The popularity of Volkswagen’s latest ‘Camper’ is proved by the manufacturing milestone it has just reached. A staggering one million T5 models – the range that includes the Caravelle – have been sold since its introduction in 2003.
With a following like that, there can be little doubt the big VW’s talents run deep. However, your pockets require a similar depth to get one on your driveway. The cheapest SE version will set you back £29,195, while flagship models wear an uncomfortable £35,690 price tag. Go for the five-star campsite-ready California and you can spend up to £40,680!
To bring the Caravelle back to basics, VW has introduced the entry-level Startline from £23,955. That’s a saving of more than £5,000 over the SE, but still £4,125 more than its Hyundai i800
There’s no doubt the VW wins the first battle of campsite chic. The shape of the popular Caravelle is sharp and classy, but don’t be fooled by the smart alloy wheels on our test car – steel rims are fitted as standard. We’re also not too keen on the Startline decals.
Climb into the driver’s seat, and you will feel instantly at home. In a cabin designed primarily as a functional workspace for the Caravelle’s commercial cousins, every control is perfectly placed. There’s a solid, high-quality feel to all the switchgear, while the seats offer unbeatable long-distance comfort. In comparison, the Hyundai’s dash looks like it’s from the class below.
Further back, though, the VW has plenty of bare metal, a cheap-looking rooflining and a very utilitarian feel. In the case of the rugged rubber floor that’s no bad thing, but it seems at odds with the classy dash.
Slide open the single side door – more costly variants have one on each side – and you’ll find bags of space. The two second row seats are just as comfortable as those in the front, and swivel for any family picnics that are rained off – there’s even a standard removable table!
The sliding third row offers room for three, taking the total number of seats to seven. That’s one less than the i800, but sufficient for most buyers.
Where the Startline struggles is getting off the start line! Part of the model’s cost cutting involves fitting a 101bhp 1.9-litre diesel engine instead of the usual 128bhp unit. Pulling away without stalling is challenging enough, while low-speed acceleration is sluggish at best.
Where the Caravelle makes up some ground is with its more accurate controls. Its steering is more direct than the i800’s, leading to confident cornering. Yet the ride isn’t as smooth as we’d like, and it bounces at motorway speeds. VW has taken the cost out of the Caravelle, but has it removed too much of the character as well?
Chart position: 2WHY: New Startline version offers plenty of space, but can it match the Korean contender in terms of value for money?