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Setting the Tone

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I always look forward to getting long term review cars because it gives me a chance to formulate a more personal opinion on the car. When a new vehicle is released, the manufacturer usually invites journos over to a launch event where they get to test the cars for a few hours before going back home to type out excited reviews. More often than not, the entire day will be micromanaged, from the roads we are supposed to drive on, and the activities we do. However, amidst the charm of VIP treatment and the pressures of a press event, it is quite easy for objective judgement to become somewhat compromised. So when I received the VW Caravelle to drive during December, I eagerly set out to see if the experience would be as positive as it had been at the launch event.

Exterior Impressions

My first impressions of the Caravelle T6.1 were really positive. I felt it was an aesthetically pleasing vehicle, and that initial opinion has only increased since its launch. The design language of this bus takes the best bits of minimalism and smart design to make an understated yet handsome vehicle. For the conservative folk, you can choose from a number of solid paint colours to complete your vehicle. However if you feel like being a bit more adventurous, then the dual-tone paint options will certainly garner you some attention. The loaner that VW sent me had the brown and white dual paint scheme and, my word, does it look good! You don’t often see dual-tone paint finishes coming straight from the manufacturers these days, and when you do, it most likely will be from the likes of Bentley, Rolls-Royce and, more recently, the Mercedes Maybach range. Therefore tapping into this premium trend in a mass produced family bus is mighty special. During the month I drove it, I received a substantial number of appreciative nods and thumbs ups from fellow motorists, which, I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoyed.

What About Comfort and Practicality?

With a million rand price tag, the Caravelle is automatically pitted against the famously competent Mercedes-Benz V-Class range. Not too long ago I had the opportunity to live with the new V300d which impressed me greatly. At the time, I felt a comparison to the Caravelle – which I had barely driven at launch – was unfair. But now that I have lived with both, it’s an even playing field, and the Caravelle sure brought its A-game.

The cabin is a pleasant place to spend time, devoid of cheap materials and poor craftsmanship. The seven seats themselves are comfortable to sit in, but the shining point is the versatility of the seating configuration. You can have the seats all facing forward, or you can have the middle row face the rear. While this might seem trivial, one must not downplay the numerous benefits that come with this flexibility. In my case, it meant my kids had more fun on trips because they could freely interact with one another while staying strapped into their seats. There is also an optional deployable picnic table which pops up from the floor. You could pop your food on it, play board games or even use it as a laptop stand to keep your passengers entertained. It is this cohesive relationship between the seating configurability and the added extras, like the picnic table, which demonstrates the attention to detail that went into making this bus a proper road trip vehicle. I have been on a number of road trips with my family in bakkies, sedans and SUVs and yet there is no surprise that we had the best ones with the Caravelle and its major rival the V-Class. 

On the Road 

One of the perks of this job is getting to include my family in some of my review drives and, more often than not, it makes for some pretty cool memories. This past December with the Caravelle was no exception. Not only did I have a great road trip vehicle, but I also had a great destination – Montusi Mountain lodge. Avid readers will remember this as the lodge I visited and mentioned in one of my previous reviews. The excellent five-star service I received there made such an impression that I was not going to pass up on another opportunity to head back.

Of course, before my road trip I drove the Caravelle a fair bit around the city and found it easy to pilot around town. The boxy shape and big windows provide good visibility all round, which is further complemented by the high command driving position. The electronically assisted steering is also pleasantly light, and so handling the bus is no arm wrestling affair. The Caravelle certainly works as a city vehicle if need be.

However, it was on my way to Montusi Lodge that I finally got to test this vehicle for what it was made for. After all, even VW organised a road trip for the Caravelle launch as opposed to a couple of laps around the city. The Caravelle was made for road trips, and it shows. It wafts with ease on smooth tarmac. With its 2.0-litre 4-cylinder bi-turbodiesel engine churning 146 kW and 450 Nm working with a seven-speed DSG transmission, the Caravelle is no mean speed machine. However, the performance is adequate for what this vehicle is. Did I wish there was more power on tap? Sure, but the lack of it is not a deal breaker. 

The Caravelle also comes with a host of safety features of which lane assist and cross wind assist came in handy. When nature throws a fast crosswind against the flat sides of this bus, you sure will be glad that you have electronics keeping you and your family stable on the roads. Overall, apart from the issue with the engine feeling a bit underpowered at times, I had no qualms with how this bus handles a road trip. 

Final Thoughts

I mentioned earlier that the Caravelle poses serious competition for the V-Class and that was no empty statement. Sure the V300d was that much more luxurious and definitely has a more powerful engine, but it also happens to be more expensive. The Caravelle T6.1 offers compelling value for money and would be a very good alternative to the Mercedes-Benz V-Class for less buck. The Caravelle also has that famous German build quality and carries a heritage that started with the Type 2 kombi. Having finally lived with the Caravelle, I will say my first impressions were spot on. VW definitely got the formula right with this one.

Report & Images by BRYAN KAYAVHU

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