Old-school new school, the facelifted VW Caravelle

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The legendary VW utility vehicle, the Transporter range – which consists of the Pick Up (Single and Double cab), Panel Van, Crew Bus, Kombi, Caravelle and California – has been facelifted.


Now in its sixth generation, the Transporter range has sold around 12 million units worldwide. No other commercial vehicle in the world has been on the market for as long as the Transporter has.


So, what is new for the old-school classic?


Particularly striking is the radiator grille, which is now significantly larger and forms a single stylistic unit with the new bumper. All elements below the bonnet, such as the headlights, are new. There are six newly designed wheels and six new exterior colours, while seven newly combined two-tone paintwork finishes round off the new exterior updates to the range.


On the inside, the range has been digitised with a new touchscreen infotainment system and digital instrument cockpit. The dashboard panel has been equipped with an additional shelf in front of the driver. Also new is a larger tray for a smartphone with an inductive interface for charging which is an optional feature. The air vents in the dashboard can now be adjusted in every direction and simultaneously opened or closed using one slider control. The steering wheel has also been redesigned –  on the new multifunction steering wheel, there is now a ‘View’ button, which enables the driver to switch between the digital cockpit's different display configurations with just one click.


Despite the upgrades, I feel the dashboard could do with further storage enhancements, especially when compared with the likes of Mercedes V-Class.


The steering system has been upgraded too  electro-mechanical power steering is being used for the first time! This system is noticeably more agile and precise than before, while aiding the vehicle in saving fuel over the older hydraulic system.


With the introduction of the optional second-generation chassis control system (DCC), the adjustment options have increased. Via driving profile selection, the driver can now set the desired level of damping almost seamlessly using a slider control.


Safety is a priority in the range with features like Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Automatic Post-Collision Braking (also standard), Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Assist (for 4MOTION all-wheel drive), the Tyre Pressure Loss Indicator, lane change assistant Lane Assist, the standard cruise control system inclusive of speed limiter and parking assistant Park Assist that somewhat automates the parking function by taking care of the steering for you. Optional safety systems include Trailer Assist and the advanced main-beam control system Light Assist.


I also enjoyed features like the Side Protection. With six ultrasound sensors in the front section and six in the back of the vehicle, the Side Protection system charts its entire 360-degree surroundings. The rear-view reversing camera also came in handy when parking the Caravelle with advanced settings for optimal use.


Two other nifty features are Rear Traffic Alert and Crosswind Alert. The Rear Traffic Alert system ‘recognises’ not only stationary or moving vehicles directly behind it, but also any that might be approaching at 180 degrees from the side, which would be almost impossible for the driver to spot. If there is a risk of collision, the system produces a visual alert and an audible warning. If the driver or other road user do not take action to avert the danger, Rear Traffic Alert automatically applies the brakes before a possible collision. The second system is the Crosswind Assist. As part of the Electronic Stabilisation System (ESP), this applies the brakes (undetected by the driver) if the vehicle encounters a strong crosswind.


Locally, our Caravelle is only available in Highline guise, leaving the factory in the German city of Hannover with a chrome-look trim (in the air vents, the spokes of the multi-function steering wheel and as edging around the gear lever), black sun visors, decorative strips in the Pewter Wave Grey pattern (instrument panel and door panels) and leather seats in Nappa leather.


Standard features of the Highline include 17-inch Woodstock black diamond-turned alloy wheels; electrically adjustable, heated and folding exterior mirrors; digital cockpit, ‘Discover Pro’ with 10.25-inch touch screen; Wireless App-Connect and USB; Crosswind Assist, Side Assist (blind spot monitoring), centre table and Trailer Assist with Park Distance Control in front and rear; and a rear-view camera. Optional features include the cooler box with additional battery and Adaptive Chassis Control.


The Caravelle transitions from a large taxi to an elegant shuttle bus. But with three rivals, is it worth its almost R1 200 000 price tag? The KIA Grand Sedona offers a compelling product at its bargain price point of around R900 000. The Mercedes carry status along with the weight of its premium pricing at R1 400 000, for the V250 Aventgarde. The Quantum, from Toyota, holds little status and a stigma set by local taxis but does offer practicality and reliability and seating for nine,  at R970 000.


More charming than its rivals and, interestingly, equal if not a tad better to drive than the V-Class – the Caravelle is now more than every earring on the luxury side of the family van offering.


The competition

KIA Grand Sedona, Mercedes-Benz V-Class and the Toyota Quantum VX


The pricing

T6.1 Caravelle Highline 2.0 BiTDI 146kW 4MOTION® DSG®               R1 166 600


The service and warranty


The Kombi, Caravelle and California range comes standard with a 5-year/60 000km maintenance plan and a 3-year/120 000km manufacturer warranty.  The entire T6.1 range comes standard with a 12-year anti-corrosion warranty. The service interval is 15 000km.



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