Long gone are the days when many businesses felt it was acceptable to transport workers in the back of a van squatting on bags of cement when they weren’t being bounced around all over the place. Concerns over duty of care and legal liability mean that anybody being transported from A to B in a modern light commercial has to be sat in a seat and secured by a belt.
Hence the steady rise in popularity of vehicles with a second row of seats and a cargo area at the back. They allow you to carry a team of five or six people in reasonable comfort along with many of the tools and other bits and pieces they are likely to need.
Volkswagen’s £14,650 five-seater Caddy Maxi window van is a good example of the sort of conveyance we mean. Specify the Kombi pack for no extra charge and the rearmost side windows are replaced by solid panels, creating something that is in effect part van, part car. Customers can pick from two different diesels; a 2.0-litre pumping out 140hp or a 104hp 1.9-litre married to either a manual or a DSG; Direct Shift Gearbox.
Having experienced it before, we went for the superb six-speed DSG like a shot. A seven-speed DSG is being offered as an option in the new Transporter.
What DSG doesn’t have is a torque converter. What it does have are two automatic clutches, in effect turning it into two gearboxes rolled into one. One clutch takes care of all the even-numbered gears while its stable-mate looks after those with odd numbers, plus reverse. As a consequence there’s no loss of traction when the box changes gear and the next gear that’s going to be selected is ready to leap into action in a fraction of a second. You can still change gear manually if you prefer; but in the vast majority of circumstances, there isn’t much point.
Disc brakes are fitted all round. ABS is standard as is Electronic Brakeforce Distribution.
There’s a decent amount of storage space in the cab area, including a full-width shelf above the windscreen and bins in each of the front doors with a moulding to accommodate a big bottle of water.
An MP3-compatible radio/CD player forms part of the deal. Other features on our test vehicle included electric windows and electrically-heated and adjustable mirrors in a £270 pack and air conditioning for an additional £755.
Access to the rear seats is by means of a sliding door with tinted glazing on each side of the vehicle. While legroom in the back is adequate, the seating posture passengers have to adopt is a bit sit-up-and-beg and three abreast is something of a squeeze.
The 1.6m3 rear cargo bay is accessed by a hatch-type door with a wash/wipe system and a tinted window. If you need a bit more carrying space, then you can always fold the back seats down. They can be split, so you can either push two down and leave one in place, or vice versa.
While the 1.9-litre isn’t the most powerful engine available in the vehicle, drivers obliged to sit behind it have no reason to feel short-changed. It offers plenty of performance and the smooth-shifting DSG makes it easy to get the best out of it.
Caddy Maxi’s handling is exemplary, with plenty of feedback through the steering. It rides well too, but unfortunately there’s too much bump-thump from the suspension and the drumming of the tyres can become irritating after a while. It’s a pity too that more effort hasn’t been made to tune out wind noise.
As far as fuel economy is concerned we averaged 40mpg on a long trip that took us from Peterborough to Bedlington in Northumberland via Newcastle upon Tyne, and back.
If you’re searching for something with exciting styling, then you’re going to have to search elsewhere. Both externally and internally, Caddy Maxi looks dull. That has to be balanced, however, against its rock-solid built quality. Nothing rattles, squeaks or shakes and at times you’re left with the impression that the entire vehicle is carved out of a solid block of metal.
Caddy Maxi window van has its limitations, but there is a lot more to be said in its favour than there is to be said against it. If you need to shift a small gang of workers plus their kit, then you could do a lot worse than opt for this durable-looking workhorse.