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In-depth reviews

Volkswagen Grand California review

"The Volkswagen Grand California is the largest camper in the brand’s range, but it’s not as roomy as expected"

Carbuyer Rating

3.8 out of 5

Owners Rating
Be the first to review
Price
£84,385 - £95,005

Pros

  • Useful shower room
  • High-quality feel
  • Good to drive

Cons

  • Expensive to buy
  • Minimal advantage over smaller campers
  • 680 model only sleeps two

Verdict - Is the Volkswagen Grand California a good car?

The Volkswagen Grand California is a very impressive off-the-shelf camper van that has loads of really clever features and is easy to drive. It’s fitted with a ‘wetroom’ shower that will have a lot of appeal for people expecting to stay in places that don’t have facilities - but that wetroom means that it’s not as spacious inside as you might think. If you don’t need the shower facilities then a smaller, less expensive model like the California 6.1 might actually be a better buy.

Volkswagen Grand California models, specs and alternatives

The Volkswagen Grand California is the largest camper that the German car and van maker offers, sitting above the Caddy California and the Transporter-based California 6.1 in the line-up. It borrows a lot from the California in terms of looks, including eye-catching two-tone paintwork, but being based on the larger Crafter panel van, it’s very much for people who take camping seriously and want something that crams in as many comforts as possible.

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There are two versions: the Grand California 600 and the Grand California 680. The numbers refer mainly to the length - the 600 model sleeps four (two adults and two kids), while the 680 is longer and has a larger double-bed for two people, but no high-rise roof that allows room for kids. This means the largest model in the range has the least sleeping capacity (although of course it’s more comfortable and much roomier).

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Unlike the smaller California 6.1, there’s no fold-out roof needed in the Grand model, because it’s already a much larger model. A key part of why you’d choose this camper is the fact that both models come with a wetroom - a small compartment with a shower, sink and toilet that’s completely waterproof, allowing you to have a private shower indoors. It’s certainly appealing if you often camp in places without these facilities.

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While there isn’t a choice of trim levels - or even engines - here, the options list is long and you can order a really personalised camper as a result. Useful features such as an awning, a Wi-Fi hotspot, solar panels and towbars are all available, plus two-tone paint, driver assistance functions and even four-wheel drive.

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The engine is a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 175bhp, while four-wheel drive is only available on the Grand California 680. One key thing to note with this camper is that only the entry-level 600 is rated at 3.5 tonnes, so if you got your licence after 1997 it’s the only one you can drive without any extra training.

The Grand California is a very large vehicle but it’s still fairly easy to drive - all versions have an automatic gearbox and the ride is comfortable, so it’s good for long trips. Big mirrors and tech such as blind-spot monitoring help keep you informed and safe while driving.

The Grand California is pretty much the only camper van of this size that’s offered direct from a big car manufacturer. You can get campers derived from large vans such as the Mercedes Sprinter, but you’ll have to buy the van and pay another company to convert it for you. The manufacturer and dealer support could be a big selling point for the Volkswagen.

Trim levels

Power options

  • Grand California 600
  • Grand California 680
  • 2.0 TDI diesel (175bhp)

Volkswagen Grand California alternatives

Large camper vans

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  • Mercedes Sprinter (third-party conversion)
  • Renault Trafic (third-party conversion)
  • VW Crafter (third-party conversion)

Medium camper vans

MPG, running costs & CO2

"The diesel engine is about as economical as you could expect for a large, heavy vehicle"

Simple physics means that the Volkswagen Grand California is not cheap to run. The 2.0-litre diesel engine is efficient, but having to carry around a small house’s worth of stuff means fuel usage is pretty high. The most economical version is the entry-level 600, but even this can only manage up to about 26mpg, according to official figures. Choose the largest, four-wheel-drive 680 version and this drops to around 24mpg.

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The Grand California will be most economical on the motorway, and if you are really careful it might be possible to get closer to the 30mpg mark, but don’t expect too much from it. Servicing and repair costs shouldn’t be too bad, given the 2.0-litre diesel engine is widely used in many VW cars and vans.

There’s also the not-insignificant purchase price to keep your eye on. At a minimum you will be spending more than £80,000 on a Grand California, which is a lot of money for a camper that isn’t completely bespoke.

Insurance groups aren’t currently available for the Grand California so costs may vary a lot – but with all the complex gear included in the camper, don’t expect low prices.

Model 

Fuel economy

CO2 Emissions

Grand California 600 

23.7-26.2mpg

298g/km

Grand California 680

23.7-25.9mpg

301g/km

Grand California 680 4MOTION (4x4)

22.1-24.1mpg

324g/km

Engines, drive & performance

"There’s only one engine, but it’s a good one and the rest of the driving experience is calm and smooth"

The Volkswagen Grand California is based on the Crafter panel van, so anyone used to driving larger vans will have no issues piloting the camper model. It might be a bit daunting for some people to drive a six-metre long vehicle, though – and you certainly have to be aware of how large it is.

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The three-metre height means it’s not possible to access certain car parks, and it won’t fit into your average parking space, so the Grand California is certainly not as useful day-to-day as the smaller California 6.1, for example. However it’s not as daunting to drive as it seems and optional extras such as blind-spot monitoring, reversing cameras and rear traffic assist are all really helpful for positioning the Grand California on the road.

All models use a DSG automatic gearbox, which is smooth and easy to use – it changes gear quickly without lurching. The 2.0-litre diesel engine in all versions has 175bhp and 410Nm of torque, so it has a good amount of power to carry the vehicle’s heavy load. It’s certainly not fast, but it does the job. The Grand California is comfortable, too, so it’s nice and relaxing on long trips. 

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Make sure you know what you’re legally allowed to drive before choosing the four-wheel-drive model – it goes over the 3.5-tonne weight limit on a normal driving licence, so unless you got your licence before 1997 you’ll need to take an additional test to be able to drive it.

Model 

Power

Torque

Top speed

Grand California 600 

175bhp 

410Nm 

101mph

Grand California 680

175bhp 

410Nm 

102mph

Grand California 680 4MOTION (4x4)

175bhp 

410Nm 

99mph

Interior & comfort

"The Grand California is a house on wheels, and even includes a shower room and sleeping space for a whole family"

It would be easy to argue that the Volkswagen Grand California has one of the most basic, cheap-looking interiors of any car costing over £80,000. The dashboard is taken from the Crafter panel van and while it’s well built and does everything you need, it’s not very luxurious. However, once you swivel the two front seats around to face the seating area behind, it all starts to make sense.

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Standard equipment includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with DAB, USB, Bluetooth and smartphone connectivity, plus climate control, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking. There aren’t really trim levels as such but there’s a long list of optional extras that includes kit such as blind spot monitoring, reversing cameras, lane keep assist, auto high beam and a heated windscreen.

More important are the camping layout and features, which is where the Grand California shines. Behind the driver and front passenger’s swivel seats is a fold-out table with a bench seat for two more passengers, which creates the dining area once you’re parked. 

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Opposite the bench seat there’s a hob with two burners, plus a sink with hot and cold water (the heating and hot water is powered by a mains plug and has a 110-litre supply). There’s also a fridge-freezer and four household electrical sockets. A clever touchscreen interface controls the heating, lighting and water.

A key feature of the Grand California is the wetroom, which is behind the seating area and takes up a fair amount of room. Inside, there’s a sink, toilet and a shower - it’s ideal for people who camp in places with no external facilities because it offers much more privacy and comfort than the external set-ups on many van-based campers. It’s cramped and reduces the available space in the camper, though.

The Grand California 600 has a rear bed measuring 1.93m by 1.36m, while the longer 680 version’s bed is 2m by 1.67m so it’s much more comfortable for taller people. Only the 680 version is available with an optional (around £2,500) over-cab bed in the high roof area - this measures 1.9m by 1.22m on the right side and 1.6m by 1.22m on the left side. The rear bed can be folded up to access more storage and living space, too.

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The over-cab bed is a bit fiddly to set up, and makes moving around the cabin a bit difficult, but you can still access the toilet. There’s a net that prevents falls from the top bed, too. Optional extras for the camper section include a TV satellite dish, built-in Wi-Fi, ambient lighting, solar panels, a stationary air-conditioner and an awning for the exterior.

Key features

 

Grand California 600

  • Four-seat eating area
  • Two-burner hob
  • Wetroom with shower and toilet
  • Folding bed for two
  • Optional over-cab bed

Grand California 680

  • Larger rear bed
  • No over-cab bed available
  • Longer kitchen worktop area
  • Extra storage space

Practicality & boot space

"All versions seat four people but only come with a two-person bed as standard"

The Grand California is very comfortable to drive, thanks to large, high-set and supportive front seats. Big door mirrors and good forward visibility means it’s easier to drive than you might think, and there’s loads of space in the driving area as you would expect.

The bench seat in the back is a little more cramped side-to-side, but has the benefit of virtually endless legroom. It’s a comfy camper to travel in because the ride is mostly smooth and it’s insulated inside the cabin – there’s some wind noise and engine noise but it’s not too bad.

Getting around inside is easy because it’s such a large van – even adults won’t have to stoop like they would in the California 6.1 (which is Transporter rather than Crafter-based, so it’s a lot more compact). The 680 model is even more roomy thanks to the extra length - it’s 6.8m long, while the smaller 600 is 5.98m long.

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There’s storage space under the bed at the rear of the camper for your luggage, plus of course you can use the bed as a space for suitcases while you’re on the move. The bed also folds up if you need a more versatile space. It’s hard to think of a trip where you’d run out of luggage space in this huge camper.

It’s the exterior dimensions that determine practicality in the Grand California; rather than lacking space on the inside, the large size means you simply won’t be able to drive to some places. The high-roof 600 model is nearly 3m tall so won’t be able to get into many car parks, while the length of both models means you may not be able to park easily - you’ll likely have to plan your journey to make sure you can get where you need to go.

Size comparison

Model 

Length

Width

Height

Grand California 600

5,980mm

2,040mm

2,970mm

Grand California 680

6,800mm

2,040mm

2,840mm

California 6.1

4,904mm

1,904mm

1,990mm

Reliability & safety

"The Grand California has plenty of safety kit and should be just as reliable as a Crafter van"

Reliability should be good; the Grand California is based on the Crafter panel van and uses the same underlying parts and engine. Vans like this are designed to last a long time, otherwise businesses wouldn’t use them, so expect it to be dependable for many years to come. VW vans don’t appear in our Driver Power owner satisfaction surveys but Volkswagen finished in 27th place out of 32 brands – not a good result, but it was based on car models rather than vans.

The Crafter received a silver medal from Euro NCAP for 2023 with a strong score for its lane-support systems, and the Grand California comes with plenty of safety technology as standard including crosswind assist, autonomous emergency braking and parking sensors. Adaptive cruise control is standard, too, while blind-spot monitoring, a reversing camera and lane-keep assist are optional extras.

Volkswagen provides a three-year/100,000-mile warranty with the Grand California, which covers the camping gear inside but excludes normal wear and tear.

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Which Is Best?

Cheapest

  • Name
    2.0 TDI 600 5dr Tip Auto [3.5T]
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £84,385

Most Economical

  • Name
    2.0 TDI 600 5dr Tip Auto [3.88T]
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £85,225

Fastest

  • Name
    2.0 TDI 600 5dr Tip Auto [3.88T]
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £85,225
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