Among the first of pragmatic VWs was the World War II Kubelwagen, a go-most-places four-seater for the military and Germany’s answer to the American Jeep.
(Fast forward to the 1960s and the Australian-designed and made VW Country Buggy was a similar lightweight concept for all manner of rough roads.)
Best-known of the VW commercial vehicles is the Kombi, designed originally for goods transport and first seen in 1949.
The rear-engined, rear-drive van became a mini-bus, a camper van and all-worlds explorer before morphing into the 1990 Transporter with engine up front and front-wheel drive.
Much of the romance, and the simplicity, of the original disappeared and today a large VW van – extra seats or not – can cost from around $50,000 through to $100,000.
Slipping in below these are the smaller Caddy vans, some sold for parcel and cargo transport, some as mini-buses. Best of these as people movers is the Caddy Maxi with three rows of seats and prices starting around $47,000; with the base model with 2 litre diesel engine at a recommended retail of $48,140.
This is a versatile people-mover, large enough for six or seven adults while still being manageable on tight city streets and in car parks.
It runs with a tallish and airy cabin, big sliding doors for access to the rear seats and a large rear tailgate.
It’s stylish enough for a van, even allowing for plastic wheel covers over steel rims on some versions.
And it is a fair thing to drive. There’s sometimes a little grumble from the front wheels if asked to step off the line in a hurry, it can’t be pushed too hard into tight corners and those 17-inch wheels may find some Queensland potholes a tad troublesome, yet it steers well and holds the road well.
The diesel produces 90kW, the power and torque delivered through a seven-speed auto; fuel consumption should be under seven litres for 100km. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel to stir things along or drop down a gear for a little engine braking, and centre console controls for the transmission are simple and clever.
Less intuitive, at least for the first week, are controls for air conditioning, audio and phone hook-ups through the touch screen. A few more knobs and buttons for wouldn’t go astray or upset any aesthetics.
Useful touches inside the cab include the large storage tray in the roofline above the front seats and the removable back two seats for more cargo space. And, of course, the Caddy is packed with driving and safety aids, from lane-keeping assist to hill-start assist and driver fatigue detection.
Yet here’s the thing: a Caddy Maxi owner would want to be using those seven seats – or five seats plus more luggage – on a pretty regular basis like grandkids every day, or commercial use to justify the cost, especially when a VW Tiguan Allspace, an all-wheel drive SUV also with three rows of seats, can be had for similar money.
And it’s never as much fun, or as homely, as that Kombi bought outside Australia House in London many moons ago.