Graham 'Smithy' Smith reviews the VW Caddy 2004-2006, its fine points, its flaws and what to watch for when buying it.
Few vehicles have had the impact on the market the small VW van has had. In less than three years the Caddy has gone from zero to hero and now dominates the small van market segment. If it had happened in the passenger car market it would have been splashed across the front pages of our newspapers, but because it happened in the commercial vehicle arena it barely rates a mention.
The Caddy was launched late in 2004, a year the Holden Combo was the dominant class leader, but less than three years later the Caddy is the dominant player in the segment with more than 40 per cent of sales. It’s not surprising given that it brought a number of new things to the segment, namely a diesel engine, but it is surprising given that it is clearly the most expensive small van on offer. The Caddy has blown the theory that small van buyers buy on price alone right out of the water.
The Caddy washed up on these shores at the end of 2004; too late to have an impact on the market that year. But its influence was soon being felt as it raced towards market leadership. It went against conventional wisdom, which had it that small van buyers were only interested in price and they wouldn’t fork out any more than they had to for a van that had all the bells and whistles. Well, they did. This year to date VW has shifted 1061 Caddys out of a total of 2502 small vans sold in total. Holden’s Combo is clinging to second place with sales of 488, but only just.
The Caddy had a good start in that it was based on VW’s popular Golf. From the cabin forward it was the same as the Golf; it looked the same, and was the same, but from the cabin back it was all new for the purpose of carrying cargo.
The wheelbase was 104 mm longer than the Golf’s, with the extra length grafted in behind the cabin where it could be used to its maximum advantage. New van sheetmetal was grafted onto the extended platform to create a useful local box able to swallow a class-leading 3.2 cubic metres or 750 kg of cargo.
The cargo could be loaded through rear barn doors that opened through 180 degrees, or a kerbside sliding door. Inside, the cargo zone floor was flat for easy loading, there were six eyes for securing the load, and a couple of lights for illuminating the area at night. Underneath leaf springs gave it the capacity to handle the load.
One of the keys to the Caddy’s remarkable success was its diesel engine; the only diesel engine in the class. With fuel prices on the rise when it arrived it’s perhaps no surprise the Caddy was so enthusiastically received. Sales of the diesel engine now account for three-quarters of all Caddys sold.
The 1.9-litre direct injection turbo diesel boasts 77 kW at 4000 revs and 250 Nm at 1900 revs, but perhaps most importantly will return 6 L/100 km. While fuel economy is perhaps front and centre in the minds of those who buy the diesel Caddy, its performance and drivability are also very impressive. The alternative engine is a 1.6-litre fuel-injected petrol engine that produces 75 kW at 5600 revs and 148 Nm at 3800 revs.
At launch the standard transmission was a five-speed manual, but VW added the option of its six-speed DSG automated manual shift gearbox earlier this year to satisfy the needs of those who wanted an automatic transmission. Many small vans are driven by young, sometimes female, drivers who often don’t have much experience with manual gearboxes so there’s a significant demand for a self-shifting gearbox.
The compact size of the Caddy makes it perfect for companies that need to access tight locations, particularly in cities, where its compact dimensions and easy maneuverability, along with its tight 11.1-metre turning circle come to the fore.
The Caddy lacks nothing in equipment either, with a long list of standard features, including air-conditioning, power steering, ABS brakes, traction control, remote central locking, engine immobiliser, power windows and mirrors, CD player, and the safety of a driver’s airbag.
ON THE LOT
The popularity of the Caddy means values are holding up well. That’s great for those who own one, but not so good for those wanting to buy one on the second hand market.
A petrol-fuelled Caddy can be had for $15,000 to $18,000, but a diesel will cost $19,000 to $21,000.
IN THE SHOP
It’s early days for the Caddy so there isn’t a lot to report on its reliability. Owners say they have had virtually no trouble with them so far, although most have only done 25,000-30,000 km to date. All owners are in agreement that the diesel engine is very economical. They also applaud the Caddy’s driving ease, and its compact dimensions that make it easy to squeeze into tight spots. The DSG gearbox needs to be approached with caution. It’s a relatively complex piece of gear and hasn’t been on the market very long so it’s too early to comment on its reliability and durability.
IN A CRASH
Vans generally get little attention from carmakers and as a result often lack the sort of safety systems fitted to most, if not all, passenger cars. That particularly applies to the Japanese vans, which are notoriously lacking in safety features. The European vans, however, boast some of the best safety systems going around, and the Caddy is no exception. Its passenger car-like handling boosts primary safety, a flow on from the Golf, while ABS anti-skid brakes and traction control add to its safety package. The Caddy’s secondary safety is also good with a driver’s airbag fitted as standard equipment.
Dennis and Vicki Cleghorn wanted another van for their growing boarding kennel and cattery business, but they didn’t need a large van like their Vito. They chose a diesel Caddy with the DSG gearbox and are satisfied they made the right choice. Their Caddy is used primarily to pickup dogs and cats from their owners, and return them when the owners come home. As such it has to squeeze into tight spots, often in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, so its compact dimensions are beneficial. It’s mostly driven by women so being car-like is an advantage, as is the DSG transmission that makes it like the cars they normally drive. There’s been no problem to date and Dennis is happy with the 7 L/100 km he’s getting from it.
Raj Prashar looked at all the small vans before settling on the Caddy for his printing business. Prashar was prepared to pay the price premium for the fuel economy – he gets 6-7 L/100 km – of the 1.9-litre turbo diesel and the safety features, like ABS and traction control, the Caddy comes with. “It drives like a car, the fuel economy of the diesel is fantastic, and it’s very safe,” he said. “It’s based on the Golf and has every safety feature you could imagine, just like the Golf.” Prashar’s Caddy is used for delivering printing jobs to clients, and the small size is perfect for the task.
Locksmith Ron Roberts wanted to cut his fuel bills when he went shopping for a van to replace his ageing, and thirsty Toyota Town Aces. After considering all the small vans on offer Roberts bought five Caddys, which are used as mobile service vans by his technicians. He chose the Caddy for its value-for-money and the fuel economy of the diesel engine. The compact size also played a part, with his technicians needing to get into some tight squeezes in the city and suburbs when they go out on jobs. So far they’ve accumulated around 25,000 km each without any problem. Importantly for Roberts they’re getting around 6.5 L/100 km, and have managed to cut his fuel bill in half “I would have no hesitation buying more,” Roberts said.
AT THE PUMP
VW claimed the diesel Caddy would do 6 L/100 km, and owners are reporting between six and seven in average round town use.
• good looks make good impression
• easy shape to dress up with graphics
• easy to drive
• economical diesel engine
• auto option if desired
• class leading cargo capacity
• Holden Combo – 2002-2006 – $11,000-$15,000
• Citroen Berlingo – 2002-2006 – $10,500-$13,000
• Renault Kangoo – 2004-2006 – $15,000-$17,000
THE BOTTOM LINE
Safe and sound van choice with an economical diesel engine