Volkswagen experimented with various derivatives of the first-generation VW Golf—the model intended to replace the iconic Beetle. These projects took place in the late ‘70s and produced the first Volkswagen Caddy, which was introduced internationally as the VW Rabbit Pickup.
That was only the beginning, though. The Volkswagen Caddy Van that we see today is a leisure activity vehicle (LAV), which has changed immensely over its three-generation production run from 1978 to the present. It has evolved into both commercial-purpose and people-oriented small vans that inherited the easy handling and comfortable riding characteristics of the passenger car where they were derived.
Three different platforms underpinned each of those generations; thus, the VW Caddy varied significantly from each period.
1st Generation: Typ 14 (1978–1996)
The first VW Caddy (Typ 14) is a coupé utility designed in 1978, which marked the beginning of a 17-year production run. Coupé utilities have a passenger compartment and an integrated cargo tray at the back. They are also referred to as car-based pickups to differentiate them from traditional pickups.
The design of this coupé utility was based on the VW Golf Mk1, which gave birth to various derivatives, including the Jetta sedan and the Rabbit pickup.
The Volkswagen Rabbit was released in North America in 1978 and was in the same market segment as the Ford Courier and the Subaru BRAT. In 1982, it was introduced in Europe and rebranded as the Volkswagen Caddy.
The production of the Caddy during this period took place in Volkswagen’s assembly plants in the USA, Argentina, the then Yugoslavia, and South Africa.
2nd Generation: Typ 9K (1995-2004)
In 1995, the Volkswagen Caddy van (Typ 9K) replaced the VW Caddy pickup. The Caddy Typ 9K is a light panel van that shares the mechanical and interior components of the VW Polo MK3 and SEAT Ibiza Mk2.
The VW Caddy has a front section derived from the Polo Mk3 and is attached to a boxy cargo shell. A partition separates the driving space and cargo compartment, and the cargo space has a raised roofline.
Unlike panel trucks which are built on a truck chassis, the Caddy van and most European panel vans during this period were built on the chassis of a passenger car. In Australia, panel vans evolved from utes, which are also based on a passenger car chassis but with a longer wheelbase.
The VW Caddy van was designed and manufactured by SEAT, a Spanish subsidiary of Volkswagen, and its production ran from 1995 to 2004. It must not be confused with a Škoda Felicia-based coupé utility, which comes with a reengineered axle to accommodate a bigger cargo space. This light commercial vehicle was marketed as the Felicia Pickup and also rebadged as the VW Caddy pickup in some countries. It was produced in the Czech Republic by Škoda Auto, a Volkswagen Group subsidiary, from 1996 to 2001.
3rd Generation: Typ 2K (2003–present)
The third generation of the VW Caddy (Typ 2K) debuted in 2003 and finally arrived in Australia in 2005 as a commercial panel van. These small vans took Australia in a wave, and thus, Volkswagen produced more variants in both the commercial van and people mover configurations in the succeeding years.
The VW Caddy Typ 2K carries the DNA of the Volkswagen Touran and the front suspension of the Golf Mk5. Its features are more streamlined than its predecessor. It has eventually outgrown its elevated cargo roofline back in the earlier generation. Now, the exterior shows a seamlessly joined front and rear spaces.
One of the reasons that the VW Caddy became such a hit was its availability in diesel engine and later in an automatic transmission, which at the time were absent in its competitors. Initially, the VW Caddy came out in Australia as a three-door, two-seat commercial vehicle with the following engine choices:
- 1.6L 8V petrol engine, paired with a 5-speed manual transmission (75 kW, 148 N⋅m)
- 1.9L TDI diesel engine, paired with a 5-speed manual transmission (77 kW, 250 N⋅m)
The 1.6L petrol model came with these base features: airbag for the driver, air conditioning, radio/CD player, anti-lock braking system, central locking, engine immobiliser, power steering, and traction control system. The diesel 1.9L model, on the other hand, was offered with power mirrors and windows in addition to the base trims and equipment.
The VW Caddy People Mover, called Caddy Life, was introduced the following year. This three-door, two-row, five-seat passenger-oriented vehicle was what made the Caddy the perfect leisure activity vehicle, first popularised in Europe and later spread around the world. Being a LAV, it is more spacious and has a taller body, a more vertical liftgate, and a longer wheelbase than typical passenger cars.
During this period, the Caddy sold so well in Australia and made up over 40% of the small vans market segment in 2007. The same engine choices were available in 2006 and 2007 for both the commercial and people mover variants. This time, however, a 6-speed automatic gearbox was added to the transmission options of the 1.9L diesel engine.
As for the trims, the same packages were available for the commercial variants during this period. Since the Caddy Life is passenger-oriented, it came with more trims. Both seats in the first row were equipped with front airbags. It came with the same base equipment as the commercial model, but with the following added features: electronic brake force distribution, fog lights, power mirrors and front windows, 6-speaker radio/CD player, seatbelt pre-tensioners for front seats, and a trip computer.
The VW Caddy lineup has grown pretty diverse, with the two main models branching out to regular and maxi sizes. The engine choices were the same, except for the maxi Caddy Life which was only available in the 1.9L diesel engine.
The new lineup now included the following variants:
- Commercial VW Caddy, regular – available in 1.6L petrol engine (mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox) and 1.9L diesel engine (mated to either a 6-speed auto or 5-speed manual gearbox); same trim package as the original commercial Caddy
- Commercial VW Caddy, maxi – available in 1.6L petrol engine (mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox) and 1.9L diesel engine (mated to either a 6-speed auto or 5-speed manual gearbox); base trim plus dual front airbags, alarm system, cruise control, electronic differential lock, power mirrors, and power windows; taller and longer than the regular VW Caddy commercial
- VW Caddy Life, regular – available in 1.6L petrol engine (mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox) and 1.9L diesel engine (mated to either a 6-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox); the same trim pack as the previous Caddy Life edition
- VW Caddy Life, maxi – available in 1.9 petrol engine only (mated to either a 6-speed auto or a 5-speed manual gearbox); basically the same pack as the regular Caddy Life but comes with the radio/CD player upgraded to 8 speakers, side airbags added to the front seats, brake assist, and 16-inch alloy wheels; taller and longer than the regular VW Caddy Life; features three rows and seven seats
This segment has become more competitive during this year. The seven-seat Caddy continued to be an excellent option as a people-mover with its higher roof, roomier legroom even with all seven seats occupied, and with a wider range of powertrain with the addition of the following options:
- 1.6L TDI turbocharged diesel engine mated to either a 7-speed auto or 5-speed manual transmission (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- 2.0L TDI turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed auto transmission (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
- 1.2L TSI turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission (77 kW, 175 N⋅m)
- 1.2L TSI turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission (63 kW, 160 N⋅m)
Volkswagen offered an array of choices, i.e., both the Caddy commercial and Life variants were available in regular, maxi, turbo regular, and turbo maxi sizes.
A Caddy with a 4Motion (all-wheel) drivetrain was the latest addition to the Maxi range. The longest-running non-turbocharged powertrains were discontinued. With these changes, the whole Caddy lineup by 2011 consisted of the following:
VW Caddy, commercial:
- TSI160 – 1.2L turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox (63 kW, 160 N⋅m)
- TDI250 – 1.16L turbocharged diesel engine mated to either a 7-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- Maxi TSI175 – 1.2L turbocharged petrol engine mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox (77 kW, 175 N⋅m)
- Maxi TDI250 – 1.16L turbocharged diesel engine mated to either a 7-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- Maxi TDI320 – 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
- Maxi TDI320 4Motion – 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
VW Caddy Life:
- Life Startline TDI250, base trim – 1.16L turbocharged diesel engine mated to either a 7-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- Life TDI250 – 1.6L turbocharged diesel engine mated to either a 7-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m); base trim plus 15-inch alloys, fog lights, and a trip computer
- Maxi Life TDI250 – 1.16L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- Maxi Life TDI320 – 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
- Maxi Life Comfortline TDI250 – 1.6L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- Maxi Life Comfortline TDI320 – 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
- Maxi Life Comfortline 4Motion – 2.0L turbocharged diesel engine mated to a 6-speed automatic gearbox (103 kW, 320 N⋅m)
The following are standard fit for the Caddy Life: dual front airbags, anti-lock braking system, air conditioning, central locking remote control, cloth trim, electronic brake force distribution, electronic stability program, hill holder, engine immobiliser, power mirrors, power steering, power windows/front, pre-tensioner seatbelts/front, traction control system, and a 4-speaker radio/CD.
The Caddy Maxi range comes with a full suite of features that enhance performance and comfort. The new TDI and TSI engines offer more power combined with increased fuel efficiency. For some of these engines, optional dual-clutch direct-shift gearboxes (DSG) are also available.
The Maxi Life variants are fitted with the base trim plus 16-inch alloys, dual-temp zone auto climate control, fog lights, head and side airbags, rear parking distance control, and a trip computer. The top-spec Max Life Comfortline variants are further levelled up with dusk-sensing headlights, leather steering wheel, and rain-sensing wipers.
From 2012 onwards, more Caddy variants in various trim levels were introduced, most notably the Maxi Crewvan in the commercial series and the Caddy Beach camper in the people-mover lineup.
The second row of seats distinguishes the Maxi Crewvan from the rest of the variants in the commercial range. It comes in two engine choices, viz.:
- (later discontinued) 1.6L turbocharged diesel engine paired with either a 7-speed auto or a 5-speed manual transmission (75 kW, 250 N⋅m)
- (new engine) 1.4L turbocharged petrol engine paired with either a 7-speed DSG or a 6-speed manual transmission ( 92kW, 220 N⋅m)
The latest entry to the already extensive Caddy lineup is a camper van dubbed as the Caddy Beach. It is powered by the same 1.4L TSI engine mated to a 7-speed DSG, but there’s no option for manual transmission and also none for 4Motion.
The Caddy Beach sports 17-inch alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, and camper-perfect equipment, including a fold-out bed, walk-through tent, and fold-away table and chair, among other things.