We don’t often ‘do’ vans here at Examiner Motoring for the fairly obvious reason that driving such a thing is about as pleasurable as eating one’s own toenails, writes Declan Colley
Vans are vans and cars are cars and your own toenails should not be eaten.
We have, of course, been exposed to several van-derived cars down the years - which is generally as welcome an experience as being exposed to a thermonuclear bomb - despite protestation from those sadists who make them, that this is a wonderful way of introducing practical motoring to those unfortunate mortals who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
Without splitting hairs here and with due deference to this newspaper’s wonderful agony aunt Audrey - she of Ask Audrey fame in these columns every Friday - the idea of a van masquerading as a car is something which is completely anathema to most people and even the thought of one your children arriving home to the gaff in Douglas (or Crookhaven in the summer) in such a thing is enough to spark a parental lifetime of Valium abuse.
Even worse, in some circumstances is the car-derived van, which means that some oik has whipped the back seats and windows out of a perfectly good car and then painted it is in some appallingly vivid colour, laying it to waste at the altar of advertising and marketing. Scandalous.
Needs must, sometimes, however and when Volkswagen recently came to the rescue by proving a van-derived car for yours truly at very short notice, it seemed ungentlemanly to cavil. Well for five minutes at least. Then it had to get both barrels.
Oftentimes in this gig people take asinine pleasure in your discomfort at having to test something they have ruled to be so beneath them and which they immediately assume will be the case with you too. Usually small superminis or town cars get them into top asinine gear, but I’m afraid that will rarely produce the reaction they so desire - for the simple reason that so many such machines these days are actually bloody good little cars.
But get me into a van-derived car and, well, I’m afraid I rise to the bait; as much as I will chirpily respond to them along the lines of ‘the market needs cars like these because, believe it or not, there are people out there who can afford little else’ cuts no mustard with these sly devils. They can smell your inner abhorrence at fifty paces and they lap it up.
“You cannot really be telling me that the country is in such a state that people actually will be forced to buy a van that someone has dickied-up as a car,” they hiss loudly as they swirl their Range Rover keys around their index finger, trying to embarrass you into further sociological sacrilege. But you cannot bear any further humiliation and bow to the inevitable.
“Don’t quote me on this,” you will murmur sotto voce, “but were you to arrive home in one of these things, the wife could well leave you in favour of a Kazakh herdsman.” You then beat a swift retreat, quickly donning one of those Groucho Marx glasses and moustache disguise things before anyone else recognises you.
It may be that there are people out there so desperate for cheap wheels that they will lower themselves into this van-derived car business, but the only ones I can think of are old hippies revisiting their London to Kathmandu treks of yore; students travelling to Murmansk for charity (i.e. to raise money for their long overdue bar tab); or people with a clatter of children.
But how wrong am I? According to the stats, some 191 of them have been sold in this country to the end of last month - more even than a Jaguar XE, a Mini Countryman, a Lexus IS or a BMW 7-Series. Honestly I thought we had come out of recession and that the good days were with us again here in Ireland.
With the numbers of 161 and 162 cars swamping our roads, you’d have to have thought as much. Apparently there are a lot more reminiscing hippies, students with bar loans and serial child-bearers out there than we could ever have imagined.
So what do you get for your money then with this week’s tester, the VW Caddy Life - in Highline trim. Well, you get a van. A van with seats, sliding rear doors and a sort of a back window thingy. They get acres of hard, unyielding plastics and the sort of grim décor you could only find in a Breaking Bad-type crystal meth house, the gloom of which is only slightly lifted by the faux leather alcantara upholstery.
Ok, so you get seven seats, a sat nav and a decent infotainment system, Bluetooth (so you can communicate easily with fellow old hippies/broke students/hardcore baby makers), central locking, power steering and a lot of stuff that is very un-van like, including the - it has to be said - handy aeroplane-esque fold down trays on the back of the front seats.
But surely all that stuff - along with the likes of the adaptive cruise control, bi-xenon lights, 17” alloys (with full alloy spare), park assist and rear view camera - will push the price of the thing to levels beyond the supposed bargain bin market segment it was initially intended for. Well, yes, it does.
At a shade over €45k the Caddy Life in Highline trim is far from the cheap-as-chips thing you might have expected and puts it into a much more exalted price bracket than you could have predicted. Factor that car-like price into a vehicle which does not have car-like driving characteristics and all of a sudden any argument you might have proffered about it being value for money goes out the window.
It is not particularly nice to drive and has several handling issues which can be laid at the door of its’ original design as a van. VW says it has worked hard to refine the ride and handling, but I suspect there is only so far they could go with this - and it shows.
On the other hand, there is nothing to quibble with on the engine front, equipped as this is with the familiar 150 bhp turbodiesel that is a mainstay across the VW range and is as nice to live with as it is economic and tax-friendly.
But, if the bargain basement shtick doesn’t apply here in the way you expected it to, then give me a reason for buying one? To be honest, I cannot think of many.
And remember, VW already has two seven-seaters in its’ line-up with the Touran and the Sharan which further strips away the veneer of practicality that would appear to be the Caddy Life’s raison d’être.
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