Living big in a tiny van: Volkswagen introduces new Caddy California

Published: 03 September 2020

► Unique mini-camper based on latest Caddy
► Sits underneath California and Grand California
► Full-sized bed, folding kitchen unit and modular tent pod

Volkswagen has launched a new compact campervan to its California range. Sitting under the large Crafter and Transporter-based Grand California and California, the new Caddy California succeeds the previous Caddy Beach and aims to be a more usable vehicle for super-quick and informal getaways.

Volkswagen Caddy California - front camping

It’s based on the all-new Caddy van, which was revealed earlier in 2020 and is set to reach UK buyers next year. And while it’s small, it does cram a lot in – including a proper foldout bed, kitchen unit and an optional awning to extend the living space. With all these included, it even meets proper motorhome type approval.

What’s the bed like?

We’ll start with the main draw of a campervan over just a regular people-carrier – the bed arrangement. While many mini-campers have awkward beds made up of hastily-arranged passenger seats, the Caddy California features a proper three-part folding unit that sits neatly in the boot space.

When extended out, it sits above the folded front seats and extends out to 1980x1070mm – that’s longer and almost as wide as a standard small double mattress.

Volkswagen California review: an icon, updated

Better yet, it features plastic cup springs – as found on its larger siblings – and a proper mattress. These are similar to the sleeping arrangements found on the two larger California models, and we can confirm they’re extremely comfortable.

Volkswagen Caddy California - bed makeup

Since the rear seats no longer form part and parcel of the bed-making process, they can be removed for extra storage – turning this from a slightly cramped four-person van into a capacious model for two.

And stargazers rejoice – you can option the Caddy California with an enormous panoramic glass roof. This obviously lights the van well during the day and provides a great view of the heavens by night, though as with all the side windows full window blinds are provided.

What about the kitchen?

Kitchen’s a strong word – kitchenette would be more apt – but with a gas burner, storage cupboard and work surface, it’s enough to meet European motorhome type approval.

Volkswagen Caddy California - kitchen

The optional kitchenette stores in a large drawer underneath the Caddy’s boot floor, sliding out when needed. It includes a single burner hob with storage for a gas bottle, plus cutlery drawer and shelf.

There’s no built-in fridge, so you’ll have to supply your own coolbox. And the kitchen’s location round the back of the vehicle does mean you’re forced to cook al fresco – which could be an issue if you’re stuck in a freezing cold rainstorm. Or August, as we like to call it in the UK.

However, the tailgate does provide some scant protection from the elements – and you can always call on that large awning if you’d prefer to be fully enclosed…

What does the awning provide?

In a word, space. With no real ‘lounge’ in the Caddy as you get in its larger brethren, anybody going proper camping in this van will more than likely spec the awning as a place to sit, cook, and generally relax while parked up.

A bedroom pod can be zipped on, too, turning the Caddy from a two-berth into a four-berth – so you can even leave those rear seats in place.

Volkswagen Caddy California - inside awning

It’s an airbeam design, meaning instead of faffing about with poles you can just pump it up with a compressor. That makes for far speedier pitching.

Does it have a bog?

Nope. Sorry. Bring your own Porta-Potti or stay on serviced campsites.

Is the Caddy a van worth having, though?

We’ve not yet driven the new Caddy, but early signs look super-promising – with a range of clean, efficient diesel engines and technology pilfered right from VW’s passenger car range.

Volkswagen Caddy California - Caddy driving

Like the Transporter, it’s possible to spec a digital dashboard and 10-inch infotainment system, while safety kit can be optioned up to include Trailer Assist or semi-autonomous motorway driving.

70 years of the VW Transporter: a history

74bhp and 121bhp diesels will be available at launch, with four-wheel drive as an option.

I’m sold. When can I buy one?

Ah. Sorry. We’ve not been informed yet whether Volkswagen intends to bring this new van to the UK. It’s apparently ‘under consideration’, so start begging your local Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles dealer now.

By Tom Wiltshire

Bauer Automotive staff writer; Cotswoldian, Peugeot enthusiast, SsangYong Turismo apologist