Take a glance at the latest UK van sales charts you’ll find Volkswagen sitting at number three, with sales increasing so far in 2011 by a staggering 69%.
This rather healthy state of affairs for the German manufacturer has come about not by accident but by a variety of aggressive strategies that have been transforming the marque over the past few years.
For starters, VW set up a chain of 64 special van centres that feature sales staff who can talk with knowledge and confidence to LCV fleet buyers.
Then VW set about improving all its models – first it was the launch of Crafter, then a comprehensive facelift for Transporter and now the Caddy has been reworked and improved.
When the Amarok 4x4 comes to the UK later this year, Volkswagen will have the newest range of vans of any manufacturer at present.
While this Caddy isn’t exactly a brand new vehicle, it represents a lot more than just a facelift.
True there are new looks, with jaunty slash-cut headlights, but the biggest changes are elsewhere.
There are new models for example – Caddy and Caddy Maxi offering load volumes of between 3.2 cubic metres and 4.2 cubic metres and also a pukka 4wd 4Motion – unique in the sector – along with BlueMotion variants that promise lower emissions and better fuel economy.
The biggest change though is the new set of engines – out go the old pumpe duse ones and in come common-rail TDI units in both 1.6-litre and 2.0-litre guises with power outputs ranging from 75bhp to 140bhp.
There are other enhancements too, notably the addition of ESC stability control as a standard fitment across the range.
At present the only van in the sector to offer this life-saving device as standard is the Ford Transit Connect, so other manufacturers should take note and follow suit.
Volkswagen also offers its DSG gearbox with either six or seven speeds on higher-powered models.
Also new are more comfortable seats, daytime running lights, a gearshift indicator and a new power steering system.
Volkswagen has also launched a + series which gives enhanced payloads while the BlueMotion models involve the fitting of a stop-start system to enhance fuel economy.
Prices start at £12,100 ex-VAT and rise to £22,690 ex-VAT.
Behind the wheel
What a good-looking van the new Caddy is – it might be rather big and chunky but it’s hats off to the designers for producing a stylish vehicle that is quite in keeping with tastes for 2011. With metallic paint added, it looks even better.
Climbing aboard, the seats are big and comfortable and hug the figure right from neck to knee, while there are two cupholders conveniently placed in the centre console and a handy overhead storage area.
There is plenty of legroom and both driver’s seat and steering column adjust up and down so everyone should be able to find a comfortable position.
The higher-powered versions are not necessary for fleet purposes.
I drove both 75bhp and 102bhp models with full loads and on the flat there was no shortage of power, although steep hills did require a bit of rowing round the gears.
The engine fires up quietly and smoothly as you’d expect from a Volkswagen and the Caddy proved a pleasure to drive, with power steering weighted just right.
And full credit to VW for making ESC stability control a standard item.It’s the biggest life-saving development since the seatbelt and in my opinion should be made mandatory in all vehicles.
A real step forward for Volkswagen in the small van sector. All-round improvements make the Caddy the stand-out model in its class.