm @ 1900rpm

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

There's adequate leg room for all seven passengers

Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life review

Starting out life as a commercial van, the VW
Caddy Maxi Life is a well-sorted people mover

The Caddy Maxi Life is a novelty for sure. When I picked it up I was bemused: what is it?

Once inside the vehicle I noticed huge storage cavity above my head in the ceiling, followed by the clunky sounding diesel engine when it turned over the ignition. 

All signs pointed towards the heritage of the VW Kombi and what I thought this car was designed for – a courier van!

But then it got interesting. 

It looks like a van, but the sliding rear doors and seven seats quickly quashed that view. 

This is very much a people mover, but there is a commercial version of the vehicle called the Caddy Maxi Van.

After driving around for a while, the first thing I noticed and liked a lot was the fuel gauge – in particular, how many kilometers till empty (780km). Wow. I'll be in for this – I usually only get 450-500km out of these test cars.

Well, chugging along open-mindedly I thought at least I'll be able to drive this car around for a while before I need to fill it up again, and so it turned out. The VW Caddy Maxi Life is very frugal.

It's got a 60 litre tank, so it can cost a bit to fill it up, but when you realise it uses 6.3L/100km (city/highway combined cycle) the appeal of the Caddy increases.

Having a family that needs 7 seats I was the perfect target of this Caddy configuration. 

What was interesting to see was that the rear third row seats were large and wide enough for bigger people than my little tackers. 

All right – I've got some pluses going here.

I turned on the radio and expected a nice sounding VW audio system but unfortunately got what I expected from a courier van – a light weight less-than-great-sound. But that's okay, because I would probably upgrade to a DVD visual audio system in any event. 

I then looked a little lower than the stereo and was shocked to see a compartment that I had not seen in a car for a very long time, but I suppose the stereo-typical van driver has to be catered for here with cigarette trays in the front dash and rear doors. 

Took me way back!

Cruising around town I started to get a good feeling about driving the Volkswagen Caddy. 

The front-wheel drive vehicle is not too hard to park and it's slim 1.79 metre width gives you room to move and load/unload. It is long though, getting close to 5.0 metres (4.87m) and can make tighter car parks more difficult to navigate.

It felt surprisingly tight and sturdy on the road. It drives a little like the other VW’s that I've tested which is a good thing, but the turning circle (12.2m) isn't so good.

Yes, it sounds a bit clunky with the diesel motor rumbling away but it has plenty of motivation without needing to rev the engine. There's 250Nm of torque @ 1900rpm, which is very good for a small 1.9-litre engine, and it doesn't drink much fuel.

I tested the 5-speed manual model, which worked very well, but if you want the sporty automatic gearbox you can opt for the 6-speed DSG, which features twin clutches and automatic operation. It costs $3,000 extra.

Now loading up this funny looking car with its strange sliding side doors and its hilarious horn was actually very practical and enjoyable. 

I'm not sure if it is just because this is different than what we drive at home (Ford Territory) but the whole family had a lot of fun getting around in this car – lots of laughter from the kids each time I honked the horn. Let me explain: the horn a cross between the wiggles big red car and a clown funny car from the big top circus.

Loading and unloading the Volkswagen Caddy was very easy thanks to the sliding side door and it handled plenty of gear. Overall everything worked without a hitch, and the carpeted floors were a nice touch as well.

The boot is big, offering 530 litres with all 7-seats occupied. Fold down the third row and that increases to 1650 litres, fold down both third and second rows and you get 3950 litres of space.

I really liked the ample glass around the vehicle which gives great visibility around the car but I would have liked to see some extras including a rear camera, a slightly nicer interior, a better stereo and perhaps the 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine for a bit more go.

Add these things and it would make this car a real contender and something that families would seriously consider, and at a very good price.

You know, this car has really grown on me during the week I have had it for testing. Which begs the idea that most car buyers only get to drive a car for 15 minutes or so during a brief test drive.

How can you make a judgement on a cars function and drivability in just that time?

The Caddy is a candidate for the long test drive. If I had driven it for 15 minutes I probably would have walked away without a second glance, but over the space of a busy week the vehicle has turned out to be a very practical people mover.

Maybe car dealerships need to make cars available for testing (at a fee perhaps?) for a prolonged time for people to get a good feel of how it will suit their family’s needs. Of course this could backfire for some...

When you see the price this car is positioned at ($35k - ish) and again the great value for money it offers in fit-out and ongoing fuel economy, families should give this car consideration in their quest for a frugal family mover. 

Maybe I'm a little biased cause I think VW are doing a great job of designing and building cars at the moment, but overall I really like what the German car company has created here.

Overall: 3.5/5


At first I thought "who would want to be seen driving around in a family car that looks and sounds like the local delivery van?" But its drivability, the different look, great fuel economy, ample torque and a general quirkiness endeared this car to us all.

The family wanted to be seen in it and I wanted drive it around town.

For the price you pay, you get some very good features in this vehicle, such as the 7-seats, the large boot space, the efficient diesel engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, and four airbags. It would be nice to have stability control (ESP) as standard instead of a $690 option, and the same goes for the rear parking sensors that are a $790 cost option. 

Overall the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life represents good value for money and rivals many of the established 7-seater SUVs and people movers in terms of practicality and economy, and finallyI think I know what the Caddy Maxi Life is... Cost-effective transport for growing families.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Large Interior
  • Big Seats
  • Economic Diesel Engine
  • Drivability
  • No Curtain Airbags
  • ESP Not Standard
  • Delivery Van Appearance

Comments on the review? The Car? Your Car? Email us.

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