Whether you need family transport or a competent commercial vehicle, CHARLEEN CLARKE says that the new T5 range – comprising Caravelle, Kombi and Transporter – is worth a second look.“Brady moments.” That’s what my son calls family holidays. Lest you don’t understand the reference (because you’re too young maybe?), the term refers to the American television series, “The Brady Bunch”. The show originally aired from 1969 to 1974 in America – and if my memory serves me right, it arrived on our screens in the late seventies.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the Brady moments. They can involve all sorts of things: travelling together as a family to a holiday destination, partaking in cheesy tourist activities (always together, as a family), exploring our wondrous country (hunting in pack formation, of course)... the list goes on and on.
There is, however, one thing that virtually every Brady moment has in common: a family car. And, when I was growing up, that was always a Volkswagen Kombi. Looking back on the old Kombis today, they weren’t the best-looking vehicles on our roads; they had a rather bulbous design. But they were incredibly practical. Quite affordable. Fantastically reliable. The ultimate car for each and every Brady moment.
Of course, along the way, much has changed. Yes, the Kombi is still around – and it’s as reliable and practical as ever (if not quite as affordable). But, as we discovered on a drive from Port Elizabeth to Knysna, the latest models are all grown up. They boast a tweaked exterior (nothing dramatic), extremely frugal new TDI engines (Euro 3 engines with common rail injection), a new dual clutch gearbox (DSG) and improved safety features. For instance, the latest generation has ESP fitted as standard (including trailer stabilisation and hill hold assist). A new hazard flash function for the brake lights (emergency braking warning display) is also standard across the range.
There are loads of models in the new line-up (around 24 in total) but they are divided into three broad categories: Caravelle, Kombi and Transporter.
The Caravelle is a plush and ultra-luxurious people carrier with a comparatively compact exterior length of 4.89 m. Despite this, it offers a space that can be used flexibly to provide a group of up to seven passengers and their luggage with very generous and spacious conditions. For example, the three-seat bench can be moved forwards and backwards on a system of rails fitted as standard.
The two middle seats can also swivel around, as we discovered en route to Knysna. This was the first vehicle that we tested, and we were enormously impressed with the levels of comfort. We also liked the fact that it boasts every single imaginable feature (and then some), outstanding safety features and car-like driving attributes.
We also gave the Caravelle’s powerplant the thumbs-up. In the case of our test vehicle, it was powered by the range-topping 2.0 l bi-turbo, which delivers 132 kW. At engine speeds as low as 1500 r/min, the bi-turbo delivers an impressive maximum torque of 400 Nm, which remains constant at this level up to 2 000 r/min. It is great fun to drive – you put your foot down and it takes off. In fact, it races to 100 km/h in just 11.3 seconds – which ain’t too shabby for what’s really a posh bus. Alas, we were all too soon reaching the 191 km/h top speed, and I had to slow down, fearing Mr Plod’s wrath.
If you’re looking for a vehicle for Brady moments and you plan on travelling long distances, there honestly is nothing better on the market. Of course, only the well-heeled Bradys will be able to afford it; our test vehicle clocked in at a price of R615 710. Its standard price is R555 300, but then the optional extras had to come into the equation: dark tinted glass all round (R4 850), snazzy as well as handy electric doors left and right (R13 050), a rather nice cooler box (R4 580)... and a whole bunch of other bits and pieces.
The Caravelle is only available with the 132 kW bi-turbo engine but it is offered with an option of either six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG transmission. The latter will also be available with a 4MOTION four-wheel drive.
The next vehicle that we drove was the Transporter Crew Bus, fitted with the same engine. Because it was also equipped with a bunch of extras (we reckon the rear park distance control is a must), it was priced at R430 490, versus the standard price of R380 300.
The Transporter is rather nicely described by Volkswagen as “the versatile beast of burden in the range”. Given the enormous range of options, it certainly is versatile: its variants are available with two different wheelbases, and the panel van or crew bus come with up to three different roof heights. What’s more, the dropside and chassis can be ordered with a single or double cab. What they all share in common is that each body variant can be equipped with one of three 2.0 l TDI engines (75 kW, 103 kW and the 132 kW motor we tested in both the Caravelle and Transporter).
It’s a terrific “beast” – we have no doubt that it will find favour amongst transport operators.
We didn’t get to drive the Kombi – the professional bus variant in this range of models – but on paper and in the metal it certainly looks both stylish and capable. It is offered with the 2.0 TDI 75 kW engine that is mated to a five-speed manual transmission, as well as a 2.0 TDI 103 kW engine that is available with either the six-speed manual or seven-speed DSG transmission.
It is suitable for up to eight passengers and a driver, and is ideal for use as a hotel shuttle, in airport courier services or for travelling long distances.
The Kombi and Caravelle models come standard with a three-year/120 000 km manufacturer warranty and five-year/60 000 km AutoMotion Maintenance Plan. Transporter models, on the other hand, come with a standard two-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and an AutoMotion Maintenance Plan is optional.
The optional service and maintenance plans, which cost from R6 093 and R14 425 respectively, sound like a worthwhile investment, we reckon.
Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles anticipates selling about 150 units a month (60% passenger and 40% commercial). We think that they’re being way too pessimistic. These vehicles are very good; they do everything right. Whether a family is looking for the ideal vehicle for Brady moments or a transport operator is seeking a durable commercial vehicle, it would be downright foolish not to consider a T5.Transporter prices start at R227 500, the Kombi is priced from R408 400 and the Caravelle’s entry-level model costs R537 800.
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