The fifth-generation Volkswagen Caddy (now called Caddy Cargo in panel van form) is based on the group’s Modular Transverse Matrix platform, which also houses passenger cars such as the Golf, and has what is described as a ‘bold new look’.

Well, it may be bold but it’s not conventionally pretty – certainly not in comparison to images of the sleek new Renault Kangoo that is due to arrive in the UK next year. 

The new Caddy Cargo looks more muscular than the fourth-generation model. It has a wider, flatter nose and a square rear. The body appears less ungainly in standard mode than as the long wheelbase Maxi driven here.

But Volkswagen has always emphasised substance and functionality over style, and the VW badge can generally be taken as a guarantee of refinement and solid build quality – assumptions that were reinforced by the experience here.

The Caddy Cargo range is powered by three 2.0 TDI engines with outputs of 75hp, 102hp and 122hp, respectively, along with a 1.5 TSI petrol unit delivering 114hp. A new addition for the diesel engines is a twin dosing system that introduces a second SCR (selective catalytic reduction) catalytic converter, allowing the exhaust system to administer a double dose of AdBlue to further reduce NOx emissions.

Driven here is the Maxi with the 102hp diesel engine in Commerce Plus trim, which sits between Commerce and Commerce Pro.

Ride quality is excellent, allowing the van to make serene, smooth progress over London’s pockmarked streets. The manufacturer puts this performance down to a new rear axle with a coil spring construction, replacing a leaf spring, which delivers better agility in all load situations.

At the front, Volkswagen says the MacPherson suspension uses a more direct steering ratio than on the previous model. This noticeably reduces the required steering angle when manoeuvring in tight city environments, and combines with electrically-assisted power steering to result in impressively responsive handling. The most powerful diesel and the single petrol engine are available with seven-speed DSG transmission, but the six-speed manual gearbox tested here is, nonetheless, impressively slick.

The Maxi’s load area is accessed via asymmetric twin rear doors and sliding doors on both sides of the van. Cargo width has increased by 57mm to 1,614mm, while the space between the wheel arches has increased by 60mm to 1,230mm.

Volkswagen has extended the sliding doors’ open width from 701 to 846mm, enabling the Maxi to accommodate a Euro pallet sideways through the side doors. The manufacturer has reduced the exterior height of the van by 5mm to 1,818mm, but, thanks to a lower floorline, the load height has risen by 30mm to 1,274mm.

The Caddy Maxi Cargo has a load volume capacity of 3.7m3 and a payload of 668kg, figures that are modest when compared with key competitors, such as the Stellantis trio – Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner and Vauxhall Combo – and the Toyota Proace City, which is built on the same platform. They all offer up to 4.3m3 of load space and a 1.0t payload.

The cabin in the Commerce Plus Maxi is spacious but a tad dull and empty-looking, which is possibly because Volkswagen has eschewed traditional buttons and switches and gone digital, with most functions accessed via a touchscreen or, for the lights, a digital panel.

It’s debatable whether this makes life easier for the driver, however, and in the case of the temperature controls, we found it more fiddly.

Volkswagen Caddy Cargo Plus Maxi 2.0TDI 102hp

Price (ex VAT) £21,475

Price range (ex VAT) £17,800-£26,850

Insurance group tbc

Warranty 3yrs/100,000 miles

Service intervals 10,000mls

Load length 2,150mm

Load width (min/max) 1,230/1,614mm

Load bay height 1,244mm (est)

Gross payload 668kg

Load volume 3.7m3

Engine size/power 1,968cc/102hp

Combined fuel economy 57.6mpg

CO2 129g/km