Any car maker setting out to design a £40,000 luxury seven-seater in today’s SUV-obsessed market would be very bold indeed to use a ‘light commercial vehicle’ – a van, to you and me – as a starting point.
But this week’s road test subject, the new Volkswagen Caravelle, is no ordinary seven-seater. And the Volkswagen Transporter with which it shares its basis is no ordinary LCV, either.
Before the introduction of the Caravelle’s earliest predecessor, there was no such thing as an MPV, or really even what we’d recognise as a modern van.
The original 1950 Volkswagen Type 2 was, along with the 1947 Citroën H Van, one of the pioneers, making the sixth-generation Transporter that VW has just launched about as aristocratic as these workhorses get.
The Caravelle derivative was officially introduced with the third-generation Transporter, although more comfortable passenger-carrying versions were offered with the original Type 2. Its mission was always to combine the material refinements of a passenger car with many of the dynamic ones – hence the availability of more powerful engines, four-wheel drive systems and automatic transmissions, most of which the Transporter didn’t have.
The Transporter and Caravelle have remained on the leading edge of the technological development of their breed for more than six decades, and this new T6 version continues in the same vein.
It’s available with modern active safety and multimedia systems, a range of powerful and frugal Euro 6 diesel engines, a full-leather interior of remarkable flexibility and spaciousness, and the option of a dual-clutch automatic gearbox and 4Motion four-wheel drive.
But can such a large, commercial-based vehicle cut it next to today’s wealth of choice in seven-seaters at upwards of £40,000? Is the modern descendant of the iconic VW Camper still a liberated, enlightened lifestyle choice – or is it now just a bad one?