All-new high-tech VW small van is keenly priced and a big challenge to any rival
- Massive upgrade over previous Caddy
- Based on same platform as VW Golf
- Great to drive, very comfortable
- Lots of high-tech features
- Very clean twin-dosing diesel engines
- Payload still lags behind rivals
- Not enough proper buttons
- Cab not that practical
- Maxi model is smaller
- No electric version
Meet the all-new 2021 Volkswagen Caddy van. Now called the Volkswagen Caddy Cargo, to distinguish it further from the passenger versions, this is the first VW van to be based on the MQB platform that underpins most of Volkswagen's cars. We have already driven examples of every diesel engine on British roads to bring you this new VW Caddy Cargo review.
Also known as the Caddy 5, this fifth-generation model is a complete departure from the previous version in more ways than just the name. In addition to the new platform, the 2021 Caddy Cargo features new engines, new suspension design, loads of new technology and a significant upgrade in material quality inside the cab. Not to mention a sharp new look.
New Caddy: Rivals it has to beat
Volkswagen is quick to acknowledge just how good some of the competition in the small van sector has become – pointing specifically to the Citroen Berlingo, Peugeot Partner, Toyota Proace City and Vauxhall Combo Cargo.
These identically PSA Group-engineered vehicles are the reigning Parkers Small Vans of the Year, thanks to their impressive blend of practicality, refinement, fuel economy, technology and value. So VW is right to be taking them very seriously – the latest Caddy stands no chance if it can’t tussle with these successfully.
Then there’s the Ford Transit Connect. But good though this is to drive, and even while 2020 has brought an upgrade to near 1.0-tonne payload capacity, the compact Transit is long in the tooth and awaiting replacement in 2021. The new model will be based on this very VW Caddy, as first fruit of the Ford-VW global alliance.
Is being based on a car platform good or bad?
Well, it hasn’t done those PSA Group vans any harm, and the Volkswagen MQB platform is nothing if not adaptable – you’ll find it under everything from the VW Golf through to some of the firm’s biggest SUVs, not to mention the Audi TT sports car.
In the Caddy’s case it not only enables a bunch of the latest technology – including a very fancy touchscreen infotainment system – but also makes the new van feel far more modern to drive than the old one.
Everything from the amount of noise in the cabin to the amount you have to turn the steering wheel is dramatically improved, while changes to the rear suspension are intended to make the Caddy Cargo feel as nimble with a full load as it is without it. Doesn’t quite pull this off, but it’s close.
How clean are the diesel engines?
The new 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engines fitted in the Caddy Cargo – which come in three power outputs, 75hp, 102hp and 122hp – are right at the state of the art for van engines.
As with all modern vans they use AdBlue to reduce harmful emissions, but uniquely (at launch) the Caddy’s system features ‘twin dosing’ to take the emissions even lower.
Seriously considering petrol as an alternative given the current war on diesel vehicles taking place in some city centres? The 2021 Caddy is also available with a 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol engine, producing 114hp, which has Active Cylinder Technology (ACT) that can disable two of its cylinders to save fuel whenever full performance isn’t needed. We haven’t been able to test this yet, though.
No official details of a Caddy Cargo electric van have been revealed at this stage, but VW would be mad not to be considering it (almost every small van rival will have an electric variant in 2021). An eHybrid model is planned, but as with the CNG-powered TGI model, no word yet if this will come to the UK.
How practical is it?
The Caddy Cargo comes in two sizes: standard and the Maxi long-wheelbase (LWB) version.
The standard model is a touch longer than it was before, the Maxi a touch shorter – which has exactly the kind of impact you’d expect on the load space. However, both feature lower loading floors, meaning that the height of load space has increased, despite the vans having lower rooflines on the outside.
Additional width between the rear wheel arches – another benefit of the redesigned rear suspension – means Euro pallets can now be loaded sideways, and improvement over the previous Caddy. You’ll fit two inside the Caddy Maxi.
Less impressive is the maximum payload, which at this stage is limited to just 780kg. Someway short of the 1,000kg / 1.0-tonne ratings that many competing small vans now boast.
You can read more about all this on our dedicated Volkswagen Caddy Cargo dimensions page.
Volkswagen Caddy Cargo verdict
You can keep reading for the full Parkers VW Caddy Cargo review, but this is a really impressive small van. It looks good, drives well, build quality seems top notch and the on-board technology makes it feel just as modern on the inside as it appears on the outside.
We do question the usability of some of that technology (see the Interior section in particular), and it’s a shame the payload still falls way short of the best competition. Yet taken as a whole this is a very convincing package of pleasant driveability, useful load space improvements and premium image – which may or may not be important to your business.
One for the 2022 Parkers Awards shortlist, that’s for sure.
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- Smooth, quiet and very comfortable
- Steering much sharper, six-speed gearbox as standard
- Driving assistance tech can take a bit of getting used to
The Caddy Cargo is a substantial step forward in every aspect of the driving experience compared with the previous Caddy van. But then, it needed to be, because the best small van rivals are very good in this area as well.
Comfort levels are very high
Probably the most immediately noticeable thing about the way the Caddy Cargo drives is the comfort. Not only does it do a great job of absorbing bumps and dips in the tarmac, it does so with hardly any banging or thumping from the suspension. At all.
New front and rear suspension designs play a massive part here. The rear in particular, as it’s moved from old-fashioned leaf springs to car-like coil springs – among other changes – and now rides lumpy surfaces with far greater sophistication, regardless of whether the rear is loaded or not.
It really does feel much more like driving a car than a conventional van.
Sharper steering, better cornering
Reinforcing this car-like capability, the changes to the front suspension have dramatically improved the steering response. The van turns much more quickly and with less effort than the previous model.
Combined with the lightness of the new electrically-assisted power steering (replacing the previous hydraulic power steering), the Caddy Cargo almost feels too sharp at first – we found ourselves turning too much in the corners.
But you get used to this quickly, and once you do the van just feels nimble and alert. VW claims it’s designed it to retain this agility even when loaded, and while that’s generally true, we could certainly still tell the difference with even a modest 325kg test weight in the back.
The important thing is that you remain fully confident when driving it loaded, and the Caddy Cargo gives you this confidence in abundance.
Active steering assistance may take some getting used to
All that said, the new Caddy is available with some particularly high-tech driving assistance systems, including Travel Assist for the first time on a VW van.
This combines active lane keeping with adaptive cruise control, and can handle quite a bit of driving all by itself. You won’t be grabbing a snooze at the wheel any time soon, but the system has your back if you’re momentarily distracted and is said to work across the full speed range.
The flip side to this is that when driving on country lanes, the lane keeping system is almost constantly nibbling at the steering, as if it’s ever so slightly wired on caffeine. You’ll even find it practically guiding you round the corners on occasion.
This might sound alarming – and it is a little disconcerting at first – but it’s far less fighty than other systems we’ve experienced, meaning that it mostly does seem more like a guiding hand than an annoying distraction. And it can easily be switched off via a menu in the central touchscreen that’s swiftly accessed by pressing one of the few remaining physical buttons (more on this in the Interior section below).
What are the new diesel engines like?
The Caddy Cargo is generally very quiet inside – much more so than its predecessor, which could be quite loud and boomy in the cabin – but you can still hear a distinct diesel-y noise when driving the new 2.0-litre TDI models. This is a reedy sort of muted clattering rather than a full-on deep chugging, and is easily drowned out by the radio.
The diesels are all based on the same 2.0-litre ‘twin-dosing’ TDI turbo engine, and offer a choice of 75hp / 250Nm, 102hp / 280Nm or 122hp / 320Nm. Obviously, the more powerful the motor, the faster the Caddy Cargo, but the 75hp model still feels adequate enough for general duty – it just runs out of puff when the 122hp version is beginning to get going.
Power delivery is generally smooth, and traction from the driven front wheels is good – we didn’t experience any scrabbling for grip, despite testing on a damp, greasy day.
A single 1.5-litre TSI turbo petrol is also available in the UK with 114hp / 220Nm, but we haven’t been able to drive this yet.
Six-speed manual gearbox as standard, DSG auto and 4Motion optional
All versions of the Caddy Cargo come fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard – which puts it in a better position than the bigger VW Transporter, as basic versions of that still only get five speeds.
What’s more, it’s a particularly nice gearbox to use, underlining once again that a lot of what underpins the Caddy Cargo is closely related to the Volkswagen Golf.
The 122hp diesel and the 114hp petrol are both available with a seven-speed DSG automatic transmission as an option. We’ve tried this with the diesel and it is a seriously snappy implementation, swapping gears very quickly and avoiding some of the low speed hesitancy you get with the Transporter. Great for traffic and ease of use, if you’re prepared to pay extra for it.
All Caddy Cargos are front-wheel drive (FWD) as standard, but UK buyers are able to option the 122hp with 4Motion four-wheel drive. We haven’t been able to try this yet, but will report back on this page when we do.
- Modern, car-like interior design
- Too many touch sensitive controls?
- Feels high quality and properly premium
More big changes inside the Caddy Cargo, as it adopts an angular dashboard that’s – yes – very car-like in its design and quality. Every model gets a central touchscreen (though posher ones are bigger) and an electronic handbrake frees up additional space in the centre console.
But while this looks good and feels better quality than anything else in the small van sector, it’s not all good news inside the cab as almost all of the controls have been moved into this touchscreen, and many of those that remain independent use VW’s latest touch-sensitive button design.
What’s the problem here?
Let’s deal with the touch-buttons first, a cluster of which replaces the traditional dial for the lighting controls and some of the window-clearing heating functions.
The problem with these is that they are seriously laggy. You press the little panel, and it takes so long for the light to come on and confirm the panel has noticed that you’ve usually pressed it again, switching the function back off. While you’ll probably get used to the timing as a regular driver, it’s annoying because it’s so unnecessary. Proper buttons worked perfectly well for this sort of thing, thanks.
Similarly, there’s a touch-sensitive panel on the roof that includes the ‘button’ for the Caddy Cargo’s built-in maintenance call system. We managed to accidentally activate this while reaching to adjust the passenger sun visor. This would not have happened with an actual button.
What about the touchscreen infotainment system?
The central touchscreen is better conceived than that – in that it’s pretty logical, reasonably fast reacting and you quickly figure out how to get to everything. There are also some physical buttons that shortcut you things like the safety kit, should you need to deactivate anything.
But even so, things that should be simple, such as changing the settings for the ventilation system, now require much more attention from you than they would with a physical set of controls. It’s also not going to be as easy to deal with if you’ve got gloves on (touchscreen-compatible gloves will still be clumsy).
VW is convinced buyers will like the modernity of the screen, and it’s certainly true that van customers are increasingly expecting higher levels of creature comforts. Make sure you give it a good try when taking a test drive.
Is it practical inside the cabin?
Storage isn’t overwhelmingly abundant, which fits with the generally car-like vibe. But the door bins are big, there are a few cubbies in the centre, and there’s an overhead shelf.
- Far more attractively priced than you might think
- Well equipped but full spec details still TBC
- No UK fuel economy data yet
Volkswagen vans are typically thought of as expensive, but the Caddy Cargo comes in with very attractive – perhaps aggressive – pricing, even at retail. Compare it to rivals on monthly finance, and you may find it’s better value still, thanks to VW’s strong secondhand prices, which help keep down monthly payments.
But while Volkswagen announced initial pricing in October 2020, the Caddy Cargo isn’t due to arrive in the UK until March 2021, and at the time of writing (November 2020), VW is yet to confirm the names of the trim levels for the UK (there will be three), let alone the official fuel economy data.
So we’ll come back to this section in more detail as soon as there is more information.
Volkswagen Caddy Cargo standard equipment
Although we don’t know the names of the trim levels yet, VW has revealed some details about the Caddy Cargo’s standard equipment.
All models will come with a multi-function steering wheel, 6.5-inch central touchscreen infotainment system, electric handbrake, height-adjustable driver’s seat and electric windows.
The mid-spec Caddy Cargo upgrades this with air-conditioning, body-coloured bumpers, rear parking sensors, power-adjustable driver’s lumbar support and leather trimming for that multi-function steering wheel.
Top of the range Caddy Cargos come with a 10.0-inch Discover Media infotainment system with sat-nav, alloy wheels and what’s being called the Lights and Vision pack – which includes automatic lights and wipers, plus an auto-dimming rear-view mirror (which will be pointless for anyone who chooses to avoid glazed rear doors).
As a brand new van with new engines, it will be a little while before we know if there are any serious reliability issues or common problems.
We wouldn’t expect any. The MQB platform is very well proven throughout the Volkswagen Group, and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles also always does extremely well in the FN50 reliability survey.
- New active safety systems
- Trailer Assist among the most useful extras
As befits a modern van, the Caddy Cargo is packed with safety options, with no less than 19 ‘assistance systems’ available. This is yet another benefit of sharing a platform with VW’s car range.
Volkswagen Caddy Cargo safety
Highlights of the new safety kit include Travel Assist, which combines the active lane-keeping with the adaptive cruise to help control the van at any speed. You may or may not find this ‘assistance’ annoying, but one of the great things about all the Caddy Cargo’s new safety stuff is just how easy it is to access the settings and tweak everything to your like.
If you’re prepared to pay for it, the Caddy Cargo can also be equipped with Emergency Assist (which will help to bring the van safely to a stop if the driver is unable to for some reason) and Side Assist (which helps with lane changing, using a rear radar system).
Other items worth mentioning include the built-in eSIM, which enables a bunch of connectivity services and allows the Caddy to automatically make ‘eCalls’ to the emergency services in the event of an accident. And for the first time, the Caddy is available with VW’s Trailer Assist system, which makes reversing with a trailer so easy even we can do it.
The usual electronic stability control, hill-start assist, and driver attention alert systems are also available. What you won’t find (either standard or on the options list) is a head-up display or any kind of overload sensor to monitor payload – both of which are available on those key PSA Group rivals.
Volkswagen Caddy Cargo security
No firm details of security kit for the UK just yet – so while we know all Caddy Cargos will come with an immobiliser, we don’t know whether any will come with a standard-fit alarm.
Which Volkswagen Caddy Cargo is best for me?
We’ll return to this once we have a better idea of the UK-specific line-up.