The Volkswagen Caravelle is the largest vehicle in its class and, at the time of writing, it is the only 9-seater vehicle in the country. At just short of 2 metres tall and over 5 metres long, it is something of a monster on the road, but despite its size, it handles remarkably well.
While earlier Caravelles carried the engine in the rear, more recent models carry the engine at the front, positioning the driver firmly over the front axle in the same way as the traditional Combi. The Caravelle has a boxy, panel-van feel with many of the added comforts of a people carrier. There are plenty of nooks and crannies for storage in the front cabin area, and these are complemented by a well laid-out instrument panel, which is intuitive and not unattractive. Styling of the front interior is sleeker in the 2010-and-later models, which feature a new steering wheel and dash layout and a higher-spec trim and fabric. The steering wheel on these models is also adjustable – something that is missing from earlier versions.
The seating layout is popular for its flexibility, offering three rows of two running from front to back, and a final back row of three. Each of these three is removable individually, giving the opportunity to create a huge cargo space if required.
One of the big plusses of the Caravelle is its size; despite its impressive dimensions, it is compact enough still to fit into a standard carport – something that even the trusty Ford Falcon struggles with.
Just like its smaller sibling, the Caddy, the Caravelle handles more like a car than a van on the road, making it a pleasure to drive compared to many of its competitors. Very early models carried the engine in the rear; however, this was moved to the front in later models, enhancing stability and general handling. The earlier front-engine mounted Caravelles carry a 2.5L petrol engine and a choice of either manual or automatic transmission. Assume fuel consumption to be in the region of 14L/100km; it varies significantly depending on the type of terrain.
The later generation features a 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo diesel, giving 103kW of power and 340Nm of torque at 1750rpm. Transmission on the latter comes in the form of a 7-speed dual clutch DSG gearbox, ensuring plenty of poke both on the open road and around town, though, of course, this is tempered more than slightly when packed to capacity with passengers and weighty luggage. Fuel economy is pretty impressive too, especially given the size of the vehicle, at around 8.2L/100km combined.
In general, the Caravelle is pretty quiet on the road, although noticeably louder to the front than the rear (this is, of course, reversed in older models which feature the rear-mounted engine). Cruise control makes for a comfortable drive on longer stretches, especially on the flat, open road. Despite the high, flat panel sides, the Caravelle sticks well to the tarmac, noticeably so even in high winds.
The more recent Volkswagen Caravelle models (dating from 2010 onwards) come with driver and front passenger airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and three-point seatbelts as standard, providing a decent level of driver and passenger safety equipment. Dual-zone climate control and cabin sun blinds also come as standard, as does a full-size spare wheel. Additional options on these models include front side airbags and side curtain airbags along with cruise control.
For a more luxurious option, look for the Trendline spec, which features satnav, cornering headlights, parking radar, and remotely operated dual-power sliding doors, which certainly places the Caravelle a notch or two above the competition.
As the only 9-seater people carrier in Australia, the Volkswagen Caravelle is in some ways in a class of its own. That said, of course, anyone considering buying a Caravelle will need to consider the other options on the market. In this respect, the Hyundai iMax is certainly a challenger and probably the closest one at that. Others to bear in mind are the Kia Grand Carnival, Chrysler Grand Voyager, and Ssangyong Stavic.