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VW Caddy Maxi Life long-term test review

  • Parkers runs a VW Caddy Maxi Life
  • Seating for seven fully grown adults
  • Van-like practicality... and looks

VW Caddy Maxi Life joins the Parkers fleet

Latest update: Our Caddy Maxi Life joins CAR Magazine for the weekend

Scroll down or use the links below to navigate
 1. Welcome
2. Driving delight
 3. Shoot support
4. Caddy on CAR    

Update 1: Welcome

The Caddy Maxi Life arrives with an automatic gearbox and a paintjob you'll never miss

Practicality is the name of the game with our VW Caddy Maxi Life

When you’re shopping for a seven-seater, the default choices are usually SUVs and people-carriers, but all-too-often the humble van-derived car is overlooked. Over the next few months we’re going to attempt to redress the balance somewhat by living with one of the best – the VW Caddy Maxi Life – to discover the true meaning of the word practicality.

As the name suggests, this Caddy is meant to be a lifestyle vehicle. It’s one seriously useful bit of kit, with sliding doors and removable seats that offer everything from seating for seven fully grown adults to a van with a flat floor to cart much larger objects around. It’s a Maxi, which makes it the longest, largest car in the Life line-up.

VW Caddy Maxi Life dimensions

  • Length: 4,878mm
  • Width: 2,065mm
  • Height: 1,868mm
  • Luggage capacity with seven seats in place: 530 litres
  • Luggage capacity in five-seat mode: 1,650 litres
  • Total luggage capacity: 4,130 litres

And it’s actually not bad to drive, either. The Golf-based Caddy is known as one of the better vans around in this respect, and most of the controls are just like you’d find in any of VW’s cars.

The VW Caddy Maxi Life has a car-like interior

It’s got a six-speed DSG gearbox installed, which makes life loads easier in traffic, and the engine is a 2.0-litre, 150hp diesel – the most powerful in the range.

How much does your Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life cost?

As standard the Maxi Life in this specification costs £28,998 without optional extras. We’ve got the following installed:

  • Discover Media Navigation (£852)
  • Door mirrors: heated and powered (£144)
  • Rear parking sensors (£324)

The final option is that distinctive Sandstorm Yellow paintwork, which costs £504 and is probably the most divisive feature of the vehicle. I don’t personally mind it, though – especially in the sunshine we’ve enjoyed so much of in 2018.

What’s the plan?

We’ve got a whole raft of activities lined up for the Caddy Life to test its mettle as a great family car, including holidays, house moves and even as a support vehicle for anything from camping to photoshoots to motor racing. The biggest challenge is going to be finding the time to do it all…

We're excited to see how the Racing Caddy performs as a seven-seater

We’ll even be giving our colleagues at sister title CAR magazine the keys - already dreading what they dream up for our yellow van.

But it’ll have to pull all this off at reasonable cost, too. VW claims fuel economy of 55.4mpg should be possible, but we suspect that’s less realistic in the real world. Tax is another consideration, because the first year VED will be £515. It drops to £140 a year after that, though.

Either way, we’re excited about the opportunity to spend some time with the Maxi Life. Keep an eye out as the updates flood in.

By Gareth Evans, Associate Editor


Update 2: Forget the looks. The Racing Caddy drives just like a car 

We're surprised by our van-derived car's manners as it earns a new nickname

Since taking delivery of the Caddy Maxi Life it’s been in near-constant use. Its appeal as a paragon of practicality has meant means various people have approached me begging for the keys.

VW Caddy Maxi Life side profile

Before we explore some of this van-derived car’s usefulness let’s delve into how it actually drives, because one thing is becoming very clear: its looks mean people assume it’s just like a van, with all the negative connotations that may introduce.

Assumption is the mother...

It’s fair to expect build quality aimed at workpeople rather than families, with tinny acoustics, a noisy diesel engine and hard-wearing – but not particularly attractive – cabin finishing.

You’d also be forgiven for predicting an agricultural driving experience and a high seating position.

But we’re thrilled to report none of that is the case. In fact, the Caddy’s Golf underpinnings really shine through here. Its steering is direct and sharp, which makes it feel nimble in corners, while the suspension and tyre set-up makes for slightly more bodyroll but ultimately an engaging drive, which is something we weren’t expecting.

VW Caddy Maxi Life has a very car-like cabin design, and drives like one too

The interior gets a decent amount of sound-deadening material, which further adds to the quality feel. This is a trick Audi is known for: in packing in more noise-absorbing material behind the scenes, it makes the car feel more solid and so perceived build quality increases. Sister company VW’s clearly in on the act too.

And the driving position isn’t too high either – you’re perched a little above where you’d be in a Golf, but it’s nothing extreme, and the advantage of having so much glass around you is fabulous visibility for parking. Acoustic sensors at either end help here too though.

In fact, the only thing that rang true about the above suppositions is the 2.0-litre diesel engine, which is a little noisier than we’d like – especially when heard from outside the Caddy.

A grating gearbox

There’s one other niggle that’s starting to grate a little, though. The six-speed automatic gearbox is a little slow to react when left in default Comfort drive mode, which occasionally has us sitting at junctions a while longer than anticipated. Switching to Sport does overcome this, but the sharper throttle response provided when doing so makes the drive spikier.

We’d like quicker reactions from a standstill with smooth throttle response, but sadly you can’t decouple the two things - so it’s one mode or the other.

Sport mode is the only way in the VW Caddy Maxi Life

Anyway, this is a small issue and certainly not one that would put us off recommending the Caddy over rivals – many of which suffer with sub-par automatic options too.

As it is, since we're driving around in Sport so often with the associated urgency a new nickname has been coined for the car; it's now known as the Racing Caddy by all who travel in her.

Coming soon

Next time: the Caddy earns its crust during the Parkers Awards photoshoot...

By Gareth Evans, Associate Editor


Update 3: The ultimate photoshoot support vehicle?

The Caddy is seconded to help in our biggest shoot of the year

VW Caddy takes part in our 2019 Parkers Car of the Year awards shoot

The Caddy Maxi Life hadn’t been with us very long when it was time to employ it for its first big job – as support vehicle for our biggest event of the year – the 2019 Parkers New Car Awards.

With a list of 13 cars to shoot - both stills and video - it's an extremely busy day for everyone involved.

Sadly the Racing Caddy hadn’t been nominated for its own award because it simply didn’t qualify for any of the gongs. That’s not to say it’s in any way sub-par – simply that our criteria and its talents weren’t happy bedfellows.

The VW Caddy Maxi Life as support car for the 2019 Parkers Awards

And that left it as the vehicle we’d use for logistics. We were based on a disused runway with no facilities to speak of, so the Yellow Peril was employed as the loo-run shuttle, official catering van, refuse collection and storage vessel, and general automotive dogsbody.

How’d it do?

Well, it performed flawlessly. The ease with which you’re able to just jump in and drive, engaging the automatic gearbox with one pull of the lever and getting going within seconds, made it the obvious go-to car for quick trips to toilets or shops.

But the real advantage the Caddy Maxi Life had was its carrying capacity – seven adults easily hopped in and out thanks to the useful sliding side doors and folding middle seat bench when it was time to grab some lunch. Clearly, judging by CJ's face, the sliding windows are a fun gimmick too...

CJ hanging out of the sliding window in the VW Caddy Maxi Life

As the day wore on and the sun’s heat reached full intensity, the Caddy’s air-con came to the fore, with many folk taking respite from the sun in the cabin or simply just sheltering under the large tailgate – a useful feature in a lot of ways, until you park too close to an object behind you.

Foot fool

At around 3pm we’d reached the day’s top temperature – easily above 30 degrees centigrade – and I was charged with taking the Maxi Life off for some much-needed ice cream. My passenger, who was holding said cold confectionaries on the way back to the shoot, was glad of ride quality closer in his mind to a car than a van, because he’d plonked the bag of 15 frozen delights in the footwell and was worried about getting Magnum all over his Moccasins. Best drive slowly, then…

When it came time to tidy up, the Caddy shone once more.

The VW Caddy Maxi Life holds rather a lot of rubbish when it needs to

Its carrying capacity was such that I could simply fill the boot without having to rearrange any seating – ideal after a very long day of photography and filming. Its stature within the team’s appreciation sphere is growing steadily. And rightly so.

Shame it didn't quite outshine motoring influencer Paul Wallace, of Supercars of London fame. He'd brought along his shy and retiring Audi R8 V10+:

VW Caddy Maxi Life next to Audi R8 V10+


 

Update 4: Can Caddy Life cut it on CAR?

Sister title borrows our versatile VW

The VW Caddy Maxi Life, you quickly surmise, must be some sort of outlandish stroke of genius for those with big families and loads of gear.

Seven-seat cars and SUVs, like VW’s own Touran, the Skoda Kodiaq, Land Rover’s Discovery Sport and the Volvo XC90 are either not big enough (deploy the third row of seats and the remaining boot space is meagre), or so big they’re intimidating to drive and intimidatingly expensive.

VW Caddy Maxi side profile view

Fortunately the Caddy Maxi Life is just big; prices start at a not unpalatable £24k for a 102hp TDI with a five-speed manual. This is the range-topping 150hp TDI with six-speed DSG, which costs £29k on-the-road before options. Seven seats, a decent boot and, if you get busy removing chairs, a carpeted, window-equipped van with the space to swallow just about anything.

The catch? The Caddy’s still a van. A very nice van, admittedly, with a near-flawless powertrain – the diesel’s smooth and punchy, the DSG entirely unobtrusive and intuitively mapped in both D and S modes – but there’s no escaping the hard plastics, bouncy ride and so-so dynamics. And, well, the fact that it looks like a van.

With all the back seats removed the VW Caddy Maxi Life becomes a carpetted van, but you'll need to find somewhere to store the seats

Still, vans mean space, and the Maxi’s so spacious inside you could use it as a kind of de-compression chamber for acute claustrophobics. Up front you sit low, car-style, with half a mile of headroom between your scalp and the roof way above you.

The three-seat second row gets cool sliding doors with Ferrari F40-style sliding windows. Beyond that there’s a two-seat third row and a decent boot (with an infuriating parcel shelf, and equally infuriating lift-up tailgate – split doors would be my preference).

VW Caddy Maxi Life meets a dog

In a weekend I used the Caddy Maxi Life to easily transport a dog (he loved it, and wept when it left), five people together with the aforementioned dog and stuff, and, finally and spontaneously, a motorcycle, when a tape measure showed the Caddy Life’s rear aperture could take it.

VW Caddy Maxi Life can take a motorcycle in the rear

Removing the second- and third-row seats is easy enough, though they’re heavy – you wouldn’t want to be lifting them in and out regularly (though ironically, this weight actually helps when the time comes to re-attach them to their mount points in the floor).

Folding the VW Caddy Maxi Life's seats down or removing them completely is the work of no more than 10 minutes

In ten minutes the seven-seat MPV was made a bike-ready van, and my Honda would have fitted but for the breakover angle of my cheap ramp, intended for off-road bikes and lightweight classics.

Versatile? Yes? Pleasant to drive? Ditto. A brainwave that instantly renders more expensive, car-based seven-seaters redundant? Not so much, unless you have need of a part-time van with a flat load floor – you’ll never turn a Kodiaq into one of those, no matter how long you spend playing with the seats. 

By Ben Miller, Editor, CAR magazine

Long-term test: VW Caddy Maxi Life

Total Mileage

692

Real-world average fuel economy

46.9mpg, 85.2% of official

Official combined economy

55.0mpg

Joined Parkers fleet

14 August 2018