VW Caravelle

THE Caravelle can trace its roots back to 1950, when the first Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter was introduced.

  • The cabin is practical and user-friendly; engine delivers better pace than the Chrysler.
  • The two captain’s chairs fold and swivel but aren’t easy to slide along the rails; limited room in boot.

THE Caravelle can trace its roots back to 1950, when the first Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter was introduced. In fact this was the German firm’s second model after the Beetle. Five generations later and having gained fame as a camper van, it has become a legend of automotive history.

As with its predecessor, the latest Caravelle is available as a motorhome, van or even nine-seat minibus, which is badged Transporter. All use the same platform, but what may come as a surprise is that the Caravelle shares some major chassis parts with the Porsche Cayenne!

However in terms of styling, the VW couldn’t be further from the high-performance SUV. The boxy shape is indistinguishable from its predecessor, which was first launched in 1990, and shuns the current trend for sporty looks, sticking to a traditional van-like shape.

Get into the back, and it’s clear this is more than simply a commercial vehicle with windows, though. The Caravelle has always been popular with upmarket taxi and limousine firms, and it’s no surprise to find that quality is excellent. The part leather seats are plush and comfortable, and there’s masses of room, thanks to the high roof.

The wide-opening electric doors make getting in simple, and there’s a variety of seating positions, thanks to the four sliding rails set into the floor. The two individual chairs in the second row slide and can swivel to face backwards, but the rearmost one-piece bench is awkward and heavy to remove.

There’s a handy central table which folds down and has a host of cup-holders and cubbies. In fact there are lots of stowage areas in the Caravelle, including clever underseat trays and even a removable bucket! But when it comes to versatility, it can’t match the Chrysler – moving the seats is difficult as they are heavy and don’t slide particularly well, while creating a flat load floor involves taking them out completely. That’s not easy, considering their bulk and weight.

Build quality is excellent, however, and everything feels robust. It’s the same story up front, thanks to a simple dash with chunky switchgear. The driving position is high but comfortable and there’s plenty of steering adjustment. However, the design is starting to look dated, especially the optional sat-nav, which is slow and fiddly to use.

Under the bonnet, the 2.5-litre diesel isn’t the last word in refinement. The five-cylinder unit is noisy, especially at high revs, but the 172bhp version (there’s also a 128bhp model available) is punchy and provides surprising pace. A 0-60mph time of 10.9 seconds was a second quicker than the Grand Voyager’s, helped in part by the quick, smooth-shifting six-speed Tiptronic auto.

Dynamically, the Caravelle is composed and safe, but the steering lacks feedback. Our Executive model was fitted with sports suspension, but this makes the ride too firm over bumpy surfaces and it can become crashy and noisy. The VW is far happier at a steady cruise, where the power advantage over its rival is clear.

At £33,895, the Caravelle is slightly more expensive than the Grand Voyager, but it’s still a lot of MPV for the money. This top-spec model comes with electric doors, privacy glass and swivelling captain’s chairs as standard. There’s also an extensive options list, which includes a mattress that fits over the rear seats when folded down.

Details

  • Price: £33,895
  • Model tested: Caravelle Exec. 2.5 TDI
  • Chart position: 2
  • WHY: Caravelle has commercial vehicle underpinnings, but its plush, spacious interior is hard to beat.

Economy

IN our hands, the Caravelle returned 24.7mpg – not bad when you consider how heavy it is. The fuel tank is bigger, at 80 litres, so the VW will go 435 miles between fill-ups

Residuals

Our experts don’t provide residual values for the Caravelle, but it’s likely to perform similarly to other VW MPVs. The Sharan TDI retains around 42 per cent.

Servicing

The Caravelle is only available via selected car dealers and VW Van Centres – in all, 80 UK sites. Each offers good value services, with three checks totalling £580.

Tax

More powerful, but less frugal, the VW costs lower-band fleet drivers £2,460 annually – that’s £69 more than the Chrysler. High emissions mean road tax of £300 a year.

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