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.

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