The fifth generation Volkswagen Caddy van rewards buyers looking for a compact LCV with a quality feel and a depth of design engineering often missing from obvious rivals. Jonathan Crouch reports.
The fifth generation Volkswagen Caddy is a compact van that's new from the ground up, described as 'the Swiss Army Knife of urban delivery vans'. It's now more stylish, but bigger inside, more economical and efficient but also more car-like. Plus there's an advanced digital interior and a whole portfolio of safety systems. You won't have previously come across a compact LCV quite as advanced as this one.
With three million sales on the board, the Caddy is well established as the core starting point for Volkswagen's commercial vehicle line-up. Its history dates back to 1978 and a Golf-based US market pick-up called the Rabbit which was brought to Europe and rebadged 'Caddy' in 1982. But the Caddy's history as a small van really began in earnest with the second generation model of 1995. That became more sophisticated in the third generation form of 2003 which was subsequently offered in lengthened 'Caddy Maxi' form. By now, MPV and Camper variants were also available - and offered with both body lengths.
The 'Caddy 4' fourth generation design of 2015 was visually very little different from its predecessor but much more sophisticated in terms of comfort, safety and efficiency. Five years on though, it was time for a more radical change, which brings us to the fifth generation model we're going to look at here.
There are a trio of 2.0-litre diesel engine options to kick off, with a choice of 75PS, 102PS and 122PS outputs. All get 6-speed manual transmission and if you go for the 122PS version, you'll be offered the option of a 7-speed DSG auto gearbox. We wouldn't really recommend the relatively feeble entry-level 75PS version unless you'll only be using your Caddy for urban deliveries but the other two variants should offer a decent turn of speed.
The top 122PS diesel TDI model can also be ordered in manual form with 4MOTION 4WD. Yes, that's right: 4WD in a compact van - a useful thing to have if your deliveries take you to slippery building sites or along rutted tracks. As with all VW SUVs, this is a set-up designed always to provide power to the wheels with most traction. Normally, it'll pull you from the front, but should conditions change, in a split second, 4MOTION can spread power to the rear wheels if required and immediately stop power to any wheel losing traction.
What else? Well, for the few segment customers wanting petrol power, a 1.5-litre TSI engine with 114PS is available. Across the range, a braked trailer capacity of up to 1,500kg is within the Caddy's remit and it's worth pointing out that pulling potential of this magnitude is rare in this sector. Many vans of this size after all, don't even break the 1,000kg barrier.
Visually, the Caddy hasn't looked much different since the third generation version was launched back in 2003. So the complete styling re-think for this MK5 model is somewhat refreshing, no contour or component having been left untouched. The higher bonnet is a bit like that of a compact SUV and both the radiator grille and the headlights have been redesigned. As before, the standard body shape is joined by a lengthened Caddy Maxi model but the ordinary Caddy may now be sufficient for your needs, being 93mm longer and 62mm wider than its predecessor. The key difference is one you can't see, this MK5 model's switch to an all-new, stiffer MQB platform.
Behind the wheel, as before, it's all neat and unfussy with dark grey plastics prevailing on every surface but a higher quality feel prevailing this time round and a higher level of infotainment. The centre-dash screen varies in size between 6.5, 8.25 or 10-inches, depending on spec and offers a wide range of connectivity options that work via an integrated eSIM. There's also the option of a 10.25-inch Digital Cockpit instrument binnacle display screen. The AGR Ergo seats are more supportive, approved by the German campaign for Healthy Backs Society. And an electronic handbrake is now standard and buyers can specify electric closing aids for the sliding doors and the tailgate.
The ex-VAT pricing for this Caddy starts at £17,800 for the base 1.5-litre TSI petrol model, but most variants sold will be 2.0-litre TDI versions, purchasesd in the £20,000-£25,000 bracket. The van variant is known as the 'Caddy Cargo', while the passenger-carrying MPV model simply as the 'Caddy'. The Caddy Cargo is our focus here and there are three trim levels available across the range and two wheelbase options, standard or 'Maxi'.
All models get a touchscreen infotainment system, between 6.5 and 10 inches, with range-topping models offering a larger 10-inch Discover Media satellite navigation system. For the first time, Caddy is equipped with an 'always connected', integrated eSIM, which allows infotainment systems to be prepared to access mobile online services and functions of 'We Connect'. The interior also gets new switchgear including electronic handbrake with auto hold function, lighting and audio controls. Electric windows, height adjustable-driving seat and a new multi-function steering wheel are also standard across the range.
Important options include a digital instrument panel and extra infotainment screen choices. Plus you can also add a roof vent for better climate control and faster stationary ventilation in the back. A key update this time round is the addition of a lot more camera-driven safety tech. There can be a total of 19 such systems fitted to this MK5 model, six of them completely new to this LCV. The fresh options include Adaptive Cruise Control, the 'Trailer Assist trailer manoeuvring system, 'Side Assist' (basically a Blind Spot system), 'Rear Traffic Alert' (which warns you of oncoming vehicles when you're reversing) and 'Emergency Assist' (assisted stopping in an emergency). There's also VW's latest 'Travel Assist' set-up which allows for a degree of level 2 autonomous driving.
There are clear practicality enhancements with this fifth generation model thanks to the 73mm longer wheelbase made possible by its new MQB platform. Cargo space width is up by 50mm to 1,606mm and there's 60mm more width between the wheel arches, which means a Euro pallet can now be loaded in and turned sideways. Cargo space length is 1,797mm. And there's even more load area height, despite a 25mm drop in exterior height. The result of all this is a 3.1m3 cargo capacity in the standard short wheelbase Caddy; or 3.7m3 in the Caddy Maxi, which has a wheelbase that's 215mm lengthier and can offer 2,150mm of cargo space length. The Maxi model gets a longer sliding side door and can take two Euro pallets.
All right, so it's practical. But how will running costs add up? Well, with savings of up to 12% promised across the board from the more efficient Euro6d-TEMP TDI engine range with its two-stage twin dosing AdBlue injection system, the prospects seem promising. This reduces nitrogen oxide (Nox) emissions by using a couple of SCR catalytic converters to double the amount of AdBlue fed into the exhaust. There won't be an electric version; instead, the brand plans to eventually offer an ID.Buzz Cargo EV variant based on the ID.3 hatch.
This Caddy's predecessor set the quality benchmark for compact van design, just as this fifth generation model does today. If you want a snapshot of just how far small LCVs have come, then we'd suggest that you check one of these out. The Wolfsburg brand thinks that operator preferences will lie in areas like efficiency, safety and technology, priorities this MK5 model Caddy addresses with class-leading thoroughness.
That's not to say it can't be a practical choice. The respective 3.1m3 and 3.7m3 carriage capacities of the standard and Maxi versions are all most operators will need, especially given the increases in load bay length, height and width. It all means that if you specify your Caddy carefully, you could create a very complete little business tool indeed. And in summary? Well there are, it's true, bigger and more affordable vans than this one in the compact LCV sector. We reckon though, that most business buyers in this segment, most of the time, would rather have a Caddy. And that really says it all.