The Volkswagen Caravelle has a long history. This T6 model can be traced right back to the original split-screen model of the 1950s, one of the first Volkswagen developments from the original Beetle. Indeed, it was actually derived from the company’s founding model back then. It’s come a long way since.
Today, its main role is as a purpose-built van, but there’s also this Caravelle MPV-like version for those who need more flexibility than a Volkswagen Sharan. It offers four engine choices, a 2.0-litre turbo petrol or 2.0-litre TDI, both with two power outputs. Higher-powered versions of both are pricey, and the cheapest petrol is underpowered, meaning our pick is the 148bhp TDI. It’s not fast, but it’s fuss-free and easygoing. All except the entry-level petrol have a seven-speed automatic.
The suspension setup is fairly stiff by class standards, which means it can be crashy at times, and is too bouncy on B-roads. It does improve with people onboard, but other van-derived people carriers are comfier. The suspension setup doesn’t aid handling much either – it feels top-heavy and ponderous, and not as engaging as a regular MPV. It is predictable, though.
Again, compared to a regular MPV, the interior is a bit on the austere side, although quality is plush by the standards of other van-derived rivals. Enormous windows give a great view out and flat sides mean it’s surprisingly easy to thread through city traffic. Add in a high-up driving position for something that feels as commanding as a Range Rover. You can have a smart sat nav system too, although it’s a pricey option.
Unlike normal MPVs, the Caravelle offers two different lengths, both with seven seats – there’s a three-row bench right at the back, with two rows of individual seats in front; you can spin the middle row around to face the rear. Choose the optional table and you’ve a mobile office. For drivers, the short wheelbase is more manageable but rear seat space suffers if you want to pack the boot with luggage. The long wheelbase is enormous all round inside, but is tricky to park.
The interior is packed with useful touches, including massive door pockets, two gloveboxes, clever pop-out cupholders and a covered shelf for the USB and 12v sockets. There are drawers under the seats and the added convenience of electric sliding rear doors – which can be operated by remote control.
Two trim grades are offered, SE and Executive. SE has touchscreen infotainment, alloy wheels, sliding removable rear seats and dual air con systems – rear passengers have their own set of controls. Executive adds leather and Alcantara seats, climate control and larger alloys, but we’d stick with the regular car.
Particularly as the Caravelle is not cheap. You can’t buy one for less than £40,000 and it’s not hard to bump the price up to £50,000. Rivals such as the Citroen Spacetourer, Peugeot Traveller and Toyota Proace Verso are significantly cheaper. Running costs will be a little higher than regular MPVs too: expect an average of 35mpg even from the diesels.
All of which makes the Caravelle hard to recommend. It’s extremely spacious and practical, but a so-so drive, average comfort and, most damningly, very high purchase prices compared to talented rivals means a below-par two-star rating overall.