July 12, 2019 By Kevin C. Limjoco Photos by the author

2018 Volkswagen Caddy Maxi 1.6 TDi Comfortline

C! Fastfleet Update

Looking for another high-capacity multi-purpose people-moving vehicle alternative?  Volkswagen Philippines introduced the commercial vehicle turned family van fairly conservatively last year with a sprinkle of 3rd generation models sold before this updated 4th generation model was again quietly displayed in dealerships very recently. Most sales were made well before their arrival on the docks. The Caddy model range is described by Volkswagen as a leisure activity vehicle (M-segment) which started its model life way back in 1979.

The Caddy Typ-2K PQ35 platform of which the current Caddy is based on, is said to have elements from the old 1st generation Volkswagen Touran combined with a Golf Mk5 front suspension. Unlike the all-new Touran which now enjoys fully independent rear suspension on a MQB-chassis, the Caddy still uses a solid leaf-sprung solid axle rear setup supported by appropriate dampers and an anti-roll bar. Despite that and the use of modest-sized 16 x 6 alloys wrapped with 205/55R16 94H Bridgestone Turanza ER300 tires, the taut ride is very flat and surprisingly compliant. The brakes are powerful and even share the same size 12.3-inch front vented discs of the Golf GTi.

Only one model from the modular family range is offered domestically powered by a dutiful transverse 1.6-liter intercooled commonrail direct injection variable geometry Garrett turbodiesel. The powerband is universally practical though off-the-line pace is labored. Once you are on the way however, all is well until you decide to try to recline either the second and rear rows a bit for additional comfort, they have fixed positions. Thankfully Volkswagen Philippines imported the long-wheelbase Maxi version which uses a wheelbase that is even longer than the chassis used in the Nissan Urvan NV350 Premium.  So, with the tall standard ceiling, exemplary build quality, supportive yet firm seats that are still comfortable with good leg clearance do compensate for the lack of the reclining feature. The stadium type seating design is particularly good in the area which is usually the most compromised, the third row. The third row can seat two adults comfortably and they won’t feel claustrophobic either as they look over the second row, get more than ample airconditioned air from both the second-row vents and front dashboard and they have abundant storage.

Speaking of storage, one of the most important features of the Caddy is the ability to not only carry 7 adults in genuine comfort but be able to carry all their luggage in the full rear trunk simultaneously for those long-distance weekend trips exploring our beautiful country. When the need arises that you do need more capacity to load big items like a new 80-inch LCD TV along with a month’s complement of groceries and more, both rows can either be folded or removed independently. There is even additional storage underneath the two front seats and an overhead shelf. The front seat backs also have foldable table tops like the Toyota Innova. Like the Urvan, HiAce, and Starex, the second-row windows are manually sliding half-windows on sliding doors.

 

The odd-ball Caddy is certainly an acquired taste. A top-range Innova will actually have not only a more powerful engine but even more standard features like navigation, push-button ignition, smart-key, stability and traction control, ambient lighting, soft-close rear hatch, and LED headlights but for those buyers who are willing to compromise these for more capacity, strong on-road dynamics, and more fuel range at a manageable retail price then the Caddy is the solution. We are one of these buyers, and in fact bought the unit you see on this page, and we love it.

We tried to live with our stock infotainment system but once you get used to current standards offered by even the most modest car manufacturers it is very difficult to accept the compromise. Our C! Fastfleet Toyota Innova V, for example, has an OEM AVT 7-inch screen audio unit which looks fairly good and has built-in navigation but we had to install a rear camera with an additional charge to work with it. The Toyota head unit is also managed by touchscreen and the steering wheel controls. The sound quality though was too hollow and weak for our tastes so we installed in place of the original speaker locations and trim with Kicker CSS654 component speakers for the front, CS654 coaxial units for the rear, and a compact under the front passenger seat Hideaway™ 150-watt subwoofer. The AVT head unit does produce 50-watts per channel so we didn’t have to add an additional external amplifier to drive the new Kickers. The audio quality results are profound; the original 6-speaker system grew to 9 vastly higher quality speakers. The only visual tell is the new remote sub-woofer volume control discreetly installed in the central dashboard cavity.

The OEM audio unit found in our C! Fastfleet Volkswagen Caddy Maxi is a 5″ TFT touch-screen Composition Color DAB+ radio system, with a single USB port, Bluetooth®, an SD card slot, AUX-IN interface, MP3 and WMA compatible CD drive, and 4 x 20-watt output through six speakers. The good news is the standard VW speakers are optimally located and actually sound acoustically better than the Toyota Innova setup with less power and less complication. However, an OEM camera cannot be installed even if the head unit can technically use one because of the wiring harness employed in our domestic Philippine edition which cannot accommodate it. Despite having a set of 4-eye body-colored rear sonar sensors installed we still wanted a rear camera as the Caddy Maxi is much longer than most people realize, the wheelbase is even longer than a Nissan Urvan Premium.

So how do we get navigation and a rear camera installed cleanly without compromising factory warranties and butchering interior trim? We went to the crew of Growl Audio (https://www.growlaudio.com) for the solution. Growl is fast becoming the high-quality go-to after-market infotainment solution provider for good reason. They also have solutions to remotely power rear hatches as well which would be hugely beneficial for any SUV, MPV, Mini-Van, and full-size van that doesn’t have the equipment feature as standard. Growl seems to have covered not just the full gauntlet of vehicles sold in the Philippines but they also have variable sizes and features to suit almost every customer’s requirements. Do you want to make your Toyota Fortuner have a similarly massive 12.1-inch vertical central dashboard system like on a Tesla or Volvo XC90?  They have that too for many vehicle applications!

We were offered three different screen sizes for the Caddy; 7-inch, 8-inch, and finally the 9-inch system which we chose that removes all the knobs too, it’s practically all-screen. Installation took about an hour to do. They would have been quicker if they had installed a system on a Caddy before, so we were the test subject. Growl ensures a perfect marriage with any system that they install on their list of fitments so you won’t get a warning light on the dashboard or electrical distortion emitting from the speakers. Each system is tailored for your car so even the Volkswagen logo appears when the system boots from rest before the Android 6.0 graphic and then eventually the main graphic screen. The few control buttons on the lower front lip of the screen is matched to the interior lighting of the dashboard as well.

The new system is very powerful, practically a mini-super computer, and at P29,000.00 installed, it is a great value. The 9-inch system has 2gb of RAM, 32gb ROM, a 4 x 60-watt amplifier output, creates a second USB input in the glove box while using the factory USB input as well, you can use up to 1TB external hard drives, comes with a rear camera with imbedded grid, a full navigational system, Bluetooth® telephony, car information panel, and so much more.

We still don’t have steering wheel controls as once again the VW harness won’t accommodate it which is a pity as the Growl system works with factory steering wheel switchgear, or a handheld remote control like in the Toyota Innova, but now we have a massive and intuitive infotainment system that plays videos, has different options for navigation, it actually displays more car data than the standard system, we have the huge screen to display the output of the rear camera that also comes with a matching LED license plate light in conjunction with the rear sonar, and finally the audio quality is even better than stock without even changing the speakers! I highly recommend Growl to any consumer who doesn’t already have a factory standard full-featured infotainment system.

As much as we appreciate the efficiency, versatility and capacity of the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi, the ride comfort, engine pep, and headlights could still benefit from upgrades.  After close to 8,000 kilometers on the road with the full 1st service done early for good measure, our C! Fastfleet Volkswagen Caddy Maxi has been running very well as expected despite some lingering annoyances. These irritants are primarily road noise, an overtly stiff ride with some really fierce blowback, and some interior component rattles further accentuated as a result. Within the first 1,000 kilometers we replaced the stock 205/55R16 94H Bridgestone Turanza ER300 tires with a more aggressive set of Bridgestone’s Potenza Adrenaline RE003 215/55R16 93W tires in the hopes of quelling these issues and gaining a bit more comfort and improve handling in the process. I wanted a more tenacious tire that also filled the wheel wells more aesthetically without having to change the standard 16-inch x 6J alloys while we wait for ROTA Wheels to manufacturer a new set of bespoke forged alloys in a lighter and stronger design with an inch wider rim and an optimized offset for us.

Admittedly I made a mistake with the first tire upgrade. I did not take into consideration that the more performance-oriented sidewall of the RE003 would be much tauter than expected. I know I should have predicted that behavior jumping from a more comfort-oriented all-season tire to a Potenza but somehow, I figured that the extra sidewall height and slight increase of width would dissipate the energy and compensate accordingly as it did before in other applications. I also calculated that I could also reduce the standard tire pressure recommended by Volkswagen on the standard tires which is a whopping 39 psi at a normal load capacity by at least 2 psi to further improve the daily ride without compromising safety.

The primary culprit aside from my over-eagerness is the commercial suspension setup of the Caddy Maxi which uses a very rigid leaf-sprung rear system engineered more to handle load capacity while maintaining fairly progressive European road speeds. The RE003 tires are excellent but were simply not appropriate when applied to the modest Caddy Maxi. So, the search continued for the best tire for the Caddy that would meet my requirements for better travel comfort, a quieter ride, improve the stance for both handling and appearance with no performance compromises while also increasing, if possible, the load rating.

I found the solution with Yokohama which locally manufacturers one of the very best-balanced everyday performance tires in the domestic market, the Yokohama BluEarth ACE AE-50 series. An older model of the Yokohama BluEarth series called the A34 is currently installed as standard on the Honda Odyssey EX-V with the 215/55R17 94V size and it performs admirably. So, I got a set of the newer higher-specification AE-50 tires with the 215/55R16 97W (which not only has a strong speed rating but more importantly has a significantly higher load rating than the 1st stock tire) size and installed them at one of Yokohama’s newest large-scale dealerships called the Customer’s Cradle beside the Evia Mall along Daang Hari in the South near Cavite. You can’t miss it, its huge, has a very nice lounge for both customers and guests, and has all the capacity to work on many vehicles simultaneously.

The results were exemplary. The Caddy rode considerably smoother, the best yet, the tires definitely look more appropriately substantial without speedometer error, all with much improved general cabin comfort. I still wish the rear suspension had better standard shock absorbers and used an independent multi-link setup too instead of the dated leaf springs but then again given its price, capacity, build quality, uniqueness, and primary purpose as an MPV it will soldier on. The improvements were all good but I was not 100% satisfied.

Most Volkswagen Caddy Maxi models sold in multiple markets do not dress the 1.6-liter TDi engine bay. It’s a factory cost saving measure that I think holds very little merit to the end-user. I installed a new engine cover sourced from the US which is used in their 2.0-liter TDi models which so happens to also share the exact same mounts and dimensions for a perfect OEM fit. The results are a quieter and cleaner engine bay that looks so much better and protects vital components too. The keen-sighted motorheads among you will also notice an additional new box to the right of the engine block with an ABT label. Yes, we installed a factory-supplied ABT kit which raises the engine power from 102 bhp to 120 bhp and more importantly torque from 184 lb-ft to 206 lb-ft without compromising the warranty and engine efficiency. In fact, since the engine is running healthier at the same powerbands, the fuel economy has actually improved together with better overall dynamic performance. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h improved by 1.2 seconds with a slightly higher top speed. We also have a K&N drop-in panel filter to improve throttle response.

The next improvement was lighting, the H7 halogen low-beam and front foglamps are not high-performance LED units that are twice as bright, run cooler, look better, and do not blind oncoming traffic. We also changed the single rear reverse light bulb to a more effective LED unit so we can see better and be more conspicuous for better general safety when parking or maneuvering.

The last improvement recently installed in our C! Fastfleet Caddy Maxi is the absolute best tire solution that finally solved our conundrum; yes, our fourth set within 11,000 kilometers! I just got a flat on the left rear tire on EDSA so the timing was just right. I already found the optimal tire compound and model for the Caddy, the Yokohama AE-50 tires, but I was determined to push a bit further to find the absolute best solution that would give us the very best ride comfort without compromising performance. So I went back to Bong Romero of Yokohama and despite his valid concern that my final tire experiment using 215/60R16 99W (at a cost of P6,450.00 per tire) tires was a full 5% different from the stock 205/55R16 94W, I convinced him that I would take responsibility for the speedometer error as I was sure that this new set would finally resolve our issues. So, I went back to the Customer’s Cradle which mounted, balanced and pumped 36 psi of nitrogen air into the new tires. The results are amazing.

The Volkswagen Caddy Maxi gained a quarter-inch in ride height which would make it naturally roll more with spirited cornering but given that the unit is a daily workhorse, handling and speed concerns beyond 120 km/h on Philippine road conditions are inconsequential. What is more important is how the Caddy would drive and ride at under 120 km/h under load. With the new set of tires mounted, combined with the ABT ECU upgrade, the Caddy is now running at its very best. I am happy with it finally, even the unwanted leaf-spring rear suspension behavior is not obvious any longer. The new power also more than compensates for the additional 1-pound of unsprung weight on all four corners.

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