Here at CAR we’re big fans of the VW California, having run one on long-term test for 12 months. And now Volkswagen has facelifted the California, grafting on the latest family face, outfitting its interior with the latest multimedia systems, and dropping the Amarok pick-up’s new twin-turbo engine under the bonnet.
Think about it for a moment as well and you’ll realise VW is the only car manufacturer producing its own campervan – there’s no Mercedes Viano competitor. So it’s rather unique, but is the new Volkswagen California any good?
What’s new on this new VW California?
It’s a mid-life nip ‘n’ tuck, which means new front and rear lights (a la the latest Polo and Golf), along with (apparently) more aerodynamic door mirrors, though the latter are still enormous. Inside the Golf donates its latest-gen sat-nav and air-con systems, which work brilliantly and replace the massively outdated items of old. There’s a new steering wheel, too.
Under the bonnet the turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder diesel has been replaced a four-pot 2.0-litre, available in single and twin-turbo guises. We tried the bi-blower version, and together with a seven-speed DSG ‘box that replaces the old auto, emissions drop from 257 to 214g/km, while the combined figure climbs from 29.1 to 34.9mpg. There’s 8bhp more than before too, and although the 295lb ft torque output remains the same, it’s now spread over more revs. A manual ‘box and a four-wheel drive version are available.
It’s not exactly fast, but it is quieter and more refined than before, and if you spec cruise control – it really should be standard – then you can easily cover 500 miles at 80-90mph. It’s not exactly dynamic either, and you’ll wear through the outside of front tyres if you try and throw it around, but the three-tonne weight helps crush the road into submission so the ride is actually pretty good.
But the California was never going to be a dynamic masterpiece…
Of course, and it really comes into its own when it’s standing still. There are two gas hobs, a fridge, and a sink (yes, the Cali even comes with the proverbial kitchen sink) complete with on-board water supply. Plus the front seats swivel and a table pops up so you can eat inside, or there’s a table and two chairs hidden in the sliding side door and rear boot if you want to sit outside.
Come bed time there are in-built blinds for the windows aft of the B-pillar, and DIY fabric fold-out items for everything ahead, so you can sleep in darkness even in the middle of the day. The rear bench folds flat and creates a bed for two downstairs, while the roof also raises up to create space for two more sleepers. And there’s a proper (battery-driven) heater to keep you warm, and a total of three batteries so you won’t need to be jump-started in the morning if it’s been a cold night.
Would you really spend over £40,000 on a camper van?
Ah yes, the price – the California is without doubt an extravagance. And £40k buys you lots of nights in lots of nice hotels for many years to come. But if you’ve got long (camping) family holidays planned then it’s the perfect accompaniment. Or if you like your motorsport then it’s a better choice than a sports car for Le Mans and the like, and with a tow hook it’s ideal for towing a racer to circuit and providing you with warm and comfortable overnight accommodation.
Lots of people just won’t get the VW California, hence the reason Volkswagen sells around 300 a year in the UK. But there are others that will get the Cali, and if they can afford it, they’ll love it too. We love it, it’s just a pity we haven’t got the cash to have one.
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