VW’s Touran might have arrived late at the mini-MPV party, but at least it dressed up for the occasion. Now the Caddy Life has arrived on the scene, and it’s muscling through the door with barely disguised workman’s clothes on.
But that’s fine with us. Yes, it’s also a medium-sized people mover with the provision for five or seven seats, but it occupies a subtly different market. Like the Fiat Doblo and Citroën Berlingo, the Life is based upon a commercial vehicle – the new Caddy van – and it’s a fundamental difference that permeates the whole vehicle.
The high roof means there’s a real impression of space once you’re sitting inside, and even rather diminutive side windows for the middle row passengers can’t alter the sensation of roominess.
As you’d expect of a van that’s designed to be driven all day, every day, the ergonomics feel just right, with height adjustment for the seat and reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel. The dashboard design and plastics will feel familiar to anyone that’s driven a Mk5 Golf, and their quality is car-good, although the various areas of painted metal around the interior may be more of a shock to some.
Space is good for passengers in the middle row and although users of the optional third row of two seats will find leg room cramped, headroom is better than the class norm. An open-ended tray that stretches the width of the cabin above the windsrceen is one of many useful storage facilities in a cabin where storage has obviously been a necessity at the design stage, rather than a marketing gimmick. Tilt forward the middle row of seats and a wide, flat load bay is ready for the usual household gubbins, but the third row has no party-trick collapsability: if you want rid of them you have to physically remove them.
A sliding door on both sides makes getting in and out easy – especially in car parks – although the twin rear doors that UK models will have can restrict rearwards visibility.
There’s no talk of ‘car-like’ dynamics in the Caddy Life’s press pack and little expectation of a Touran-rivalling driving experience. Predictably it drives without the agility and poise of a Touran or Ford Focus C-Max, yet it rides with a relaxed lope. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, because driving a van seems to trigger a strange genetic response in most people, as if we’ve been rolling up tabloids and stuffing them down the front of dashboards for centuries. Its commanding driving position and rugged sense of purpose offer an unpretentious, laid-back driving experience. Leaf springs at the rear mean a crudeness over imperfect road surfaces, and when you push the Life hard, body roll is pronounced.
Yet the Caddy is always easy to drive, with light, direct steering, an easy gearshift and good cabin refinement. We drove the 103bhp 1.9 TDi, and its meaty power delivery surges the Caddy past dawdling traffic and should cope well with a car-load of people. VW UK hasn’t decided which engines to bring over, but reckon on this diesel, plus the non-turbo SDi and a small-capacity petrol unit.