VW CADDY VAN TEST
Mike Stock takes the wheel of Volkswagen’s new entry-level Caddy Runner.
THERE’S THE GOLF, SO IT FIGURES THAT THE VERSION THAT carries the gear is the Caddy, right?
That’d be a fair assumption, we reckon. After all, Volkswagen’s Caddy city van is based on the same platform as the German manufacturer’s Golf hatchback.
The name stands to reason, doesn’t it, the association between golf and caddy? Well, no, because the Golf was named after the German for Gulf Stream, not the royal and ancient game that grew out of the sandhills of coastal Scotland.
There’s no denying, though, that the Caddy is the load-carrier and the Golf, even if it’s at heart basic family transport has, by comparison, a much more glamourous aura.
Small European vans are niche players in New Zealand, in a market where vans that can hold six cubic metres of cargo are the vehicles of choice, regardless of whether the buyer actually needs that amount of loadspace.
You see the small Euros buzzing about but they’re not exactly swarming. Being in the light commercial vehicle journalism game, I’m constantly on the lookout for particular makes, models and types of van or ute. Occasionally, I’ll see a car-based, front-wheel drive Euro van, and my metaphorical ears prick up.
Most times it turns out to be a Holden-badged Opel, a model that left the market some years ago.
But if they’re painted white, the little car-based Euro vans can be extraordinarily difficult to tell apart, aside from the Renault Kangoo which takes the French desire to be different to extremes.
As the girls in a former workplace used to say – uncharitably – about various blokes: “only a mother could love him,” a comment that could be made about the Renault’s gawky looks.
But the other French city van, the Peugeot Partner, and the German Volkswagen and Opel rivals, can indeed be difficult to tell apart at a distance.
That old Holden, based on the Opel Corsa hatchback that back then was re-badged as the Holden Barina, wasn’t much shakes. I can vividly remember a road test example struggling, unladen mindyou, to get up Mount Wellington – an admittedly-steep climb but scarcely one that should have stonkered a delivery vehicle. Even one touted as an ideal florist’s delivery van as the photograph on the Holden brochure suggested.
Possibly, the Holden test vehicle was simply below par; judging by the number I still see getting around at a fair clip, perhaps it was. But we’re not here to talk about old Holden/opel city vans; that tangent was traversed simply to make the point that this type of vehicle has a very small presence on the NZ market.
Quite why is difficult to fathom. The Peugeot Partner was a pretty credible vehicle for inner-city deliveries. The VW Caddy, currently with the Kangoo the only city van on the local market and by far the more successful, is an even more credible choice.
Volkswagen New Zealand markets two different Caddys, the short-wheelbase Van and the long-wheelbase Caddy Maxi.
The former has a 762kg payload and a loadspace capacity of 3.2 cubic metres. The Maxi can carry 832kg and 4.2 cubic metres, giving it a useful capacity for an operator who would be hauling air in a six cubic metre van.
Both are nimble; the SWB has an 11.1-metre turning circle where the Maxi needs 12.2 metres to achieve the same feat.
Both vans can tow a 1400kg braked trailer when fitted with a manual gearbox, or 1500kg with the DSG seven-speed selfshifting unit.
Most Caddys use VW’S lively turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol
engine (VW only offers petrol motors in NZ) which develops maximum power of 92kw and a creditable 220Nm of peak torque. The latter arrives at a usefully-low 1500rpm and hangs around until 3500 revs.
The result is a very lively little van with excellent performance for the jink and jive, nip and tuck traffic of a congested city like Auckland where a van needs sharp reflexes to get the job done.
The 1.4 Caddy Van we tested last year was a hoot to drive, the seven-speed DSG gearbox nanosecond-fast and smooth to boot, the engine responsive and eagerly on tap.
This was a van that could leave the line and hit 100km/h in 10.3 seconds in either auto or six-speed manual guise – whether the latter could achieve that time would depend on the driver’s ability to slice through the gears.
Not, of course, that you’d be dashing to 100km/h in city traffic but the standard measure of acceleration is simply an indication of what your vehicle is capable of. In the Caddy 1.4’s case, it tells you you’re never going to be left wanting when you need a gap taking burst of instant acceleration.
This year, Volkswagen NZ has expanded the Caddy range, adding an entry-level model, the Runner, and that’s the subject of this road test.
The Caddy Runner uses the short-wheelbase Van body but differs in having a 1.2-litre petrol turbo motor that delivers 62kw of maximum power at 4300rpm and 160Nm of peak torque at 1500 revs.
It’s a willing unit that gives the van a 0-100km/h time of 13.6 seconds according to official Volkswagen figures. Naturally, the acceleration isn’t as impressive as the 1.4 Van’s – it’s 3.3 seconds slower which is a fair margin – but the 1.2 never feels underpowered, save when it’s tackling really steep going.
Then you have to downshift to maintain momentum. Downshift? Yes, the Caddy Runner has a five-speed manual gearbox, just as the Runner variant has in the mid-sized VW T6 Transporter range. The gearbox shifts smoothly, quickly and easily, the clutch takes up smoothly, and the gearbox/clutch match is driver-friendly even in stop/start city traffic.
Presumably, the five-speeder has been chosen to match the engine’s power and torque characteristics, but more than once we went to shift into sixth, especially when running on the open road. The Caddy just seemed to want the release of moving up a cog.
Handling in the 1.4 was exemplary, and it’s the same in the Runner. It drives just like a car, the compact dimensions and wheelbase meaning that you don’t have to keep in mind the extra length as you have to in bigger vans like the Transporter.
You just turn the Caddy in to a corner in the same way you would a Golf hatchback. It’s chuckable and nimble, threading its way with ease through the tightest of streets.
The speed-sensitive power steering is fast and accurate, weighting up nicely at open road speeds but pleasingly light and easy in the urban jungle. The roadholding is secure, the handling pleasingly towards the neutral side of understeer, and the Caddy corners flatly with virtually no detectable body roll.
The Macpherson strut front and solid rear axle deliver good ride quality, and leaf rear springs cope with cargo loads.
Volkswagen quotes fuel economy of 5.5-litres/100km on the combined cycle for the Runner. That’s identical to the Dsg equipped version of the 1.4 Caddy Van (the six-speed manual 1.4 is said to manage 5.8 litres/100km). A fuel-saving engine stop/ start system which turns off the motor when the van halts in heavy
traffic is standard.
The Caddy Runner has a top-hinged tailgate and a sliding door is fitted to the left-hand side of the body. A low cargo floor height makes loading and unloading easy. The tailgate opening is 1183mm wide by 1134mm high, and the side cargo door opening is 701mm wide by 1097mm high.
The seats and cabin offer car-like comfort, but there’s a fair amount of road noise. The test vehicle had a bulkhead between the cabin and the loadspace, but the upper section was latticed, meaning road noise, amplified by the all-steel loadspace, was transmitted to the cabin. Noise was high on chip-surfaced roads, especially at highway speeds.
The exterior mirrors provide a good view of what’s behind, augmented by the cabin rear-view mirror. But we found the driving position, set back toward what would be the B-pillar in a car, meant it was difficult to get a full picture of what was happening behind and to the sides of the panelled van. We feel a reversing camera would have helped, and one is available as a $1000 option. A side window package for the cargo area is also available for an extra $750.
The Runner comes standard with rear distance sensors that sound a warning if the van gets too close to objects when reversing.
Safety equipment includes dual front airbags for driver and passenger, and side curtain airbags are a $650 option. There’s the mandatory stability control, as well as lap/sash seatbelts, traction control, hill start assist, and an ABS anti-lock braking system. A front traffic-monitoring system with city emergency braking is available for an extra $650.
Door windows are electric ally wound, the heated exterior mirrors are power-adjustable, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel has sound system controls and is adjustable for height and reach. Cabin air-conditioning is standard, and the driver’s seat is heightadjustable. The centre console has four cup-holders, and the cabin floor is carpeted and the loadspace floor has a rubber covering.
The Runner’s standard multi-media package consists of separate cabin lighting, a mobile phone interface and a two-speaker sound system.
Optional packages include a two-speaker sound system with USB interface and five-inch touch-screen ($450). Also available is a sound system with 6.3-inch touch-screen, USB interface, Aux-in socket, four speakers and comfort lighting in the cab ($750).
The third option is App Connect which displays a smart phone using a touch-screen and costs $450.
The Caddy Runner is a competent all-rounder; it’s easy to drive, handles well and is driver- and user-friendly.
If we were in the market for a city van, we’d probably opt for the 1.4-litre version of the short-wheelbase Caddy with the DSG self-shifting gearbox. The bigger motor provides much livelier performance, and the DSG makes a better fist of moving the ratios than most drivers can.
However, the 1.4-litre DSG version costs $37,490 which is $7500 more than the Caddy Runner; the 1.4 with six-speed manual is $33,990 or $4000 more than the 1.2-litre van.
Both the 1.2 and the two 1.4 models carry the same payload, can haul the same cargo volume and tow the same 1400kg braked trailer. So if you can live with one less speed in the gearbox and less vivid performance, the price differential weighs heavily in favour of the 1.2-litre Runner.
Sure it has less connectivity but upgrades are available at added cost and you’d still come in thousands under the 1.4 prices – and the more elaborate connectivity packages are added-cost options on the 1400s anyway.
Either van will do the job, and the 1.2-litre Runner makes sense as a competent delivery van for a budget-conscious operator.
Caddy Runner’s forte is city deliveries but the little van is equally at home on the open road.
Above clockwise: 1. Test van was fitted with alloy wheels but we see no advantage other than cosmetic, especially given the easily-kerbed machined spokes. 2. Caddy has cheerful, clean styling. Visibility to the side just behind the cabin is compromised slightly by the driver’s seating position. 3. Caddy Runner has sliding door on the left only. Narrowish opening means door is used mainly for loading smaller items, though there is good height.
4. High-opening top-hinged tailgate and low floor height make loading larger items easy from the van’s rear.
Above: Lots of grey plastic in evidence, but the cabin has a quality feel and steering wheel is a gem. Bottom: Composite bulkhead/cargo barrier between cab and rubber-floored loadspace is a good feature, though upper grille lets road noise enter cabin. Bulge in right-hand side of the bulkhead allows fore-aft adjustment of driver’s seat.