If there’s one brand that’s synonymous with camper vans, it’s Volkswagen.
From the iconic Type 2 to the 80s Westfalia, right up to the modern day T4 and T5 Caravelle, it seems as long as there have been VWs, there have been campers.
For years my wife Sarah and I have talked about buying a camper van. Last year we tried a classic VW Type 2 but found it too slow and too thirsty, driving our way through over £100 of petrol in a weekend.
The idea of a camper still appealed but it needed to be much more economical.
The latest is the Caddy Maxi Camper. Based on the Golf Mark V, the Caddy van is built in Poland and the makeover from commercial to camper sees its load bay gain a set of rear seats and a fold-down bed. The van comes complete with a collapsible table, two folding chairs and a storage box for food which can be used to chill or warm its contents via one of three 12-volt sockets.
The rear windows are lined with a series of clever zip-up pockets, offering some essential storage space for clothes, toys, games or whatever other camping essentials you might need to carry with you. With the bed stowed there’s still a decent amount of boot space, while the space under the bed is used to store the cool box and tent.
The Camper looks great, especially in this vivid green, with chunky 16-inch alloy wheels, bold ‘Camper’ graphics on the sliding doors and stylish, but purposeful roof bars. Inside, it’s typical Volkswagen quality – everything looks and feels well screwed together and built to last.
Although there’s seating for five, the Caddy Camper only sleeps two, so with this in mind it made the perfect opportunity for a daddy and daughter adventure, so Lily and I headed for the North Somerset coast and Burnham-on-Sea.
Anyone who has driven any of the Golf-based cars will know what to expect from the Caddy. The tall body means there’s some body-roll present, but it’s kept in check and overall the Caddy handles itself neatly through the bends.
It retains much of the Golf’s character and remains an enjoyable car to drive. Mention ‘VW Camper’ to most people and the image will be of something slow and ponderous, however the Caddy Maxi is anything but. With its 2.0-litre, 138bhp TDI engine it’s easily capable of cruising at well above the national speed limit – something many old school VW campers can only dream of.
Still the driving of a camper is only half the equation – though few people buy a van for its driveability, it’s reassuring to know the Caddy offers a decent experience.
A little over an hour on the road we arrived at our campsite, but typical of the British springtime, it was initially raining, so Lily and I chose to forego pitching the tent and instead opted for a trip to the site’s swimming pool.
Back at the camper, we climbed onto the back seat and enjoyed a snack and read some story books – with limited space on offer in the Caddy there isn’t much else to do. The tent area extends the space available, though there’s only just enough room to stand up in.
As the evening wore on, we decided to get comfy, switching the seats to the bed. This was simplicity itself. The front seats are pulled forward and leant forward, while a cord is pulled on the rears to allow them to fold flat.
From here, the bed is simply rolled out into place. With the bed out, a curtain, which is attached to the end of the bed, clips up and around the windows and front of the van, keeping out the light and offering some degree of privacy.
At the rear, it’s even simpler. A tailored curtain is fitted with magnets and simply clips to the metalwork surrounding the rear windscreen. With our accommodation sorted, our thoughts turned to our stomachs and with no facilities to prepare food in the Caddy, Lily and I decided to opt for a takeaway pizza.
Appetites fulfilled, we settled down for the night and despite it being early in the spring, we were warm and comfortable. After a good rest, we headed back into Devon and across to Exmouth for a run along the beach before heading home.
The Caddy had provided a great giggle for our night away, but it’s hard to imagine spending longer than that in it. The limitations of the Caddy, both in terms of space and facilities, make it tough to recommend for more than overnight use.
At £26,512 for this model, it’s certainly not cheap, and this budget will buy you a lot of camper van on the second hand market. It’s difficult to figure out who might buy one, too, as it’s arguably too expensive for younger campers, without children, willing to overlook its shortcomings in order to enjoy themselves.
And those old enough to afford the asking price might well demand more creature comforts for their money. Maybe a taller roof to allow for more storage and maybe an extra bunk would be useful?
So while the Caddy might not have been the camper for us it has underlined our desire to get a van of our own, just a bit bigger and an awful lot cheaper…
Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Camper
Model tested: 2.0 TDI BlueMotion Technology
Built: Poznanń, Poland
Layout: 5-door MPV, 5-seats, front-wheel-drive
Engine: 1968cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, turbodiesel with stop-start
Transmission: 6-speed twin-clutch automatic
Power output: 138bhp at 4,200rpm
Maximum torque: 236lb ft at 1,500 to 2,500rpm
Top speed: 116mph
Acceleration 0-62mph: 10.9secs
CO2 emissions (tax band): 155g/km (G)
Economy (urban/extra urban/combined): 42.8/51.4/47.9mpg
Fuel tank size/range: 60 litres/632 miles
Benefit in kind tax liability: 26%
Insurance group: 15
Size (length/width without mirrors): 4,876/1,794mm
Boot space (minimum/maximum): tba/tba litres
Kerb/max towing weight: 1,776/1,400kg