Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0
  • Powerful 2.0-litre engine
  • 150hp at minimum
  • Choice of auto and 4WD, too

VW has done its best to make the engine choice simple in the Caravelle: all of the engines are 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motors and there is a choice of just two power outputs.

Up until mid-2018, this choice was between 150hp and 204hp, but at this point the top spec model was downgraded slightly to 199hp, in reponse to the latest emissions standards.

The 150hp and 204hp options applied to petrol and diesel models, though petrol-powered Caravelles were only sold in the UK from July 2017 to September 2018.

Powerful diesel engines

As well as better fuel economy, the more common diesel choices - badged TDI - also have more torque, which means they can move heavier loads with less effort.

The 150hp diesel has 340Nm of torque (versus 280Nm for the equivalent petrol) while the 204hp diesel has a considerable 450Nm (versus 350Nm for the petrol) – it’s also the only model to get two turbochargers for improved response. As a result, the 204hp Caravelle gets going with truly surprising vigour for a vehicle of such size. The more childish will find the looks on other drivers’ faces at traffic lights very amusing.

On paper, 0-62mph takes 12.9 seconds in the 150hp diesel and 9.8 seconds in the 204hp diesel, regardless of wheelbase length. The automatic versions of each are 0.1 second slower.

The 204hp diesel is also available with 4Motion four-wheel drive, which is slightly slower still. If you are expecting to spend a lot of time on slippery surfaces (such as grass and snow), 4Motion may be worthwhile, but for most drivers the standard front-wheel drive should suffice, as it’s backed up by a full set of electronic stability control systems.

We've now sampled the newer 199hp TDI as part of the launch for the T6.1  facelift. This exactly matches the older 204hp model for torque (450Nm), and goes from 0-62mph in 9.9 seconds, and we can assure you you're unlikely to notice the 5hp reduction in day-to-day driving.

Even if the DSG transmission, which is now standard fit on this top-spec engine, does blunt its responses a little.

Most recent test: Caravelle Executive with 150hp and DSG automatic

Our most recent Caravelle full road test has been a week behind the wheel of a 150hp T6 (pre-facelift) Executive model. We found the performance of this version to be more than sufficient, even when loaded with three adults, two children and an 11-month-old baby - so there's no need to be concerned that you're opting for the entry-level engine. It's still fast enough.

VW Caravelle review - T6 TDI 150 Executive, 2019, front view, blue and silver

We were less impressed by the DSG automatic transmission fitted in place of the standard six-speed manual on this test car, however.

The DSG is fine once you're up and running, but it can feel very lethargic when pulling away from a standstill - prompting you to press down harder on the accelerator. At which point you suddenly get too much power and torque, which can often lead to wheelspin.

It very much feels like some further refinement of the calibration of this system is required.

You also have to pay extra for paddleshifters on the steering wheel, which we found we ourselves using surprisingly often to improve the engine braking in traffic on the motorway.

Discontinued petrol engines

The short-lived petrol engines were cheaper to buy than the equivalent diesel engines, but less fuel efficient, and only available as short-wheelbase SE models.

The 150hp version was fitted with a manual gearbox while the 204hp engine was automatic only - 0-62mph takes 12.5 seconds in the former, 9.9 seconds in the latter.

While we haven't sampled either engine in a Caravelle, we have tested both in the Transporter van the Caravelle is based on. Compared with the diesels they are smooth and less noisy, but suffer with a strange vibration around 1,400-1,500rpm - something the DSG transmission deals with better than the manual.

They are worth considering if you're buying used, but only if you plan to mostly do short journeys. On longer journeys the additional fuel economy of the diesel models makes a significant difference.

Easy to handle

No one buys a van-based MPV expecting it to drive like a moderately capable hatchback, let alone a sports car. But within the constraints of its tall, bulky body the Caravelle acquits itself rather well.

While you’ll never escape the sensation of height, it has quite a squat, stable feel to the way it approaches corners, and it tucks into roundabouts in a manner that makes it seem almost deft. Clearly some care has been taken at Volkswagen over delivering a reasonably satisfying steer, perhaps in the knowledge that these vehicles will be used for extended journeys, often whipping passengers up and down the motorway, or off on an adventurous family holiday.

As such, the original Servotronic speed-dependent power-steering is weighty enough to make it easy to gauge the Caravelle’s responses, yet light when needed for close-quarters manoeuvring around town.

T6.1 facelift models take this a stage further with their newer electromechanicl steering, which manages the neat trick of being super-effortless at low speeds while still delivering precision and stability when you start going faster. We like it a lot - it helps the Caravelle feel more like a car than ever from behind the wheel.

Similarly, though this big VW certainly leans more through the turns than a regular car, the bodyroll is well controlled once you get used to it and proves little cause for alarm.

Suspension upgrades

Executive specification models come with Dynamic Suspension as standard, which is 20mm lower for greater composure; this is optional on the SE.

Those looking for even more from their Caravelle were able to add Dynamic Chassis Control (DCC) – a three-stage adaptive damping system with Comfort, Normal and Sport settings. Having tested this on a Generation Six model, we can confirm that Sport does an impressive job of reducing the body roll even further.

However, this option was discontinued on the T6 model for UK buyers, and will likely prove a rare find on used vehicles. Not really a surprise, as sporty handling probably isn't a priority for most Caravelle owners. It's unconfirmed whether it will be making a reappearance on T6.1 models in the UK, but the system is now even more sophisticated (as the display below demonstrates).

Those who do place the driving experience high up on their list of buying priorities should also consider the Ford Tourneo Custom, which also has surprisingly engaging handling for a vehicle of this type.