Volkswagen Caddy Kombi 1,6i (2005) Driving Impression

Volkswagen Caddy Kombi 2005

What initially seemed to be a particularly French affair, has now apparently also acquired a German flavour. We’re talking, of course, of that peculiarity of the French car makers to turn rudimentary commercial vans into passenger vehicles. The likes of the Kangoo, Partner and Berlingo are big business in France and now Volkswagen wants a piece of the pie with its Caddy. Of course, the Volkswagen Caddy name will be familiar to South Africans, but this model is rather different to the old Golf Mk1-based pick-up and takes the fight straight to the French family vans.

Mini-Touran looks for Volkswagen Caddy Kombi

In typical Volkswagen fashion, the Caddy’s looks are fairly predictable… not that that’s always a bad thing. In a segment boasting three French vehicles which look – let’s be gentle – quirky at best, the Caddy’s mini-Touran looks lend the Volkswagen a more upmarket appearance than its rivals. It’s a good thing, seeing as the Volkswagen Caddy is a fair bit more expensive than most of them. On this entry level version there’s no colour-coding for the bumpers and the wheels are basic 15-inch steel items. Alloys are offered as optional extras. It’s by no means an ugly vehicle, and there’s an honesty about its utilitarian appearance.

The big benefit of its van-like appearance is, of course, interior space. Accessed either through a large tailgate or a sliding side door, it really is incredibly spacious in there. Need to transport bicycles or large home appliances? The Volkswagen Caddy will swallow them. Total utility space may not quite match the Renault Kangoo’s, but it’s close. The rear seats can fold forward neatly, leaving an entirely flat floor behind them. So, yes, the Volkswagen Caddy has the versatility aspect well and truly licked. How does it fare as a passenger vehicle?

Volkswagen Caddy - Basic specification

The facia design also mirrors the Touran’s, being very straightforward in layout, ergonomically super efficient and of good quality, although there’s not a soft-touch surface to be seen. Those concerned about storing items out of sight (important in this country) may be slightly perturbed by the lack of a lockable glove compartment. Also note there’s no sliding luggage cover.

Seating comfort in front is very good. The steering wheel adjusts for rake and reach and even though the driver’s seat doesn’t adjust vertically, the seating position is good for most. Interestingly, the plastic cladding for the inside walls of the cabin stops just aft of the B-pillar, and consequently those seated in the back will see a lot of exposed metal around them. Rear seat comfort is not too bad, but the seats are rather flat and featureless. Legroom, however, is good and headroom is hardly going to be a problem. The rear windows, by the way, don’t have up-and-down adjustment, but slide open. Manual window winders are fitted in front.

In truth, the basic specification is a touch too, er, basic. Given the premium price for the Volkswagen Caddy, the lack of a sound system, air-conditioning, electric mirror adjustment and a passenger-side airbag is unfortunate. At least there’s ABS.

Underpowered engine

Although the Volkswagen Caddy seems sparsely equipped, it certainly is no lightweight. Tipping the scales at around 1,4 tonnes, the Caddy is fairly heavy, and you can feel it on the daily drive. The 1,6-litre engine delivers 75 kW, superior to all the rivals, but its 148 Nm torque figure is comprehensively beaten by the turbodiesel Peugeot (205 Nm). Power goes to the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission.

It’s a refined drivetrain, for sure, but it struggles to move the Volkswagen Caddy with much enthusiasm and the driver will have to use the gearlever often to remain in its power band. With five people on board, in addition to luggage, it’s a very sluggish vehicle. Fuel economy also suffers as a result, with a daily figure of around 10 litres/100 km for mixed-cycle driving being the likely reality – again comprehensively beaten by the Peugeot.

Comfortable, wallowy ride

With a suspension set-up that clearly (and understandably so) prioritises ride comfort, the Volkswagen Caddy comes across as a relaxed long-distance cruising vehicle. Its ride quality actually improves with a load – it uses leaf springs at the rear – but, when unladen, and driven on a poor surface, it can loose composure and feel skittish at the rear. The steering is actually rather good. Volkswagen has opted for an electrically assisted system, which usually spells vague, overly light, artificial steering feel, but generally the Caddy’s steering is pretty similar to a hydraulically assisted system. It’s a good thing, because with those slab sides the Caddy is quite sensitive to cross winds, and there’s a disconcerting amount of body roll in the corners. The “honest” steering feel actually boosts confidence in these circumstances.

Volkswagen Caddy - Verdict

The Volkswagen Caddy is a likeable vehicle that brings a maturity and conservatism to this segment. But its price puts it in a difficult position, as it has neither the power/economy balance that is needed, nor the mix of standard features that the others offer. Yes, the more mature design and the Volkswagen badge help a lot, but at this price level, we think the company needs to sharpen its  pencils and improve the value offering somewhat.

We like:

  • Practicality
  • Comfortable seats
  • Refinement
We don’t like:
  • Basic features
  • Expensive
  • Lethargic performance
Fast facts

Engine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 75 kW @ 5 600 rpm

Torque: 148 Nm @ 3 800 rpm

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Wheels: 15-inch steel

Top speed: 164 km/h

0-100 km/h: 13,7 seconds

Fuel economy: 10,4 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Peugeot Partner 2,0 HDI Grand Raid: A little bit different to the norm in this segment in that it offers a degree of “SUV” appeal courtesy of its raised ground clearance and body add-ons. Standard equipment list is long and includes safety features. Pricey, though.
  • Citroen Berlingo 1,4 Multispace: A very neat little car at a good price, but it lacks features – there is only one airbag and no air-con or audio system. Performance from the 1,4-litre engine is good.
  • Renault Kangoo Multix 1,4 Authentique: A good value offering with a decent space/practicality/features mix. The performance is a little short of what is the norm in this segment, but then it does win where it matters most - space.