PORT ELIZABETH, Eastern Cape – The much-loved Kombi/Microbus/Caravelle has been something of a South African staple ever since Volkswagen’s Uitenhage plant was spared to continue producing vehicles after the Second World War. Volkswagen’s range of vans, minibuses and people carriers is already 70 years old – even older than CAR magazine itself – and each generation has seen the firm placing greater emphasis on refinement and driver enjoyment in these offerings, making them highly sought-after as family vehicles. Of course, with the rand sinking thanks to COVID-19, the prices of most vehicles have soared into the ionosphere, so these “super” buses are becoming the preserve of high earners.
The "T" in VW’s new T6.1 designation stands for "Transportation & Tradition" and, while many slogans are somewhat tenuous, this one is wholly accurate. Only six generations of Kombi span its seven-decade production run, speaking to the longevity of each redesign. Since the sixth generation’s launch in 2015, more than 10 000 units have been sold in South Africa.
Volkswagen has pasted a more familial face on the Caravelle as part of what’s, by and large, a measured cosmetic update. Here a large, two-part grille with a chrome-louvred upper tier is flanked by redesigned headlamps featuring LED daytime running lights, and neat Caravelle badges are attached to their outer edges. Six new colour options, plus seven two-tone variations are available to make your bus really stand out. Digital instrumentation is now standard with adjustable layouts accessed via a steering wheel button. The Discover Pro media system includes satellite navigation for those adventurous journeys and a 10,25-inch display screen. A handy phone pocket is slotted into the dash and inductive charging is an option.
In addition to the cosmetic updates, the Caravelle’s 2,0-litre turbodiesel has given a mild rework to boost outputs from 132 kW and 400 N.m to a heartier 146 kW and 450 N.m. VW’s much-loved seven-speed DSG transmission has been tuned for smoother shifts and now has a sport setting for heavier loads or steep ascents. Also new is the switch from hydraulic to electro-mechanical steering. This improves fuel consumption and helps the stability programme, which includes Crosswind Assist, to keep things in check. Trailer Assist helps with reversing while towing (when optioned with the detachable tow hitch).
Today, 4Motion may be a household word but back in T3 and T4 days, the four-wheel-drive equivalent was Syncro and it’s a pity to some it hasn’t remained. T for Tradition and all that. Still, a four-wheel-drive Caravelle remains the ultimate bus for just about everything: people, luggage, sporting equipment, camping, caravanning, you name it. At least that hasn’t changed. The T6.1 is all that and more with these modern conveniences.
On the launch route, we travelled extensively on gravel roads. Not just dirt, but corrugated, potholed backroads usually reserved for bakkies. This was not without reason, though. Just ask David Kramer about the Tierkloof Pass when it comes to Tradition. Fortunately, we suffered no ill effects of the rough road and no punctures. The only slight upset was a couple of false “rear door open” warnings due to vibration. A highlight was the convenient centre table that swivels and opens when the layout is configured to conference seating.
While the Caravelle’s pricing is steep, it’s nonetheless packed with features, including electrical assistance for the dual sliding doors and rear hatch, and electric front seat adjustment. Rail adjustment for the rear seats means configurations such as the conference arrangement – achieved by rotating the seats – can be set up in seconds. These features make the Caravelle more versatile than many of its rivals.
For any family that enjoys the outdoors and adventure, this might be the ultimate vehicle available on the market right now, assuming you can afford to pay the instalments. If you can, the new Caravelle T6.1 should provide endless enjoyment for many years.
FAST FACTSModel: Volkswagen Caravelle 2,0BiTDI Highline 4Motion
Price: R1 149 400
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cyl, twinturbodiesel
Power: 146 kW @ 3 800-4 500 r/min
Torque: 450 N.m @ 1 400-2 400 r/min
0-100 km/h: N/A
Top Speed: 191 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,2 L/100 km
CO2: 214 g/km
Transmission: seven-speed dual-clutch
Maintenance Plan: five-year/60 000 km
See Full Volkswagen Caravelle price and specs here