What it's about
It's fairly straightforward, right? But if you think the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life it's merely a panel van with windows and seats, think again. It has a generous greenhouse, seating for seven and the space to stow seven people's goods - the boot space is gigantic.
But Caddy's reputation as a panel van is deeply entrenched, and there's no better way to judge a vehicle's hardiness than to give it a bunch of office runners and delivery people and have them drive it for a while.
If moving goods and packages is anything to go by, the business of moving people about should be easy then.
Despite its utilitarian panel van basis, Maxi Life is very generously appointed and those accustomed to sedan comforts will rarely want for much more.
Power steering, air conditioning and power windows are standard. Add to that an MP3-compatible audio system, an onboard computer, 16-inch alloys, fog lamps and a whole bunch of other goodies not normally seen on a panel van and we're in business.
For easy access and egress, there are sliding doors on either side of the cabin and the middle bench splits 60/40 and tumbles forward for easy admission to the rearmost bench.
But the most impressive feature - by a garden mile - is the abundance of stowage space within the cabin. There are handy little oddment nets in the rooflining, while a cavernous overhead storage area up front allows the driver and front passenger to store large handbags, laptops and other valuables out of view from prying eyes. There are also storage bins placed beneath the driver and front passenger seats.
The luggage compartment is truly remarkable, thanks mostly to an extended rear overhang and split rear doors that open to a width of 1 181 m. And with the aperture being 1 134 metres high, sliding oversized and odd-shaped objects into the luggage space is also a breeze.
Another thing to consider is the level of safety equipment offered. Along with front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger, ABS, ESP, anti-slip regulation and traction control are also available.
Beneath the bonnet
Although the Maxi Life is offered with the 1.6-litre petrol engine too, the test unit provided to Wheels24 was equipped with a 1.9-litre turbodiesel.
The four-cylinder unit is familiar to most products within the VW group and produces 77 kW at 4 000 r/min and torque of 250 Nm at 1 900 r/min.
The familiar 1.9-litre turbodiesel unit is punchy and makes quick suburban dashes a breeze. This means you never have trouble keeping up with traffic, although you have to wonder what performance on the 1.6 with seven up and luggage would be like…
A five-speed manual gearbox drives the front wheels.
Surprisingly, driving the Maxi Life is very comfortable. The elevated driving position and the extra large windows mean that visibility, even on a vehicle that uses an extended wheelbase over the "regular Caddy" and is longer than four metres, is excellent. If you're someone who struggles to get comfortable anyway, both the driver's seat and steering column are adjustable.
However, the seats are shallow and not particularly supportive and on a 300-km trip an old back niggle made its presence known.
A high roof line and elevated seating for those in the back row mean that the possibility of bumping your head against the rooflining is limited. However, passengers reported that while visibility is good, leg room is not suitable for adults and the ride comfort is noticeably better on the second bench.
But for the most part, the ride quality is remarkably car-like and this Caddy, despite its high roofline, makes great efforts to resist the mid-corner pitching familiar to high-waisted MPVs.
If you're the family type looking for an affordable MPV with comfortable space for all and their luggage, this is it.
It's not as stylish an MPV as the Mazda5 and Toyota Verso, or the six-seater Honda FRV, but it is fashioned from a panel van, lest we forget.
It seats seven too, an attribute which is usually the reserve of more bulky (and more dear) full-sized SUVs.
But at a smidgen under R220 000, this Caddy Maxi Life is a very capable MPV, even if you'll struggle mightily to find something about it to excite you.
Lots of interior space
Is larger than it seems
Panel van roots make it a bit bland
Still a panel van with seats
Seats grow uncomfortable over longer distances