Text and photos by The Lenspeed Team

When I was in the army, there was always a white Caddy driven to camp by a fellow soldier. Equipped with DSG and a fashionable red interior, it was the first time I actually found a van attractive. I thought it would be a great idea as a starter car too, as I loved diesel engines and at that time the tax on diesel cars was simply too prohibitive. Fast forward to today and now Volkswagen will sell you a Caddy that seats 7, albeit with a petrol engine (diesels only come with the commercial-only Caddys unfortunately).

At first, the idea of a passenger van sounds utilitarian in the greatest sense of the word. The Caddy traditionally was only used almost exclusively for transporting goods, but now with passenger seats, Volkswagen is keen to sell it as a family vehicle too. It is a bit of an enigma, but with so many crossovers and segment-hoppers, I guess it isn’t that big of a surprise. That dovetails with the fact that quite a fair number of commercial vehicle owners in Singapore actually do a “DIY” solution of rear seats too, never mind that in the eye of the law it could be a bit of a pudding.

The new Caddy now looks sportier, with a front bumper and rims that could be off an R-Line equipped Golf. The rear lights are smoked, and the windows tinted, but nothing can hide that it is still a high-riding vehicle. The rear boot for example opens just like a conventional Caddy and is gigantic. Parking in a HDB car park may be a problem if you need to open the rear boot regularly. Overall, however, it looks good in a tough go-anywhere sort of way. There are some nice ‘jewelry’ details too like its LED licence plate lighting, silver anodised roof rails and bi-xenon headlamps.

Looking through the features list, the major points a family may look for are ticked. There is nice alcantara leather upholstery, cruise control, a modern 6.33-inch touch screen display, folding tables at the back of front seats, a rear view camera and even curtain and side airbags. Don’t for a second think that because it’s a van, Volkswagen would scrimp on equipping this car to the hilt. There is also a huge amount of storage space, certainly more so than nearly any car out there. Maybe it’s something about van drivers just generally carrying more Stuff, but it’s more than you’ll ever need. A word of caution if you’re thinking of a long road trip though – with all 7 seats up, there is not much luggage space to speak off in the boot for the standard Caddy (the Maxi should ease this restriction considerably and also add more rear legroom).

This is actually not the first Caddy we have driven. The last one was a true commercial vehicle though, and while we liked its drivetrain we were not so sure about its rear leaf spring suspension in terms of comfort. Now this fact will be even more important now that the car is used as a passenger car. Does it do a better job this time round?

It is clear to see that Volkswagen has definitely worked hard to bring up the refinement of its latest Caddy. Bumps are now soaked a lot more in a car-like way, and there is less of the “rebound” sensation that comes in waves right after passing unevenness on the road. It is still there though, and you will definitely notice the commercial roots of the car whenever you see the car through a corner. But at least it has improved.

The noise levels are now pleasingly low, especially with the 1.4-litre engine taken straight off a Golf. It’s quiet, efficient and punchy enough for the Caddy, feeling like it does better than the on-paper stat of 11.3 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint suggests. Still, we would prefer a diesel engine for this type of car, though.

As a whole, while we love the idea of a practical, bargain basement van that can function as a 7-seater MPV as well, there is a caveat here. The Caddy Maxi isn’t the bargain basement, because with 7 seats you have to pay passenger car COE. So the price adds up to $125,900 (as at publication) – you do not enjoy the current amazingly low COE figures for commercial vehicles, even though in reality you would be driving one! It is more sensibly compared to the next 7-seater in the Volkswagen range, the Touran. If you ask us, if you could shell out that bit more for a Touran (a $11,500 gulf between the standard Caddy and base Touran; even less at $6,500 if you opt for a Caddy Maxi), it is a much better car with a passenger-focused overall concept that is fit for purpose. It shows, from the refinement, interior design, drivability and handling.

However, if you must, the Caddy isn’t a bad way for 7 to travel, too. It certainly is the best passenger van in the market though, if this is the segment you are in.