Road test: Volkswagen Caravelle Business
They all boast the same neat LED headlamps, the angular VW grille and sliding side doors but what lies beneath each iterant is very different.
You'll know from our long-term reports that the California packs two double beds, a kitchen, picnic table and a fridge, while the Transporter offers a cavernous space for lugging loads up and down the motorway.
Somewhere in the middle of these two versatile vans is the Caravelle, an accomplished people mover that can also double-up as a mobile office should you specify the Business Edition... as we did here.
What is it?
A standard six-seater VW Caravelle that has been lavished with an executive interior, which wouldn't look out of place in an episode of The Apprentice. Four leather-clad seats in the rear swivel to face a central table so business meetings can be conducted on the move, while an on-board Wi-Fi hotspot ensures laptops and phones are web-connected at all times. There are even fancy interior touches, such as walnut wood trim and nappa leather detailing, as well as an integrated refrigerator to keep the champagne cool should that business deal prove successful.
What's under the bonnet?
The tried and tested 2.0-litre BiTDI engine features here, as it does with most of the VW commercial vehicle line-up. Just shy of 180bhp is driven through a silky smooth DSG gearbox that ensures power delivery is smooth and effortless. There's enough punch for overtaking manoeuvres and the Caravelle will happily keep up with the faster traffic in the 'executive' lane of the M25. Clever direct injection and turbocharging means maximum torque is available at lower revs yet fuel consumption defies its bulky exterior. Opt for the Bluemotion badging and you get 'freewheeling' technology, which disengages the clutch to make fuel go even further.
What's the spec like?
It's about as luxurious as a Volkswagen gets in the rear, with four deep leather chairs filling the wood-laden cabin, an adjustable table taking up most of the free space and various controls for seat adjustment, ambient lighting and climate control finishing off the attractive surroundings. Life behind the wheel isn't quite as sweet but driver and front seat passenger do get plush chairs with double arm rests. Driver controls, including the sat-nav system, are standard VW fare, with a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen dealing with anything infotainment related. A reverse camera with all-round sensors also makes parking the big bus a doddle.
Mercedes-Benz offers a Viano Ambiente edition that goes some way to rival the Caravelle Business and although its swanky leather interior makes it look the premium part, it can't quite rival the 'mobile office' ambience of the VW. There's also the Chrysler Grand Voyager, which actually does feature in The Apprentice but it's nowhere near as luxurious nor does it drive as well as the German offerings.
What's it like to drive?
Surprisingly easy and, without wanting to sound like a broken record, the entire Volkswagen commercial vehicle range does a brilliant job of making much larger vehicles feel like hatchbacks when you clamber behind the wheel. The illusion is aided by familiar controls, well judged steering and firm yet compliant suspension that limits body roll and allows drivers to take corners as if they were driving a much smaller machine. The addition of a smooth DSG gearbox is the icing on the cake, allowing for effortless cruising.
The AOL Cars verdict
It would be very difficult to recommend the £56,735 Business edition to any normal family – unless you're particularly keen on holding regular board meetings in the rear – but as a professional transporter, it's fantastic. Should you randomly find yourself in possession of one as a private owner, you can rest assured that passengers will experience a journey they won't forget.
Engine: 2.0-litre BiTDI
Max speed: 119mph
0-60mph: 11.3 seconds
Emissions: 214g/km CO2