This week's test car, the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life, is a bit of a mouthful, so I'd better start by breaking its name down into its constituent parts and explaining each in turn. The Caddy is a Volkswagen van; like so many other vehicles wearing VW, Audi, Seat or Skoda badges, it is broadly based on the Golf. The Maxi is a new, stretched version of the Caddy, which provides more interior space. The interesting bit is the word "Life", which signifies that this is the windowed passenger-carrying variant of the Caddy Maxi.
Model: Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life 2.0 TDI
Engine: 2.0 litre, four-cylinder diesel
Performance: 116mph, 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds, 44.1mpg
Worth considering: Ford Tourneo Connect 8-seat LX, Peugeot Expert Tepee
A Life version of the standard Caddy has been available for some time, but has never been officially imported into the UK, partly, I suspect, because it might divert demand from VW's similarly-sized Touran people carrier. This concern doesn't apply to the Maxi variant, which only threatens sales of the decade-old Sharan. Nevertheless, you'll have to hunt around for information on the Caddy Maxi Life because it's hidden away in the "Commercial Vehicles" section of Volkswagen's UK website.
So, what's the deal? Well, the van-derived body is simply enormous; it provides a decent amount of luggage space, even with the third row of seats in place, which is a combination that is hard to find at any price. Only a few details betray the Caddy Maxi Life's commercial origins: there is no lockable glovebox, while the seat folding mechanisms are simple affairs compared with those on pukka people carriers.
On the other hand, there is none of the untrimmed bare metal that would have been visible in the cabin of a converted van a few years back. The Caddy Maxi Life is also very car-like to drive; its rudimentary leaf-sprung rear suspension, designed for heavy van work, involves little sacrifice in terms of comfort or cornering ability.
Van-based passenger vehicles are more popular in Continental Europe than here, but if the economy continues to worsen, I suspect that increasing numbers of us will be attracted to the excellent value for money they provide.
Dave Chalk, 34
Commercial accountant, Liverpool
Usual Cars: BMW 320 and Peugeot 206
When I first heard about the Caddy Maxi Life, I was intrigued to drive it as I had owned a VW Golf with the same diesel engine. With an enormous interior and lots of storage room, the car is firmly aimed at the sub-MPV market and those families blessed with large numbers of children and their associated luggage. While the engine reminds me of my old Golf (it was responsive), the basic nature of the exterior and interior styling does not. The car had all the necessary options – necessary being the key word. However, rear-parking sensors should be standard; a three-point turn we tried in a country lane nearly hit double figures (and the Earl of Derby's ancient brick wall).
David Barrow, 52
Housing consultant, Blacko
Usual cars: Audi A4 Avant, Peugeot 806, Peugeot 107
Once you get past the daft name, and the fact that it looks like a van, this is a good people carrier. The cabin is cavernous and well fitted out. There's comfortable space for seven, and a good-sized boot. The sliding side doors give good access. It has typical VW build quality – robust and durable – which means it's going to last. A nice touch was the radio and trip computer controls on the steering wheel. The 2-litre diesel performs competently, and it handles well on all types of road – you forget you are driving a van. The lack of opening windows in the rear and the shortage of rear vents betray its van heritage, though. It's definitely better on the inside than the outside, but I don't think it will be on many families' radars, as it feels to be pitched at the taxi market.
Alan Dupré, 37
IT technician, Cheadle
Usual car/bike: VW Passat, Honda Fireblade
I have a work-supplied Passat and often have to move equipment, so I was interested how this commercial "hybrid" vehicle would perform. The engine and gearbox were the same as my Passat and give the vehicle good performance, although I am not sure how the engine would perform with a full load. In terms of practicality, the vehicle excels and frustrates in equal measures – access via the sliding side doors is easy, but the rear door is huge, and finding space to open it when parked could be a real pain. Folding down the second and third rows of seats was a frustrating experience. For an active family looking for single "do it all" vehicle it could be ideal, but unless you really need seven seats, there are cheaper five-seat "window" vans available.