ACHIEVING a work-life balance is all the rage nowadays.
Working to live, not living to work, is becoming more commonplace and the same goes for cars.
Those in the ute market have been well catered for in recent times with an influx of dual-cab and two-seaters which not only look good, but are comfortable. They're the workhorses on weekdays and playhorses on weekends.
But what if you have to cart around your tribe and need an enclosed cargo area? That's why Volkswagen resurrected its Caddy Life range.
Back on the scene after a two-year absence, the short-wheelbase van is armed with a new look front end, an efficient turbo-diesel engine and boasts the ability to carry people as well as parcels.
With a manual transmission the Caddy Life starts from under 30 grand, while the self shifter costs an extra three – but it is still cheaper than most of the competition that have an ability to accommodate seven.
Given its trade underpinnings, the Caddy Life has some surprising touches to make it more appealing to the family.
There's a range of updated interior trimmings and our test machine looked groovy with an impressive grey, aqua and black striped colour scheme on the seats.
The chrome-rimmed black speedo/tacho cluster and three-spoke steering wheel with telescopic function add some charm to an otherwise basic cabin.
Hard plastics and the simplistic console design are constant reminders that this is a fundamental work machine first, family hauler second.
Up front the Caddy Life is surprisingly quiet with little road noise. You can hear it more in the back, and if the optional third row ($690) was used the passengers would cop the full brunt with little sound deadening materials in place.
There is impressive space, brilliant head room, and the second row has a good allocation for knees and legs. It's not quite as good for the third row, but our test machine didn't have the two-seat bench installed to really put it to the test.
Storage areas are plentiful and varied, including a massive shelf above the front passenger and driver, while there are also two cup holders in the console and bottle holders in the doors.
The seats are flat and could do with more lateral support, but they are not uncomfortable, and combined with the automatic air-con system make for a welcoming environment.
On the road
Remarkably car-like, the Caddy doesn't handle anything like a van.
The new 1.6-litre turbo-diesel is a sprightly performer and gets the little van powering nicely. It only has 75kW of power, but the hefty 250Nm of torque really gets the Caddy moving swiftly.
Even the steering feels reasonably well-weighted and you don't feel like a roll is imminent if you hit a corner too quickly. The Caddy is easily manoeuvred in car parks, although it would be worthwhile paying the $590 for rear parking sensors as it's sometimes difficult to ascertain how far the back end sticks out.
Our test machine had the seven-speed dual-clutch auto gearbox, which by all accounts is the best option. It possessed well timed shifts and the Sport mode is handy if you want immediate acceleration or to hold the gears higher into the rev range.
What do you get?
Given it's predominately a trade vehicle, you are not blessed with bells and whistles. But there is also not a swag of options either.
Standard fare includes air-conditioning, power windows, daytime running lights, cruise control, CD stereo with MP3 connectivity and a basic trip computer.
Stability control is now standard across the range, and safety also includes anti-lock brakes, hill-hold assist and dual airbags. Those in the back have to go without airbag protection, with the only option front sides for $890.
In its workhorse territory, competition comes from the Ford Transit 2.2 ($35,990), Hyundai iLoad ($34,490) and Mercedes-Benz Vito 111 crew-cab ($44,490).
Functionality comes by the boot-full – probably about five conventional boots actually.
Two bins on the dash and two under-seat drawers are among the 20-odd compartments or nets available.
There are two child seat anchorage points, strangely in the middle and behind the front passenger.
You can also completely remove the second row of seats easily to create 3200 litres of cargo space.
Model: Volkswagen Caddy Life 250TDI.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive short-wheelbase van with optional seating for seven.
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 75kW @ 4400rpm and peak torque 250Nm @ 1500-2500rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual or seven-speed DSG automatic (as tested).
Consumption: 5.8 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $28,990 (manual), $28,990 (auto).
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