WHAT IS IT?
When I was young, my family had a VW Caravelle, and it remains indelibly etched in my subconscious as the very best holiday vehicle ever created. Two families would go on holiday in it, a trailer hitched up behind it for the impahlas, and we would cruise off into the lightening dawn.
The new Caravelle is some distance from our old one in terms of comfort and style, but the excitement it generates remains as vivid.
In a single word: space. While there are countless seven-seater options on the market these days, very few come close to the feeling of spaciousness and airiness that the Caravelle offers. Then there’s the retro-cool factor of a two-tone kombi and the knowledge that you haven’t bought into the SUV craze and actually have a more practical, more comfortable vehicle than most of your SUV-driving friends.
To create the Caravelle, VW took their commercial van and glitzed it up; it’s Cinderella at the ball, or rather her pumpkin carriage before midnight. Luckily, the pumpkin that VW used was both handsome in a practical, angular way, and very well made, so the Caravelle is both of these things and way more.
The VW Kombi is the base model, and even it is pretty well kitted out, so the Caravelle fits firmly into the ‘sumptuous’ level.
While many cars are seven-seaters, very few are comfortable for seven people to travel any distance in – a quick hop to school is fine for the suckers in the back seats, but a trip from Durban to Kruger could end in a hefty chiropractor bill.
My absolute best thing about the Caravelle (and for my kids, too) is the flexible seating – you can flip the middle row of seats around so that they face backwards, while the centre console sprouts a table, mushroom-like, in seconds, so that you have a travel lounge where you can play board games or read while you roll.
Powering the Caravelle is a biturbo 2-litre diesel engine that produces 146kW and 450Nm, and it is fitted with a seven-speed DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox) automatic gearbox. It also comes standard with 4Motion, VW’s all-wheel-drive system, which adds an element of adventure and versatility to the vehicle.
The one facet that lets the Caravelle down is the turbo-lag at pull-off. Since the engine is a 2-litre twin-turbo diesel, and since the Caravelle is a big and heavy unit, the engine doesn’t have enough oomph to get it moving briskly until one of the turbos kicks in. In those few moments when you’re trying to take a gap in traffic or pull off while towing something substantial, you will curse gently under your breath. These curses will be forgotten while you cruise the open road and overtake on a whim, but they will return, dark little nags, around town.
The VW Caravelle is such a cool car, and it offers space in a way that few others can match. If you have a bigger family than average or often take the in-laws or spare children along on holidays, the Caravelle is the dream vehicle. This is especially true if you require the added peace of mind of all-wheel drive on slick gravel roads or snow (it does happen in SA!). If you like the space but not the price tag, there is always the more humble VW Kombi. The downside is that it will be hard to slip a Caravelle past the taxman as ‘staff transport’, where a VW Kombi or Transporter might be allowed.
GO GET IT
Because Volkswagen has made the Caravelle more luxurious with every edition, it is now a pricy car. The price starts at R1,184,000 and some change, which is a full R400,000+ more than the Kombi. That said, it is a very impressive vehicle. The price includes a 5-year/60,000km maintenance plan and a 3-year/120,000km warranty. Visit www.vw.co.za for more information.