In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Caddy Life review

Will VW quality and a huge interior be enough to seal the success of the Caddy Life van based MPV?

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

  • Space, tough build quality, seven-seat option
  • Van-like looks, inflexible seating, price
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A van is a great starting point for a family car in many ways. Vans are built to be tough, cheap to run and to cram as much space inside as possible. The Volkswagen Caddy Life is an MPV based on the Volkswagen Caddy van that ticks all of these boxes. Its problem is convincing buyers that the obvious strengths outweigh the weaknesses that also emerge from its commercial vehicle origins.

The simple fact is that vans aren’t in any way trendy. The Caddy Life looks like the van with windows it basically is and that can be quite a hurdle for some buyers to overcome.

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This Caddy MPV also isn’t quite the bargain basement proposition that you might imagine it to be. Opening prices around the £20,000 mark for a diesel model make it more expensive than rival van based people carriers like the Citroen Berlingo Multispace, Renault Kangoo and Fiat Doblo. They push the Caddy up into the territory occupied by other family car options including purpose-built MPVs like Volkswagen’s own Touran and even crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai that really do have the trendy angle sewn up.

It’s a tough marketplace but VW has equipped the latest fourth generation Caddy to compete. Like the van, the Life model comes in two sizes, standard and as a Maxi long wheelbase version. The Maxi model is the one that can be ordered with seven seats to open up a new dimension in versatility but even the standard Caddy Life offers five adult-sized chairs and a boot of epic proportions.

The seating doesn’t fold flat to the floor but you can lift all of the chairs out, gradually increasing the amount of luggage space until the Maxi Life all but returns to van form with a 3,880-litre maximum capacity.

Build quality is good throughout the Caddy Life and, some hard plastics notwithstanding, the classy feel you expect from a Volkswagen passenger car is in evidence. So is the technology, with the Caddy Life offering the latest touchscreen infotainment systems along with a raft of safety kit including City Emergency Brake and automatic parking.

In the engine bay a line-up of Euro6 diesels form the backbone of the range but a small capacity TSI petrol engine is also set to make an appearance eventually. The mid-range 101bhp version of the 2.0-litre TDI engine will be the big seller for its balance of economy and performance.

The lesser 74bhp option offers the same mpg figures but less muscle while the range-topping 148bhp version is a strong performer for families who really plan to pack their Caddy Life to the rafters with people and cargo. VW’s DSG automatic gearbox is also offered as is a BlueMotion variant with efficiency modifications based around the 101bhp engine.

In general the Caddy feels a couple of cuts above the van-based MPV alternatives but prices reflect that step up in quality. In a cost-sensitive market like this one, that may be a bigger barrier to overcome than its van like appearance.           

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Our choice: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life 2.0 TDI 101bhp

Engines, performance and drive

The Caddy Life engine range is built around diesel but Volkswagen is planning to add one of its TSI four-cylinder turbo petrol engines to the line-up when it arrives in the UK. All units are Euro6 compliant and each of the three diesel options is a version of the 2.0-litre TDI that proliferates across the VW line-up.

Diesel customers are faced with power output options of 74bhp, 101bhp and a meaty 148bhp. The middle-ranking 101bhp option will take around 80% of Caddy sales and feels both strong and quick to react to throttle inputs. It will get to 62mph in 12.9s, which isn’t quick but is still significantly better than the laborious 17.6s you’ll be looking at in the entry-level option. Noise levels are amplified by the cavernous interior but they aren’t too intrusive, particularly when cruising. 

The range-topping 148bhp option feels positively rapid by comparison. It dips under the 10s barrier for the 0-62mph sprint but the real benefit isn’t felt away from the line. The engine has 340Nm between 1,750rpm and 3,000rpm compared to the 250Nm of the 102bhp unit, and that translates to powerful response to throttle inputs when cruising and effortless motorway travel. The 148bhp option is probably excessive for most Caddy Life buyers but if you plan on getting a Caddy Life Maxi and using its full carrying capacity, this is the unit for the job.

The Caddy Life doesn’t share VW’s latest MQB passenger car platform tech, instead riding on an updated version of the pervious generation Caddy’s underpinnings. This MPV version does have unique suspension settings designed to give a more compliant ride than you get in the van version. 

In general, it rides comfortably but things can get unsettled over larger bumps and the vehicle’s height makes itself felt through corners and sharp changes in direction.

You get plenty of front-end grip, well weighted steering and a fluent gear-change from both the 5 and 6-speed manual gearboxes. Volkswagen is also offering its DSG twin clutch auto with the Caddy which may make sense in stop-start school run traffic. 

MPG, CO2 and Running Costs

It’s Volkswagen’s SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology that gets the Caddy over the line for Euro6 NOx emissions by injecting AdBlue urea solution into the exhaust gasses. 

If you’re after the greenest model in the range, the super-efficient BlueMotion variant lowers fuel consumption from around 55mpg in the standard car to nearer 70mpg with an engine remap, eco-tyres and aerodynamic improvements. 

Interior, design and technology

The Caddy Life is a van with windows and is easily identifiable as such. Once you’re over that particular hurdle, however, there’s plenty to like.  The Caddy benefits from the current Volkswagen family grille and headlamp treatment at the front with pronounced wheelarches and subtle creases adding some definition to the flanks.  With the bi-xenon headlamps and 17” alloy wheels fitted to the highest spec models it can look quite sharp.

The long wheelbase Maxi models do lose a bit of the standard Caddy’s chunky compactness with a wheelbase increased by 324mm to 3,006mm and an overall length up by 470mm to a sizable 4,976mm. For reference, that’s around 80mm longer than a BMW 5 Series executive saloon. 

The interior does an even better job of masking the Caddy Life’s commercial vehicle origins. The instrument cluster and switchgear are lifted straight from Volkswagen’s passenger car range and although the plastics on the door inserts and dash top are chosen more for robustness than soft-touch feel, build quality is very strong throughout.

Plusher versions of the Caddy Life get Volkswagen’s latest infotainment technology, which increases the air of quality inside by adding a large touchscreen to the centre of the dash. The system automatically senses fingers hovering close to the screen and switches from display to input mode for faster responses. It also allows swiping motions to scroll through menus or browse your music collection. The navigation, audio system and other settings are easy to access with traditional buttons at the side of the screen then minor controls all contained within the touchscreen interface. It’s a slick piece of kit.  

Practicality, comfort and boot space

At the centre of the Caddy Life’s appeal is the amount of space inside. The standard Caddy Life has space for five adults and towering headroom for all of them. The middle berth on the rear bench is narrower than the others and does have restricted legroom as a result of a transmission tunnel (4MOTION all-wheel-drive versions are offered on the continent but are not confirmed to the UK).

The second row seats split 60/40 and each section can have its back rest folded down. From there, the base can tumble forward to further increase luggage space in the rear or you can lift the seats out completely. It’s a basic arrangement compared to the flat-folding seating in purpose-built MPVs but you can’t argue with the amount of space inside. With the rear seats folded, there’s 2,850 litres of capacity and that increases to 3,030 litres with the seats taken out.    

A third row, making the vehicle a proper 7-seater, is an option on the Caddy Maxi Life versions that increase the wheelbase by 470mm for an even bigger boot. The third row also folds down and can be removed giving a maximum capacity in the Caddy Life Maxi of 3,880 litres. 

Access to the interior is via a huge tailgate at the rear or through sliding side doors on each flank. The tailgate is so big that you’ll need to leave plenty of room behind that car when parking to make sure you can get it open.

Storage is very good with an array of locations to stow items including a large dash top holder for A4 paperwork, wide door pockets big enough for drinks bottles, a covered glovebox and a large overhead shelf. Additional storage under the seats is available as an option. 

Reliability and Safety

The latest Caddy rides on a tried and tested platform from the old car and gets engine technology that’s found across the VW range. It’s also designed for tough commercial vehicle use with a simple design and tough materials used inside. It all bodes well for reliability but we’ll reserve judgment until it’s done significant mileage in the hands of UK customers.

On the safety front, the Caddy has the usual ABS, stability control and front airbags with tyre-pressure monitoring technology also thrown in. Side and curtain airbags make an appearance in the higher spec versions. Volkswagen’s City Emergency Braking tech is an option. It can sense an impending collision at low speeds and apply the brakes automatically. At speeds above 30km/h, Front Assist technology warns the driver and primes the brakes if sensors detect a shunt is likely.  

Group website editor

Steve looks after the Auto Express website; planning new content, growing online traffic and managing the web team. He’s been a motoring journalist, road tester and editor for over 20 years, contributing to titles including MSN Cars, Auto Trader, The Scotsman and The Wall Street Journal.

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