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Volkswagen Caravelle GLS people-mover


VOLKSWAGEN has been building people-movers for almost half a century and it shows, with the Transporter-based Caravelle offering impressive comfort, space, quality and safety for eight adults. Dynamically and stylistically, however, more modern rivals have the boxy Caravelle's measure. But it still makes a sound buy in its class.

The Car

The Caravelle's four-speed automatic transmission has a dynamic shift programme "thinking" feature which adapts the gear's shifting patterns according to the driver's driving characteristics

The Caravelle offers seating for eight full-sized adults

Even with the seats occupied, there is still room for two cubic metres of luggage space

VW claims the rear-most passengers have the same amount of crash-protection as those at the front, due to safety crush zones

Caravelle's new "Plus" front axle is shared with the Mk3 Golf VR6

An electronic differential lock is designed to give maximum traction in difficult conditions

Latest fifth-generation Bosch ABS brakes are used

New engine mounts and sound-proofing materials enhance Caravelle's refinement over its Transporter sister model

Impact-absorbing bumpers bounce back into shape after minor collisions

The interior features new cloth cord upholstery, deep-pile carpet and new side trim panels

The eight full-size adult seats can be removed or folded to give a maximum of 5.4 cubic metres of interior space

Alloy wheels and colour-matched bumpers are visual cues to exterior differences between Caravelle and Transporter

The side panels are torsionally stiffened and reinforced

Impact-absorbing "Y" frames at the front are a safety feature

Top speed for front-wheel drive Caravelle in automatic form is 157km/h

Our Opinion

We Like
Smooth automatic transmission, good visibility

We Don't Like
Decade-old design

VOLKSWAGEN - people-mover pioneers since the 1950s Kombi - launched the facelifted Caravelle in 1997.

The former hippy icon has grown older and wiser with its ageing market by coming over all sophisticated. It now features sleeker headlight treatment to distance itself from the lowly Transporter van it is so clearly based on.

Therein lies the Caravelle's biggest hurdle. Against more glamorous rivals like the Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler Voyager the VW competes in a tough market.

It may be one of the biggest but the Caravelle - now almost a decade-old design - is not the most refined, despite the independent suspension and smooth four-speed automatic transmission.

The safety conscious, semi-bonneted front engine layout results in an upright seating position. It gives the driver a sense of being behind the wheel of a bus.

The flip side is good visibility all-round, especially when parking. Another advantage is the "walk-through" cabin, enabling access from the front to the rear-most seats.

The ungainly T-bar automatic shifter is sharply angled toward the driver's seat, requiring a long reach down to operate, while the controls for the standard air-conditioning are equally fiddly and add to the haphazard ergonomics.

The dashboard most obviously betrays the Caravelle's T4-series Transporter heritage. While offering clear and comprehensive instrumentation and car-like heater/ventilation controls, the basic architecture is clearly designed to be hard-wearing and functional. At least it promises to last a long time.

The rear passengers benefit from the boxy buses' light and airy "room with a view" seating arrangements. A huge glass area (with centre windows that slide open) afford class-leading views for all.

Entry to either row of rear seats is through the left-hand side sliding side door, reminding the occupants of the Caravelle's commercial vehicle-based origins.

Every seat in the rear is large enough to accommodate adults in the same level of comfort as the front occupants while still leaving an abundance of luggage space. This is perhaps the Caravelle's biggest advantage over its more stylish competition.

A second air-conditioning system for rear-bound passengers ensures climate-controlled comfort.

On the road, the Caravelle is more driver friendly than its appearance suggests, thanks to its car-derived mechanicals.

Unsuspecting hippies may swear off acid for life if they try to locate the Caravelle's engine in the boot. Today's Kombi-by-any- other name is front-wheel drive and front-engined, and relatively gutsy to boot. A compact, 85kW, 2.5-litre, five-cylinder engine lives under the Caravelle's bonnet.

With the engine's 200Nm of torque available from just 2200rpm, acceleration is brisk. The steering response is good with the tight turning circle tradespersons have come to appreciate in the commercial variants.

The ride is firm but comfortable thanks to the long wheelbase and independent suspension. It soaks up bumpy road surfaces with ease, although body roll through corners is noticeable.

The front-wheel drive configuration, wide track and wheels at each corner layout all contribute to the Caravelle's reassuring stability.

At cruising speeds, noise, vibration and harshness levels are low, although the engine is a little loud when worked hard.

But strong headwinds at high speed really knock the Caravelle's performance potential and lift fuel consumption alarmingly. The big Volkswagen is obviously not the world's most aerodynamic vehicle.

The basic design harks back to 1990 and has held up surprisingly well in the face of curvy and egg-shaped rivals which may date more quickly.

If its boxy, non-conformist utilitarian looks appeal, then the very German Caravelle is still a capable and comfortable mover of people and their gear, and not at all bad to drive.

Prices correct as of 06/05/1999 in Australian Dollars



* Three years/60,000km
* Service intervals: 10,000km


* 2.461-litre single overhead cam 10-valve five-cylinder petrol
* Power: 85kW at 4500rpm
* Torque: 200Nm at 2200rpm


* Five-speed manual
* Four-speed automatic


* Front: Independent with double wishbones, torsion bars and progressive spring rates, plus anti roll bar
* Rear: Independent with semi-trailing arms and coil springs


* Power-assisted rack and pinion
* Turning circle: 11.7m


* Length: 4789mm
* Width: 1840mm
* Height: 1940mm
* Wheelbase: 2920mm
* Kerb weight: 1700kg


* ABS brakes
* Air-conditioning with climate control and dual system
* Alloy wheels
* Central locking
* Cruise control
* Six-speaker radio/cassette
* Power and heated door mirrors
* Electric front windows
* Driver's side airbag
* Heated rear window
* Power steering
* Rear wiper
* Trip computer

- Automotive NetWorks 06/05/1999

339 Posts
we are a large family and allways wanted a caravelle, but could never really afford one, we owned nissn serenas, honda streams, etc, but deep down wanted a velle, last year i bit the bullet sold our honda and got a transporter, paid a bloody fortune fitting seats windows etc, but its the best thing we have done, we have so much room, only thing is this vw thing is so addictive !, i think i'll keep this a few years as its done such low mileage and ive done so much to it, and then go for a "real" caravelle , if i can find one, as i could'nt the first time around! all the best . gaz

211 Posts
Had our velle for nearly 2 weeks now: first time I've owned a vehicle I'm gonna be proactive as opposed to reactive about maintaining and looking after: genuinely. It's deffo a keeper, can't say what but they got something about them a bit special.T:

4 Posts
Anyone know for any general info on the 95 2.0 lt petrol version, we'v bought one this year but didn't have a handbook and i can't find one anywhere online.ours has what looks like an extra electric heater at the rear which turns on but doesn't heat up so might be a straight forward cold air blower.i'd also like to find a link or something which would tell me what other VW's (cars etc) share the engines and gearboxes for spares location and perhaps a higher geared box as it will be a two seater only and not carrying any great weight,Thanks.
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