VW California 2.5 TDI review

VW has a reputation for building great camper vans. We review the latest VW California to see if it matches its predecessors.

"The California exhibits a very German approach to camping"

What is it?

The VW California is the modern interpretation of the iconic VW Campers which have graced surfing beaches and music festivals for the last 60 years. And just like the crusty surfers who’ve now grown up, settled down and made some cash, the California offers a very up-scale, mature camping experience for the well-off weekend away. We took it to the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. After a quick trip over the English Channel with the typically efficient P&O Ferries, it only took a further seven hours to get to our destination.

What does it look like?The California is based on the very van-esque Caravelle. So for that reason it looks, well, a lot like a van. That said though, the California looks pretty handsome and very much the classy camper, especially with our car’s optional awning fitted to the roof.

What’s it like inside?VW purpose builds the California on its production line, so the entire vehicle has a togetherness that converted campers can’t match. Up front, the California has two comfy upright chairs which each sport armrests. In the back, there’s a sliding bench seat with three seat belts that forms part of the lower bed. When you pull up, the roof raises electrically to reveal the top bunk – this one’s harder to get up to, but it’s more comfortable that then downstairs sleeping quarters.

There are plenty of cupboards of varying sizes, which offer plenty of space for oddments. Facilities include a decent integrated two-burner hob, small sink and very efficient cool box which holds a case of beers. The most striking thing is the integration of the California’s kit – there’s a pair of deck chairs which zip out of the VW’s tailgate, and a picnic table which emerges from the sliding side door. Pop-up blinds for all windows, ramps to get your camper level and a sliding table are a neat extras too.

Bad bits? The optional satnav costs £2 grand, but it’s a very old fashioned CD-based system that’s slow and unintuitive to use – mid-range aftermarket systems are much better. The stereo isn’t good enough for a vehicle that’s designed as an entertainment space too. While I’m moaning, the light-coloured beige seat trim is a magnet for grubby stains – probably best to opt for a darker shade in the long run.

What’s it like to drive?The California’s van roots show through when you hit the road. The steering is fairly inert to stop you tipping the Cali over. But the gearbox is slick and the boxy shape makes manoeuvring very easy. The diesel engine is tuneful too, and plenty powerful enough to get the big three-ton VW up to speed on motorways. The 4Motion four-wheel-drive helps when you arrive at your campsite – the system even has diff locks for dealing with slippy wet grass. Importantly, economy is pretty reasonable considering the weight and ditinct lack of aerodynamics, which helps keep the cost down on trips.

VerdictThe VW California is perfect for those who appreciate the great outdoors but hate the thought of spending the night in a tent. It’s really intelligently packaged too, with tons of clever features to make your California experience as comfortable as possible. Admittedly, the California is a bit van-like to drive and it’s a pretty expensive extravagance, but if you can justify it, there’s no better way to camp.

Car Specs - VW California 2.5 TDI 174

Engine:2.5-litre diesel, 174hp
0-62mph:13.3 seconds
Top speed:112mph
Economy/emissions:30.7mpg/243g/km CO2
Price/On sale £40,675/Now

We rate:Amazing packaging Great fun to play in

We slate:Rubbish satnav Top-spec car is really expensive

Rating: Image removed.

by Tom Phillips

Most Popular

Best new car deals 2021
15 Jan 2021

Best new car deals 2021

Best 4x4s and SUVs
Peugeot 3008 SUV rear 3/4 tracking
Family SUVs
14 Jan 2021

Best 4x4s and SUVs

2021 scrappage schemes: the complete guide
Tips and advice
7 Jan 2021

2021 scrappage schemes: the complete guide