Volkswagen Caravelle T6.1 (2020) Launch Review

Volkswagen T61 Caravelle Dynamic 011 1800x1800

Volkswagen has updated its Transporter range and while the top-tier Caravelle people-mover will only arrive in local showrooms in January 2021, the Wolfsburg-based brand showcased the revisions to what it calls the "T6.1" to the media earlier this week. We ventured into the heart of the Karoo to experience the updated Caravelle. 

Volkswagen's Transporter range of commercial and family-orientated products are well-established locally and, with more than 10 000 units sold in South Africa since the 6th-generation T6 arrived in 2015, Volkswagen will look to build on its success with the updated T6.1. Choice in the luxury people-mover segment is limited to the Caravelle and the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and this refreshed Volkswagen, which boasts enhanced exterior styling as well as a significant interior revamp, has been nudged further upmarket as VW seeks to solidify its foothold in the local market. 

Better looking, with more tech 

The updated Caravelle will be offered in a host of new colours including a range of attractive 2-tone exterior finishes. 

The kerb appeal of the Caravelle has been greatly enhanced by a revised grille design (garnished with chrome-look trim), as well as updated LED head- and tail lights. A fresh palette of vibrant exterior finishes (including attractive 2-tone options) and revised alloy-wheel designs are availbale.

As for the interior, it has benefited from a major overhaul in the form of a new dashboard, which now houses familiar features such as Volkwagen's 10.25-inch Discover Pro infotainment system with integrated navigation. You may be happy to know that the system can now wirelessly connect to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay (no more need to plug in a cable to access those features). Volkswagen's digital cockpit, which is familiar from other products such as the Golf, is also fitted and can be configured using the mounted controls on the new steering wheel. Perceived interior build quality is excellent and the new-look fascia and the above-mentioned features have boosted the Caravelle's premium appeal to new heights. 

The Caravelle 6.1 features a new dashboard design packed with a plethora of modern technology. 

The Caravelle also gains a new electro-mechanical steering system, which improves handling performance, while other nifty additions include a wireless smartphone charger and a data plug that presents key vehicle data, such as driving stats, service information and much more to the driver/owner via Volkswagen's We Connect Go smartphone app. This recently-introduced connectivity feature is not only useful for private owners, but will also be hugely beneficial for fleet managers who are looking to streamline their vehicle information processes.

As far as rear passenger comfort and flexibility is concerned, the Caravelle remains hugely capable and can comfortably seat 7 adult occupants with additional loading space available for luggage. The seats slide along a rail system and the 2nd-row can also be swivelled to face the 3-seat 3rd row. A central collapsible table (with cup holders and magazine storage slots) is also provided for added convenience to rear passengers. Whether it's business or family time, the Caravelle's cabin retains its flexibility and the plush leather upholstery adds to the overall comfort levels.

What's it like to drive? 

The Caravelle's new engine and superb ride quality on various surfaces are major highlights of this update. 

The Caravelle's new 2.0-litre bi-turbocharged diesel engine is a real peach! The outgoing Caravelle offered 132 kW and 400 Nm, but this new powerplant offers heady figures of 146 kW and 450 Nm and comes mated with Volkswagen's proven 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. 

The media route started in the windy city of Port Elizabeth and took us on a journey towards Somerset East, which encompassed about 100 km of tarred road that eventually gave way to rutted dirt roads that took us into the heart of the Karoo to Kuzuko Lodge. 

The Caravelle's new engine quickly impressed us with its no-nonsense acceleration, which is made that much sweeter with the DSG ensuring smooth, imperceptible shifts. It gets up to highway speed quickly and with ample power and torque to draw upon, overtaking manoeuvres can be executed with consummate ease. Apart from being wonderfully powerful, this powertrain is notably refined: it's not overly noisy or clunky and very little noise makes its way into the cabin, which is a testament to excellent noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) mitigation. Moreover, Volkswagen claims a fuel consumption figure of between 8.0 and 8.3 L/100km and we were happy to see returns of just under 10 L/100 km on our media drive. 

For a product that is ultimately based on a commercial vehicle, albeit with the implementation of several refinements, the Caravelle has impeccable road manners courtesy of its reassuring 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, new electro-mechanical steering system and a pliant suspension setup. 

The steering 'wheel is marvellously light when manoeuvring at slow speeds, but it's also direct and communicative when you're travelling at higher velocities. We found the Caravelle's ride quality comfortable on tar, but its performance on the badly rutted dirt roads in the Karoo was a revelation. The Caravelle seemed to be completely and utterly at home on the dirt and, courtesy of all-wheel drive, it always felt confidently planted to the road.

With this update, Volkswagen also took the opportunity to bolster the Caravelle's repertoire of safety features, which now includes useful technology such as Park Assist, Crosswind Assist, Rear-traffic Alert, Side Protection and Trailer Assist. Familiar features such as Hill Start Assist Hill Descent Assist, Lane Assist and post-collision braking are among the standard driver assistance features fitted to this model. Buyers also have the choice of 3 rearview camera setups depending on your preference, but a tailgate-mounted reverse-view camera with static guidelines is standard. 

Final thoughts

Better in so many ways, the updated Caravelle T6.1 should find favour with many more buyers in SA. 

This latest iteration of the Caravelle is difficult to ignore thanks to enhancements in key areas, including exterior styling, interior design and quality, connectivity, safety and, importantly, performance.

These advancements, in our opinion, mostly justify the Caravelle 6.1's expected asking price of R1 149 400 and it's worth noting the Volkswagen people-mover is competitively priced against its rival, the Mercedes-Benz V250d. While that price may come as a shock to some potential buyers, it shouldn't come as a surprise. The Caravelle is an imported model and we must bear in mind that Volkswagen South Africa, like many vehicle brands, is at the mercy of the exchange rate, which has wreaked havoc on local new-car prices in 2020 (and further increases are expected). 

It must also be mentioned that when the Caravelle arrives in local showrooms in early 2021, it will be sold with a 3-year/120 000 km warranty and a 5-year/60 000 km maintenance plan as standard, which is competitive when compared against the rivalling Mercedes-Benz V-Class. The Benz comes with a 2-year/unlimited km warranty and a 5-year/100 000 km maintenance plan. However, Volkswagen will also offer a range of optional bolt-on service and maintenance plans that will meet the needs of both private and fleet owners with cover of up to 10 years or 300 000 km. 

Also, considering its highly spacious and practical cabin, the Caravelle T6.1 is worth considering as an alternative to a Premium SUV if you need to transport half a dozen passengers in luxury with luggage space to spare. The Caravelle T6.1 will officially arrive in South Africa in January 2021 but order books are already open, so if you are interested you can visit Volkswagen's local website or make contact with a VW dealer near you. 

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