When the conversation turns to MPVs you occasionally hear people complaining that the ones which can carry seven people can't also carry all their luggage at the same time. To me, this has always seemed rather unfair, since it's unreasonable to expect that one vehicle would have all that interior space.
In fact this isn't always true - certainly not in the case of the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life. Since the Caddy is sold through Volkswagen's Van Centre network it may have escaped your attention, so a word of explanation is perhaps in order: the current Caddy was launched as a compact van in March 2004, and the Caddy Life MPV derivative came along that summer. In February 2008 Volkswagen introduced the Caddy Maxi, which was a whopping 18 inches longer than the standard version, while the Caddy Maxi Life MPV you see here arrived a month later.
Those 18 inches make just the world of difference. Tall journalists often talk about checking a car to see if they can "sit behind" themselves - in other words, if they can comfortably sit immediately behind the driver's seat once they have positioned it to their own liking.
Sometimes it's possible, sometimes it isn't. The Caddy Maxi Life is one of the very few cars in which I can sit behind myself twice. Forget all that talk you sometimes hear about "occasional" rear seats - the ones in the third row are full-sized items (with, usefully, proper access so you don't have to clamber around to reach them), which means that the Maxi Life is unquestionably suitable for transporting seven large adults.
And I do mean large. There's a storage compartment running the entire width of the interior above the heads of the driver and front seat passenger, but the top of my head didn't come close to touching it, and I'm six foot three. There's no similar obstruction in the second or third rows, so unless your name is Leonid Stadnyk your hair is unlikely to come into contact with the roof lining.
Even with seven people on board, the Maxi Life still has 530 litres of luggage space available. True, this is partly because the thing is so tall, and that space is largely vertical, but there's still a fair boot of room behind the third-row seats. Once you start folding those seats, and the three ahead of them, the statistics become awe-inspiring - Volkswagen quotes a massive 3900 litres once the Caddy has been converted to two-seat form.
What you then end up with is essentially a van, of course, and one with which you might just possibly be able to move house. And then you could put the seats up again and transport quite a lot of your friends to the house-warming party.
If you're worried about the van reference, don't be. Apart from its length, which obliges you to be accurate when reversing (the optional rear parking sensors are a sensible choice at £245), the Maxi Life is very easy to drive, with light controls and a reasonably car-like driving position.
Surprisingly, it also feels quite perky, and doesn't mind being whisked along country roads, though I'm saying this from experience of having driven one unladen; with seven people and/or a lot of luggage on board it will no doubt feel a lot more cumbersome.
There are two engine options. One is the 138bhp 2.0 TDI turbo diesel, and the other, as tested here, is the older 1.9 TDI, producing 103bhp. That seems enough for the job, though again it would be a different story if you packed it with people or stuff. The 2.0 gives much better performance and has very similar official combined fuel economy (44.1mpg) and CO2 (169g/km) figures, though it also adds £2000 to the price and sends the insurance up from Group 6 to Group 8.
(A note here for trivia fans: the 1.9 TDI is often quoted as having maximum power of 104bhp in Volkswagen Group cars, so where has the last 1bhp gone? Well, in commercial vehicle applications the engine comes in a slightly different state of tune, with more power lower down the rev range and a little less further up. Strictly speaking, the Maxi Life isn't a commercial vehicle, but it gets the commercial engine anyway, hence the 103bhp rating. I'm sorry to have troubled you with this, but I asked Volkswagen about the discrepancy - just to pass the time, really - and the PR department promptly embarked on such a frenzy of phone calls that I thought I'd better do the decent thing and publish the answer. I'll try not to cause this amount of fuss in future.)
The 1.9 and 2.0 TDIs normally have five- and six-speed manual gearboxes respectively, but the 1.9 can also be specified with the six-speed twin-clutch DSG, which takes care of the changes for you (though you can select gears manually if you prefer). I'm not sure that this is a wise move; the 1.9 DSG is fractionally quicker than the manual - like that really matters - and much less economical at 40.4mpg combined. It also costs £1500 more, and personally I'd stick with the manual at £15,995.
Apart from the rear parking sensors already mentioned, the test car came with metallic paint, 205/55 tyres on 16" alloy wheels, rear privacy glass and basic satellite navigation with a monochrome display, which added a total of £1345 to the price.
There are plenty more options, the most expensive being satellite navigation with a colour screen and DVD mapping covering the whole of western Europe, which on its own costs £1550.
You can also have towbars (with fixed or removable towballs), ESP plus (including a trailer stabilising function), all-weather tyres, heated front seats and a height-adjustable passenger seat with a drawer underneath it, just in case the vast amount of storage space available as standard still doesn't satisfy your requirements.
The Caddy Maxi Life is quite an unusual vehicle, and not many people are going to be able to make full use of it. For those who are, though, it's a splendid piece of work, and I almost wish my lifestyle was more suited to it so that I could wander down to my local Volkswagen Van Centre and place an order.
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