For over 60 years Volkswagen have been the name in camper vans. They’ve come a long way since the earliest models and the California is the latest - and some might say greatest - example of a stylish holiday home for 4 on wheels.
Considering that this is a VW Transporter van at heart it looks pretty good. For a start, the California is available in many more colours than just white - with some models featuring a two-tone paint job for you to look stylish on the road and on the campsite.
One of the main differences from the standard van, externally at least, comes in the form of its extending roof that creates the sleeping space for passengers 3 and 4. Even when this is fully open it manages to make the California look just as stylish as when it’s closed.
Even when this is fully open it manages to make the California look just as stylish as when it’s closed.
What’s it like to drive?
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Volkswagen California is a van at heart. That means that it’s never going to be like a car to drive. And it’s always going to roll around corners and be affected by sudden gusts. The latest models do have something called Crosswind Assist that helps keep this under control.
You’re also never going to break any speed records with the most underpowered of the engine options taking almost 20 seconds to reach 60mph. It’s almost as if the car itself is getting into the Californian vibe and isn’t in any rush to get anywhere.
The ride itself is comfortable enough and the engines are so quiet that the loudest noise you’ll hear will be the rattling of the pots and pans as you drive along.
The latest models do have something called Crosswind Assist that helps keep this under control.
Inside a campervan should be a special place – and the California is no exception. After all, they’ve had a long time to get the interior of the California right with many previous generations of the iconic campervan being part of the evolution.
The first thing you notice is just how high up you are in the driving seat from which you have a commanding view of the road ahead. The seats are very comfortable and supportive, and the instrument panel is neatly laid-out in front of you.
All models have an infotainment screen that runs the VW MIB3 software that comes with voice control, on-board Wi-Fi and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Top of the range Ocean models also have a virtual instrument cluster as well as an additional screen above the rear-view mirror to control the pop-up roof, the auxiliary heating and even the on-board 42 litre fridge.
As an out-and-out camper, the California sleeps 4 comfortably, although getting to the top 2 beds under the pop-up roof does mean climbing through a sun-roof-sized hole above the front seats. Once up there, the beds are very comfortable thanks to individual plastic springs.
In general, the quality of the interior is of a very high standard with aluminium cupboard handles and wood finish on the doors. Fabrics are high class too making it a very pleasant place to stay for a few days.
The California is practical with a capital P. There are so many cubby holes and other storage areas that if you did need to take the kitchen sink there would certainly be plenty of room for it.
The most recent models come with a 2-ring cooker and a socket to connect to a campsite’s mains power source. Thoughtful touches include camping chairs that are stored in the tailgate and a panel that can be removed to become an outdoor table.
For days when it’s raining, staying inside is a realistic option as the front seats swivel round to face the rear ones so you can settle down to a game of cards to pass the time till the sun returns.
Running costs and reliability
You might be saving on hotel bills with the California, but you’re going to find yourself paying at the fuel pumps. Even the most economical of the diesel engines will struggle to deliver more than 30 mpg and you’ll also have to keep the 13 litre AdBlue tank topped up. This won’t be an issue with petrol models but the economy will be even worse. You could also find that insurance costs are high, especially from mainstream insurers. Some specialists will offer better rates.
The good news is that modern VW quality means the California will be a lot more reliable than the old air-cooled campers which are enjoying a real resurgence in popularity now.
What cinch loves
If you’re going for a campervan then it makes sense to go for the biggest name in the field, or the campsite. The California is comfortable, practical and full of great touches. It’s also quite expensive to buy and run but a big percentage of people who have experienced one think it’s worth it.
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If you like the Volkswagen California...
If you’re still not dreaming of a VW California, maybe one of these will do:
Mercedes Benz Marco Polo
Volkswagen Grand California
Sussex Campervans Manhattan
Use our Help Me Choose tool if you still can't decide.
Town and country drivers
Put the Beach Boys on Spotify, pack up the surfing gear and hit the road in the ultimate campervan, from the makers who virtually invented the concept. You’ll be spoilt with comfort, gadgets and a fun ride.
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