Volkswagen Caravelle Executive

VW Caravelle Executive 2 lr

By Tim Saunders

On seeing the Caravelle Executive my mind is transported back to the much loved T2 VW camper; you know the one with its split windscreen and great character often thanks to the use of a two tone exterior finish. I shouldn’t be so sentimental; the two vehicles are quite different in both their look and size. But it’s the beautiful blue and white paintwork that makes it eye-catching, in the same way as its predecessor, making many passers-by do a double take. It is exceedingly smart and a great surprise. After all this is basically a van, a commercial vehicle. And they are, by nature, dull and boring, aren’t they? I was expecting something along the lines of a Ford Transit, practical without any character so to speak. But this T5 version continues VW’s tradition of manufacturing attention seekers. They are very good at it.

It is large but surprisingly easy to drive. When it comes to reversing off our driveway which has a little incline, it does take quite a bit of gas to get moving but that’s hardly surprising really.

I must mention though that on returning from the late night weekly shop, I open the massive boot and some of the shopping falls out, much to my infuriation and this is amplified when my reactions are too slow to save my beloved bottle of beer that smashes to smithereens. As the odour of a brewery pervades around the garden and I bemoan the loss of my precious pint, I think it would be extremely helpful to have a lip inside the boot that could be lifted to avoid such downright frustrating situations. I can see that having a flat space is easier to load heavy and awkward luggage into but that, as I prove, is not the only situation that this versatile vehicle will be used for.

I test it during a time when the neighbours are having their driveway resurfaced and the builders cannot take their eyes off the VW. This resurfacing brings its own issues – such as builders vans partly blocking our driveway. On one occasion I get a bit fed up. A neighbour over the road from us always parks her car outside our house as well. Both of which means that it’s a challenge to get onto our driveway and it shouldn’t be the case. However, the Caravelle instils confidence in its driver thanks to its power steering, large power folding electric wing mirrors and reversing camera. It makes light work of this situation and we end up where we want to be without any issue whatsoever. That’s impressive. And then the builder comes out and says: “Just ask and I’ll move my van. By the way I’m going to be cutting the stones, you might want to move because there’ll be a lot of dust.” There are occasions in life when I question: “Why do I bother?!” So I park on the road, a little way from the house.

Driving the Caravelle draws my attention to others on the road. They are certainly a popular choice in my neighbourhood. This version is the Executive and seems higher up than the rest, which is great for driving, giving a good view of the road ahead. In fact when we pass an oncoming single decker bus we seem to be at the same height. It is similar to the vehicles used on The Apprentice TV programme these days and perfect, as the name suggests, for executive travel. Better in many ways than a standard saloon because there is room to stretch out and bags of space for luggage.

The size of the Caravelle demands a slightly revised driving style for me compared to how I drive my little Ford Fiesta. For instance, sometimes when there are vehicles parked on the roadside I do have to wait until it is clear to overtake them but to my surprise I don’t have to do this too often because as I get to know it better it’s actually not that wide.

It uses the popular 2-litre turbo diesel found in a range of VWs from the Golf to the Passat and the Touran. Despite its size and weight it will still shift, if required. It will travel from standstill to 60mph in 13 seconds flat, comparable to my smaller and less sophisticated 17 year old 1.4-litre diesel Fiesta. Of course the Fiesta cannot transport 7 occupants in real comfort. Each seat is well padded and covered in luxurious black leather. The front two are heated. The driver does have to be careful not to be overzealous with the accelerator when exiting a roundabout or side road otherwise the front wheels make some mean screeches. There is a delay when pushing your foot down on the accelerator and the engine responding. This is resolved by engaging sports mode.

Inside, occupants are treated to masses of light thanks to its enormous windows. The front two are electric.

It is equipped with two vast electrically operated sliding doors, which make life very easy. The children absolutely adore this vehicle but although these doors are most definitely one of its greatest assets, it is vital that we keep more of an eye than usual on our three little ones. “Can I open it? Can I open it?” all three chant each time we approach the Caravelle. Give in and the action has to be repeated thrice in order to maintain peace and harmony in all the world, as that great sage Peppa Pig promotes.

The sliding doors can be opened and closed from the driver’s seat, which makes a chauffeur’s life so much easier. VW now just needs to make a robot to pack away any passenger’s luggage. They’re probably working on that.

I test this vehicle during a particularly testing time for our family. Caroline’s dad John is recovering after a fall and during the test, her aunt, Betty, has a stroke, so the trusty Caravelle is called on to visit both.

Betty is in the acute stroke unit at Southampton General Hospital where it’s necessary for me to stay in the van with the children while Caroline visits. The size of the interior means that the children can get themselves out of their seats and that there’s enough space for them to play hide and seek. Little Henry figures out that there’s a pop up table complete with cup holders between the rear seats and he enjoys reconfiguring the area so that it becomes a lounge/diner. It’s a great use of space and some of the seats even have neat storage boxes underneath.  

On the Tuesday morning Betty passes away when we had arranged to collect Caroline’s mum Lin and dad John and take them to visit her. At least the family is all together though to talk things over. Climbing into the van John highlights an issue with, namely that the step to get in is far too high for an elderly person with leg trouble. A lower step would be really helpful. Fortunately, I have planned ahead and brought along my trusty little stepladder, which solves the problem perfectly. “Do you know this is the first time he has been out of the house, other than to the hospital, since the start of May?” says Lin (and this is the middle of July). The good that the Caravelle does; it literally brings a family together. John is visibly much better than he has been and we agree to visit the beach at Southbourne. We park up, have a picnic and toast Betty’s life. We enjoy eating at the pop up table while gazing at a wonderful view through the opened sliding doors. With both sliders open a lovely breeze travels throughout.

Afterwards, Henry (3) and I go for a walk and pick some blackberries, allowing the others time to talk and mull things over. While the others venture to a nearby bench for more of a natter, Henry and I stroll down to the beach and have a brief play on the soft sandy beach. Paradise. It is a beautiful beach with stunning views across the blue green sea and it’s not too busy either. There’s always one eye on the clock though when our daughters Harriett (8) and Heidi (6) need collecting from school. So we drop Caroline’s mum and dad off at their house and then make our way to school, just in time for collection.  

Overall, this is an impressive vehicle that quickly becomes a useful part of the family and it is easy to see how it could very easily become a welcome and much loved addition to any chauffeur business. My family and I feel very privileged to have spent time with the Caravelle.

Facts at a glance
Model tested: Volkswagen Caravelle Executive 2.0TDi
Price: £55,000
Top speed: 112mph
0-60mph: 13secs
Economy: upto 40mpg


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