Easy enough to drive but you're always aware of the Caravelle's van ancestry
The high-up driving position gives superb view ahead, and all the controls are well positioned
Multiple airbags, traction control and Isofix on four of the seats
Scored 'below average' in latest reliability survey but new engines may improve things. Interior feels solidly built.
Plenty of space and you can rearrange the seats in all sorts of ways - even as a double bed
Basic spec is poorly equipped for the money, so you'll need to upgrade
The Volkswagen Caravelle is VW's Transporter van with seats and windows, but despite its roots and size, it's still pleasant to drive: it doesn't lollop excessively around corners and cruises quietly on motorways, though there's a fair bit of wind noise from its big wing mirrors. Don't be tempted to take it over rough terrain, though: things can get a bit bouncy, so stick to the smoothest spots at the campsite. The steering is a quite light, which is useful for parking such a beast but it would give the driver a bit more confidence if it were a little weightier. Gearchanges are smooth on automatic versions, though there is small delay between pressing the accelerator and the power kicking in.
The Caravelle's dashboard is well designed and easy to use, and there's enough adjustment for the seat and steering wheel to allow most drivers to get comfortable. There's loads of space inside the Caravelle. The middle row offers two full-size seats with a table in between that can be slid all the way back so it's in front of the generous single-piece, three-seat rear bench at the rear of the vehicle; the middle-row seats can then swivel all the way round to create a leisure area for five. As its name suggests, the Caravelle can double up as accommodation; the rear bench converts into a double bed. Alternatively, you can swap the rear bench for two individual seats.
Both the middle-row seats and the rear bench or seats are on runners, so you can slide them forward or backwards to allocate more space where you need it, such as in the boot, though even at its smallest setting it can take a slim-folding pushchair and a pile of bags on top. You can also fold any of the seat backs or remove the seats completely to turn the Caravelle into a proper van, though the seats are very heavy and even VW instructs that removing the rear bench is the work of two people.
For a car that costs this much, you'd expect more equipment as standard - entry-level cars (SE) get manual air-con, alloy wheels, electric windows and door mirrors, and a CD player, but Executive trim feels better value with its added climate and cruise controls, heated front seats and powered electric sliding doors. Isofix points are fitted on both of the middle-row seats and on the outer two seats of the rear bench, or on both separate rearmost seats if you specify these instead of the bench. The latter can also be specified with integrated booster cushions, as can the middle-row rear seats. Business spec adds some luxury touches such as leather upholstery, heated rear seats and an integrated refrigerator, but it costs silly money.
What Car?'s latest reliability survey scores the Caravelle as 'below average' , but buyers of new Caravelles should bear in mind that the survey looked only at Caravelles built between 2003 and 2010 so most of the vehicles surveyed will have been built before the vehicle's facelift in late 2009, when it received new engines (engines contributed to 20% of faults in the survey). Safety provision scores better, with twin front, side and curtain airbags and traction control as standard. The Caravelle's interior feels tough and durable, and security kit is good, too.
Not only is the Caravelle expensive to buy, it will cost a bomb to run, due to its high emissions and unimpressive fuel economy. Sure, you get a lot of space for the money, but there are several practical family MPVs that will transport seven adults for considerably less. The Caravelle is only really worth considering if you often need to transport seven adults or children in child seats and still have a big boot, or you're after transport that can double up as accommodation.