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The VW Caddy Life. Picture: Supplied
The VW Caddy Life. Picture: Supplied

As someone born in the UK, I have always looked forward to returning there for holidays, not just to visit family but also to enjoy a few days of relatively stress-free driving among people who at least make an effort to follow the rules of the road.

We may not be much good at cricket or football (or Covid policy, or getting along with other countries) but, my word, we can teach the colonies a thing or two about driving. Police actually police the roads. Unlike SA’s deadly motoring free-for-all, vehicles are roadworthy, overloading isn’t tolerated, excessive speeding is met with huge fines and even jail time, driving uninsured is considered a hanging offence, and there is an underlying courtesy among drivers towards fellow road users.

At least, I think there is. I’m currently in the UK, visiting family for the first time in nearly three years because of Covid, and I have a sense this courtesy is slipping. Standard SA practices, like accelerating when being overtaken, motorway lane-hogging (in the UK, you are required to move into left-hand lanes when not overtaking) and zigzagging in and out of lanes are becoming more commonplace. They are nowhere near as prevalent as in SA but the fact that they are happening is worrying.

The good news: I haven’t had a single run-in with an overloaded minibus taxi.

The other good news: I’ve been driving a vehicle that stopped my stress levels overloading. The Volkswagen Caddy Life, a passenger-car version of the Caddy van, will be introduced into SA soon. Volkswagen SA organised me a UK preview of the vehicle.

It turned into a comprehensive road test. My family are spread about the UK. During the past three weeks, the Caddy Life has experienced city centres, motorways, insanely narrow Cornwall lanes with walls so high and bends so tight that the first you know of oncoming traffic is when you’re about to hit it, and Scottish forest roads where wandering rabbits, pheasant and deer constantly test your alertness. The amount of road kill proves many drivers fail the test.

The Caddy Life came through it all painlessly. With its slightly awkward upright shape, the vehicle won’t win any beauty contests, but it will win plenty for personality and capability.

I drove the short-wheelbase 2.0 TDI 122PS which, as its name suggests, uses a two-litre turbodiesel engine. The transmission is a seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox which you can manage either as an automatic or manually through gear-changing paddles on the back of the steering wheel.

Heaven knows why the option is available. The Caddy Life has a top speed of 186km/h and a 0-100km/h acceleration time of over 11 seconds. I’m not sure its natural market will place flappy paddles at the top of their wish lists. My impression is that this is a vehicle for practical folk and families seeking space and versatility.

Having said that, it’s not staid. The engine has lots of character and the ability to accelerate quickly when under way. It’s also fun to drive. Despite its shape and 1.83m height, it’s sprightly and easy to handle, even around sharp country bends. There’s none of that swaying that typifies some tall vehicles.

As one who has owned bakkies and station wagons for the past 35 years, I’m very conscious of the space required to carry dogs, bikes, camping equipment, suitcases and all the other detritus of active family life. The Caddy doesn’t disappoint. As you’d expect from a van, the rear packing space is huge, particularly if you fold down or remove the three seats behind the driver.

Leave them up, and your passengers have plenty of room to stretch out. For kids, it’s like a small playroom. The sliding rear doors make access a doddle.

Space is also plentiful for the driver and front-seat passenger. 

The Caddy Life comes with a comprehensive safety package, including ABS, brake assist, parking sensors, pedestrian warning monitors, lane assist to warn you if the vehicle is drifting, and cruise control.

Unfortunately, it also has an irritating warning system. After the alert buzzer sounds, you need a second or two to shift attention from the road to the on-screen message. By the time you focus, the message is gone and you are none the wiser.

What else is less than perfect? I think a satnav should come as standard with a vehicle of this status. And while I understand the challenge of sliding doors, I think the rear passengers need their own windows to open. The front ones alone don’t suffice. These are minor quibbles. Overall, I think the Caddy Life is an excellent new market option. Vehicles like this are popular in Europe, but SA motorists, with their predilection for bakkies, haven’t taken to the concept yet. If anything can change their mind, it’s the Caddy Life.

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