Volkswagen T5 Caravelle DSG web review

what used to carry people and what now carries people

How seriously cool is a car that offers a double bed plus four separate seats when you’re on the move? When travelling en masse, there’s no better way to quell sibling rivalry than with a place to sleep, or a seat located far from a potential conflict zone. Divide and rule, the new parenting motto in Volkswagen’s seven-seater T5 Caravelle. And in this case, the everything-that-opens-and-shuts version with the new 132kW 2.0-litre turbodiesel and seven-speed dual clutch automated manual (DSG) gearbox. There’s more: check out those stylish 17-inch alloys, the new instrument panel, the climate control system, satellite steering controls, good sound, and lights that swivel when you go around corners. It’s still a great, long, skyscraping loaf of a thing, but it has space, lots of it, for everything from trip clutter to forests of feet. There’s so much of it to like. And everyone has a tale of nostalgia for one or more of the previous generations: families started, families driven from place to place, epic travels and travails, but all in a generous spirit. It inspires a friendly nod more often than a sports sedan which might cost far less, because for a cool R555 000, and in the case of the test vehicle another R70 000 in extras, it ain’t no Volksiebus. You do get a standard 3-yr/60 000km maintenance plan, but the price shock is almost enough to make David Kramer want to forget his vellies.

You could make a checklist of all the lekker things about this vehicle:

  • Commanding driving position with a great view of the road and a short bonnet to make parking and tight traffic no problem
  • Lots of possible second and third row seat positions facing forward, back, one or both removed, third row folded flat to make a bed, and more
  • Plenty of storage spaces under the seats, in the door pockets, in the side panels, in fact so many you could lose things for months
  • The new generation bi-turbo diesel engine that is strong and frugal. It’s quiet on the move and pulls better than you imagine a 2.0-litre should
  • Clever and smooth-shifting DSG box operated from a stubby lever close to the dash, that takes all the hassle out of moving in traffic and also lets you enjoy the view when on the open road
  • Automatic sliding doors on both sides optional, but perfect for loading people and things wherever they are
  • Great ride comfort. The Caravelle soaks up the bumps with ease, yet doesn’t feel wallowy
  • The Servotronic steering is speed dependent, so it’s light a low speeds and firms up as you go faster
  • You can tow 2.2 tonnes, so a horsebox or a Venter with all the camping gear won’t be a problem
  • Now more safety kit, including ABS, more airbags and a vehicle stability programme (ESP) now standard on every version

As with everything, there are some negatives on the balance sheet:

  • The tailgate is hefty and huge and needs lots of space behind it to open safely, plus short people can’t reach the grab handle to haul it down again
  • The DSG is programmed to shift down too many gears on downhills to aid braking, which is noisy and irritating, and the driver needs to use the manual override to shift up to preserve sanity
  • The lack of paddle shifts on the steering makes overriding the DSG box a bit of a stretch-and tip-affair. An oversight, though of course it’s not a sports car.
  • The aircon controls take some getting used to, the sunroof could be a big bigger to let in more light, and some won’t like the automated parking brake.
  • The price. You expect a lot for your moola, and some of the plastics disappoint, and those under-seat hatches feel slightly flimsy
  • Carpets are great for sound deadening and lounge-like feel, but you need rubber down to protect against legions of marauding young feet.
  • Only a wheel inflation kit is provided, not a full-size spare. Pity

no more reaching down for the gear lever

It’s a brilliant travel car. A fair verdict after I towed a large trailer loaded with motorbikes, plus five up, on a 1500km round trip from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape and back. The trailer hooked up easily on the removable (optional) towhitch and could hardly be felt, though it might have contributed to the higher than expected tank to tank fuel average of 11.49 litres/100km way more than the claimed combined figure of 7.6 litres/100km. This was despite careful driving and extensive use of the slightly fussy cruise control.

There was abundant space for the passengers, usually with one or two sleeping on the double bed, and room for piles of luggage under and behind the seats, and in the generous bootspace. The optional fold-out table/storage area was a boon for storing items, serving coffee on the go, and doubled as a mobile laptop workstation.

It doesn’t like to be unduly hustled, the Caravelle, though it never feels sluggish and cruises easily at and above the limit with few downchanges from the DSG box, which normally gets things right. The T5 is a front-driver, so on some steep, loose gravel farm roads I was scrabbling for traction, and here the 4Motion all-wheel drive option would have come in handy, but for the most part it’s not needed on the average tar and dirt road foray. The lesser-specced Kombi range offers lower output 2.0-litre engines (75 and 103kW) and a short wheelbase version price from R408 400, but the all-in Caravelle is the business. It’s a big car, and when parking the PDC warnings are a great help, but on the road it doesn’t feel all that bulky. It does feel safe and solid though, and even a few hours in the driver’s seat is no hardship. It’s like the Vellie reinvented as a swanky German hiking boot.

VOLKSWAGEN T5 CARAVELLE 2.0 BiTDi DSG

HOW MUCH?

R555 300 (plus R69 480 in options)

ON SALE

Now

ENGINE

1968cc 16v 4-cyl bi-turbo diesel, 132kW @ 4000rpm, 400Nm @ 1500-2000rpm

TRANSMISSION

Seven-speed DSG automated manual, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

11.3sec 0-100kph, 191kph, 8.1ℓ/100km, 214g/km CO2

HOW HEAVY/MADE OF?

+2344kg/steel

HOW BIG (LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT/W-BASE)?

4892/1904/1970/3000mm