What is it?
It may not seem like it at first glance, but this is the brand-new T6 Volkswagen California, the camper version of the Transporter van. The styling may be a subtle evolution of the T5 that preceded it, but it hides plenty of new stuff.
There’s a choice of two models: the California Beach, which offers sleeping for four and plenty of space inside, and the range-topping California Ocean. This more expensive model is a far more self-sufficient camping vehicle and is the version we’re looking at here.
Up front, the California has a reworked version of the 2.0-litre TDI diesel motor, with power outputs ranging from 101bhp in the Beach variant to the 201bhp bi-turbo unit of our test vehicle. Inside, there is a plusher, more car-like dashboard and everything you’d need for a weekend away, including the kitchen sink.
The rear has seating for two, a fridge, hob, cupboards, a shower and the aforementioned sink. You can fold the rear bench down to make one double bed and electrically raise the roof to reveal another. Could it be the ultimate all-purpose vehicle?
What’s it like?
A 0-62mph time of 11sec may not sound particularly rapid, but when you’re sat higher than any standard SUV, it feels pretty darn brisk. Thanks to the twin turbos, you don’t need much more than 1200rpm for it to start pulling with vigour.
Should you need more pace, stoking it harder is easy, too. The gearlever sprouts from the dashboard in close proximity to the steering wheel and offers unobstructive shifts. The engine may be a little rumbly at idle, but it’s virtually inaudible at a cruise. That’s partly down to a fair bit of wind noise from the large door mirrors, though.
It may go well in a straight line, but the California isn’t quite so adept at tackling twisty bits. Yes, there’s plenty of grip and you can give car drivers a hell of a surprise, but the California is not overly happy doing this.
Because of the soft suspension, which is aimed at providing a comfy ride, there’s comical amounts of body roll that will cause those in the back to loll from side to side on the flat bench seat. The steering is also a little lighter and more sensitive than we’d ideally like.
Drive more sensibly, though, and it’s easy to appreciate the laid-back nature of the California. It lolloped over crests and compressions on our test drive, with only the occasional sharper-edged obstacle causing a thump through the suspension. This was usually accompanied by a creak from one of the many doors in the rear. However, compared with many other campers, it’s remarkably free from furniture noise.
We were also impressed by the quality of the dashboard. You’d normally get plenty of hard plastics in what is essentially a van, but there’s a lot more squishy surfaces than we were expecting. In fact, our only real complaint is that the infotainment screen feels like a bit of a stretch in its central location. Other than that, it is clear and easy to use.
More relevant is the easily erected roof, all done electrically and controlled by a unit in the front headlining that also controls the auxiliary heating and fridge. Once the roof is up, a hatch above the front seats provides access to it. This involves standing on the chairs and clambering up. Unfortunately, VW doesn’t provide a ladder.
Once up there, you find the mattress sits on wooden slats, making for a comfortable bed. Likewise, the easily folded bed on the ground floor should enable a good night’s sleep, too. You’ll also find plenty of cupboards, cubbies and other storage areas that will make packing for a week away pretty easy. There’s even a decent amount of room behind the rear seats.
Should I buy one?
If you’re tempted by the California, it’s worth knowing that the version we drove came to just over £55,000 as tested. That’s a lot of money in anyone’s book. Still, you could easily spend that on all manner of saloons, SUVs or sports cars, none of which offers you this much versatility.
The California is just about small enough to fit anywhere you’d take a car, has plenty of space for four adults, isn’t too thirsty and offers pretty comfortable accommodation. With that in mind, you could argue it’s good value. Either way, it’s the best VW camper yet.
Volkswagen California Ocean 2.0 TDI 204
Location West Sussex; On sale Now; Price £50,391; Engine 4 cyls, 1968cc, twin-turbo, diesel; Power 201bhp; Torque 332lb ft; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 2571kg; Top speed 121mph; 0-62mph 11sec; Economy 44.1mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 169g/km, 33%
What is it?