Volkswagen Caravelle review
The practical VW Caravalle can comfortably transport seven people, with car-like dynamics and handling
Sometimes MPV buyers need even more space than the latest people carrier and SUVs can offer and that is where cars like the Caravelle come in. A cross between a luxurious mobile office and a commercial van the T5 platform on which it is based has sold over one million models since its launch in 2003 but that also means the Caravelle is now a decade old. It offers buyers a choice of chassis length, gearboxes, engines and layouts. The facelifted Transporter is a workman’s favourite, while the California campervan is perfect for weekend getaways as it includes a clever stowable awning and handy picnic chairs - plus a sleeping compartment and a gas-powered stove. Currently the Caravelle is offered in three different trim levels - SE, Executive and ultra-plush Business model but all are very expensive compared to rivals.
Our choice: 2.0 TDI 140 PS SE DSG
Volkswagen has carried over the family face that is instantly recognisable from the Polo, Golf and Sharan. However the neat grille and squared-off headlights suit the boxy van-derived shape well, and in the Caravelle suits darker colours best. Alloy wheels and chrome trim on the exterior mark the VW out as a more premium choice and top-spec models also get LED running lights and rear privacy glass. It’s easy to get comfortably seated behind the wheel but the driving position leaves a little to be desired – you feel as if you’re sat on top of the car rather than in it - though you’re rewarded with excellent visibility. Most of the instruments and switches are shared with the previous generation Golf but it feels smarter inside than rivals like the Hyundai i800 and Ford Tourneo Custom.
On the road, the VW Caravelle isn't sporty or agile, and there is quite a lot of body roll as you would expect given the its high-sided proportions and 2.2-tonne kerbwieght. The 2.0-litre 138bhp engine provides adequate pace, but if you feel the need to make more rapid progress, the 178bhp BiTDI unit is well worth a look and its power delivery is smooth and refined. Wind noise at motorway speeds is quite noticeable but other noises are fairly well-suppressed. You’ve got a choice of two gearboxes – a six-speed manual or the excellent DSG automatic, which provides smooth acceleration and seamless changes. The only negative is the numb steering and poor low-speed ride. Models on bigger alloys crash and judder over potholes nastily and expose the ageing chassis design.
Aside from the four airbags onboard, the Caravelle has anti-lock brakes, a traction control system and an electronic stability system - but it has never been tested by EuroNCAP. It also gets Hill Hold Assist to stop you rolling back on steep inclines and rear curtain airbags are optional on all but the top-spec versions. If you want more security in slippery conditions, you can opt for the four-wheel-drive 4MOTION version. Volkswagen scored well in our latest Driver Power reliability survey and many of the components fitted to the Caravelle have been tried and tested elsewhere in the brand's line-up.
The Caravelle's selling point over the Sharan is the extra space. Not only can adults fit in any of the seats, but they do so comfortably. There’s plenty of adjustment in the seat layout too, as you can slide the rear bench and the middle two seats back to vary boot space and legroom. You can also rotate the middle seats to face the rear row. The electric power sliding doors can be operated using the key fob on the highest spec models, as can the tailgate, while parents with small children will appreciate the ability to specify integrated child seats in the back. The rearmost row and middle two seats can also be taken out to create a 5,300-litre load area. However the sliding rail system is not that easy to use and the seats themselves are really heavy and difficult to move an rivals like the Ford Tourneo Custom and Hyundai i800 offer more seats and even greater versatility.
There are two engine options available, both diesel, but neither can be classified as very fuel efficient. Most models fall into the Band K tax bracket – 201-225g/km – unless you specify the range-topping 4MOTION four-wheel-drive version. Expect to see fuel returns of between 34.4mpg and 36.7mpg for the 138bhp model, and between 36.2mpg to 32.1mpg for the higher-powered 178bhp BiTDI engine, depending on the gearbox. However those official estimates are quite optimistic and if you load the Caravelle down with people and luggage than mid-twenties economy is far more realistic. Be careful of the options list – you can easily push the price far beyond the basic model. Insurance is also fairly steep and the Caravelle is at least £5,000-6,000 more expensive than its other eight-seat rivals.