Irish motorists will be familiar with the popular, car-derived VW Caddy van but less aware of the passenger versions in the Caddy range. We're testing the immensely practical, seven-seat Caddy 'Maxi Life' MPV.

'Functional' best describes the exterior. If you look hard you may find a curve or two, but in the case of MPVs boxy is often good as it translates into loads of interior space. The front end features a Golf-like nose but then it's all van from there back to the vertical tailgate.

The five-door machine features two sliding side doors that give access to the middle three seats and rear two-seat bench. Parents adore sliding doors, as they mean an end to car park anxiety where little ones (and bigger ones) can inadvertently ding other cars when opening conventional doors in tight spaces. Closing the sliding doors takes a bit of effort, as can opening if parked on a downhill slope - under-nines might need help before you get into the front.

The tailgate is massive and opens to a right angle; thankfully there is a strap to help the vertically-challenged pull it down to close it. The boot is vast, even with all seven seats in place, at over 500 litres! If Caddy Maxi Life is too large a smaller five-seat Caddy Life is also available.

Inside, the dash, instruments and switches will be very familiar to anyone who has driven a VW car. The high roofline means that headroom is superb, even in the last two seats which sit higher than the middle row. All rear seats can be removed to make a big van.

While the seating is versatile, you can't tilt the rear seat backs to different angles. Unlike most MPVs, the middle windows don't wind up or down but rather a section of glass pops in and slides. Air conditioning featured in our test car. Maxi Life also has a very useful party trick that shames most purpose-built MPVs: a massive overhead shelf up front that can store maps and even a few handbags if needed.

Under the bonnet our test car featured the best of both worlds, namely an economical, 1.6-litre, 102hp turbo diesel engine (four TDi engines are available) married to a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox. I am a great believer in reducing stress on the driver whenever possible. A late-for-school run or ferrying kids to training or dance classes puts more than enough stress on the driver, so not having to worry about shifting gears is a godsend. Cruise control also helps, as distracted drivers can easily stray over the speed limit at times.

On the road the Maxi Life is far from van-like, although in fairness modern vans are far more car-like these days. The driving position lets you sit high with a commanding view of your surroundings. Rear parking sensors take the stress out of parking what is a relatively long and wide machine.

VW's Caddy Maxi Life won't win any beauty contests, but it is so practical that you'll love it for that fact alone.

Michael Sheridan