Long-term test (Update 3): Volkswagen Caravelle 2,0 BITDI Highline DSG
4MOTION is the term Volkswagen uses for it four-wheel-drive applications and, as this badge appears on the back of the Caravelle (and the diff-lock button on the dash), I wondered if it indeed has true off-road potential like the original Synchro. Keen to get the Caravelle dirty, I booked a family weekend to the Tankwa Karoo.
Meeting up with friends outside Touws River, we headed north and joined the R355 Tankwa dirt-road “highway” towards Tankwa Karoo National Park. The Volkswagen felt surprisingly comfortable and stable on gravel, and I kept the speed between 80 and 100 km/h. The cabin remained dust-free (although the electric side doors squeaked during operation) and the climate control kept us cool in ambient temperatures reaching the mid-30s.
I was slightly worried about punctures, as this specific stretch of road is known as a tyre killer, but my concerns were unfounded and the Bridgestones dealt with the terrain impressively. The Caravelle comes with a full-size spare, just in case. An obligatory stop at the Tankwa Padstal saw the Caravelle draw a lot of attention among the double-cab bakkies and SUVs.
We stayed in tented-camp accommodation and the Volkswagen provided a luxury shuttle service to interesting sites on the farm that also plays host to AfrikaBurn. On the way back, we decided to head to Ceres over Katbakkies Pass and a scenic location for a lunch stop (pictured) was too much to resist. Although the Caravelle had no traction problems, I found it very difficult to crawl up the rocky slope in first gear. The DSG transmission connects and disconnects the drivetrain and does not like slipping. The result was a few hops to get the Caravelle in position.
After 6 months
Mileage now: 8 406 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 10,84 L/100 km
We like: dirt-road capability; space; refinement
We dislike: not good as rock-crawling; pricey
Long-term test (Update 2): Volkswagen Caravelle 2,0 BITDI Highline DSG
We borrowed a Jurgens Safari Xplorer caravan to form part of CAR magazine’s Double Cab bakkie shootout (May issue 2017) and I thought it would be a good idea to also put my long-term Caravelle through a towing test. The 1,4 tonne Xplorer was hitched and we hit the road to our family holiday camping spot on the South Coast.
The combination felt extremely stable at speed and the DSG automatic transmission made it easy to deploy the 132 kW and 400 N.m when needed without losing momentum, as can be the case with manual gear changes. This was especially helpful when ascending a mountain pass such as Sir Lowry’s or executing an overtaking manoeuvre.
The towing speed was easily kept between 100-110 km/h, although I had to lean more on the accelerator than usual because of the 1,4-tonne (tare) mass of the Xplorer. The result was that the fuel consumption took a hit and the Caravelle consumed between 15-16 L/100 km under the conditions mentioned.
A towing advantage of the narrow Xplorer (for off-road purposes) is that it is easy to see past the sides with the standard mirrors of the Volkswagen to spot traffic approaching from the rear.
The Safari Xplorer has recently been facelifted and is the top-of-the-range Jurgens caravan for off-road applications. It is clear that a lot of thought has gone into the design of the caravan as it is sports 15-inch wheels with proper off-road tyres, a strengthened chassis with protective rails (nudge bars) at the bottom and removable jacks to increase ground clearance, to name but a few additions.
On the inside, all the traditional cabinet doors are replaced by zipped material coverings (the traditional doors are the first to rattle off on a rough dirt road). This caravan can easily be towed through Africa if needed without the fear of damage (or even dust ingress because of the double sealing/locking technology).
Setting up is easy as the awnings are already fitted to the outsides and roll out of the protective housings. It can be extended or closed to form a tent if optional side panels are ticked on the purchase sheet. The 80-litre Snomaster fridge/freezer is mounted on rails and slides out the side (although this means that it has to be retracted during the nights). A useful wash basin then fits on the end, a double-bed folds out the nose and the holiday can then commence.
It is clear that this caravan is meant for the bundu as it is also fitted with a 12V deep-cycle battery system, 110-litre fresh water tank, external shower with hot water geyser, twin gas bottles and even two 20-litre Jerry cans on the back. We went to a campsite with electricity and ablution blocks so did not need the added capability, which brings me to the next point: if you do not need the go-anywhere ability, then a “traditional” caravan is superior because it offers more space inside, more cabinets, a fridge/freezer that is easily accessible and in many cases a built-in microwave oven.
Another point of contention is the two double-beds. Although the rear bed is vast and comfortable, one cannot walk around it which means climbing over to reach the cabinets is the order of the day. The headroom of the front double-bed is limited and care needs to be taken not to damage a scalp when getting in or out.
In short, the Safari name should give you a clue – it is built for a specific purpose and place where it will excel, but it has shortcomings when used in a traditional way. The Safari Xplorer retails for R329 000 - visit campworld.co.za for more information.
We used the Caravelle to explore the South Coast and even dared to venture lightly off-road with the security of the 4Motion system in sandy conditions. It is by no means a pukka 4x4 but is certainly more capable than the front-wheel drive version. The family loved the space on offer and it fulfilled the role of luxury tour shuttle to perfection.
After 5 months
Mileage now (km): 7 406 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 11,19 L/100 km
We like: towing ability; security of the 4Motion system
We dislike: fuel consumption penalty when towing
Long-term test (Update 1): Volkswagen Caravelle 2,0 BITDI Highline DSG
Scaling up is easy … cutting back, however, can be hard. This is especially true once you get used to the space provided by the Caravelle. Not even the large SUVs we test regularly get close to offering similar levels of roominess or versatility. Take, for example, the sliding seats and rear bench. After packing for a weekend away and filling the boot, the kids decided they wanted to take their bicycles along. A family feud was avoided by pulling the release strap on the rear bench and freeing up the extra room needed to load the bikes.
The refinement and easy-going nature of the Volkswagen are impressive and it makes for the perfect luxury tour bus. A stop at a vantage point along Chapman’s Peak Drive quickly morphed into an impromptu picnic spot. The foldable table was deployed and we feasted on sandwiches and juice while enjoying the spectacular views through the sliding doors.
I find that the 2,0-litre turbodiesel engine and dual-clutch transmission are well matched and provide seamless propulsion. The only criticism is slight lag when pulling away, which means that care needs to be taken when joining traffic or entering a traffic circle.
The average fuel consumption is hovering round 10,7 L/100 km, which includes town driving and commuting. This figure drops to under 10,0 L/100 km on motorways, but I expect the extra mass and frictional losses of the 4Motion drivetrain to result in a fuel consumption penalty compared with the front-wheel-drive derivatives. The system should come into its own on dirt roads and light off-road situations, and I’ll be reporting on this subject soon.
As the Caravelle is proving to be a popular loan vehicle in the office, I have started adding bookings to my calendar to prevent usage clashes. A certain Ian McLaren’s name is appearing often, but, as can be seen here, he at least provides pretty pictures in return.
After 4 months
Mileage now: 5 368 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 10,72 L/100 km
We like: refinement; family friendliness
We dislike: lag when pulling away; pricey
Long-term test (Introduction): Volkswagen Caravelle 2,0 BITDI Highline DSG 4 Motion
The venerable Kombi is now in its sixth iteration but, in Caravelle Highline specification, is far removed from the basic, original T1. Take, for example, the beautiful two-tone (a heritage paint option costing R33 000) example dropped off at our offices. It caused quite a stir and, since I’m the lucky custodian for a year, I had to endure many sneering comments from jealous colleagues. Those members will have to improve their behaviour considerably before they get the key when the inevitable family weekend looms and seats (and space) are needed.
That same key can actuate the powered opening of the sliding doors and tailgate. This feature is especially useful when approaching the vehicle to allow the whole family to enter effortlessly.
Inside, the luxury continues thanks to leather seats, thick carpeting, climate control front and rear, an optional sunroof and LED mood lighting, to name but a few features. Rear seating consists of a three-person bench aft and two individual chairs currently in the “lounge” arrangement that are sited in the middle. The seating plan is configurable thanks to the chairs that swivel and slide. Likewise, the boot can be enlarged by sliding the bench forward.
My in-laws recently visited and the Caravelle was the perfect vehicle to shuttle them around the picturesque Western Cape on its maiden voyage. We visited Franschhoek, Villiersdorp, Kleinmond and Pringle Bay in a single day. The children could not be happier spending quality time with their grandparents in the lounge while we travelled in comfort up front to the next destination. The sound insulation is excellent and there was no need to raise our voices to talk to whoever was seated at the back. There is a plethora of storage spaces provided and, as a result, some children’s toys got “lost” for a few hours…
The 132 kW/400 N.m 2,0-litre biturbo-diesel engine is coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and provides seamless propulsion while consuming less than 10,0 L/100 km on the motorway. There is enough power on tap to execute a safe overtaking manoeuvre, but the vehicle prefers relaxed cruising.
This top-spec model is fitted with Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system and I am keen to find out over the next year whether the vehicle can indeed be used off-road, or if the system was developed with slippery European winter conditions in mind.
Of course, all this luxury, equipment and style come at a price … R934 900, to be exact. This is out of reach for the majority of families, and there is arguably better value in the mechanically similar Kombi range.
However, my first impressions so far have been immensely favourable and I am looking forward to a year of creating family memories.
After 1 month
Mileage now: 1 082 km
Fuel consumption (litres/100 km): 11,04 L/100 km
We like: space, comfort, convenience features
We dislike: high asking price