There’s nothing quite like a wet weekend in Warwickshire to test a version of Volkswagen’s sunnily named camper series. The best campervans will offer a great base for making some amazing memories, so I was looking forward to putting the Volkswagen Caddy California to the test and seeing what I made of it.

Volkswagen (VW) says the Caddy completes its famous California range, and means it now has a touring model for “every budget, every journey and every adventure”.

How ironic, then, that my first drive was along rainy lanes near Stratford-upon-Avon in June 2021.

The new model, based on the fifth-generation Caddy, is offered in four variants, starting at £29,965. There are two 1.5-litre, 114PS petrol versions: one with a six-speed manual gearbox and one with VW’s seven-speed DSG automatic transmission. Then there are two 2.0-litre diesels: one at 102PS with a six-speed manual gearbox, and a DSG version at 122PS. I went for the diesel manual, with a starting price of £31,565 OTR. 

It proved a steady ride, if perhaps slightly more sluggish in low gears than expected. There was very little sway on even the sharpest corners.

Inside, VW has opted for a bed that you make up independently of the row of back seats. You simply flatten the backrests of the latter and unfold the bed that, in travelling mode, sits out of the way behind it. This is an easy one-person job. You end up with a sleeping space that, while it may only be 1.07m wide, is 1.98m long – longer than the beds in many coachbuilts. And it rests on cup springs.

The bed is longer than that found in many coachbuilts
The bed is longer than that found in many coachbuilts

At the back, VW has included a one-burner gas hob that you pull out until it locks, and then push back by pressing a button. I found the tailgate of the Caddy rose easily high enough to have given this 1.98m-tall tester shelter while cooking, had the opportunity arisen. But it’s what else comes in this boot area that really impresses. There is a handy cutlery and kitchenware drawer under the hob, and below the bed in its own storage bag, a foldaway table and chair set familiar to all who know the California.

One-burner gas hob locks in place, with a push-button release
One-burner gas hob locks in place, with a push-button release

Best of all, while there are magnetic blinds on the front windows, the rear ones are covered by detachable zip-up compartments capable of holding up to 5kg and usable as day bags.

There is no toilet or sink, and the cab seats don’t swivel, so you can’t sit around any table inside. There are aeroplane-style fold-down tables behind those cab seats, however.

To make life more comfortable, VW is offering a California Plus pack (£960) – a central armrest up front with space for two drinks, an inverter and a mains socket, tinted rear glass, two USB points and power-latching on all doors. As a further option, you can have a 1.4 sq m panoramic sunroof.

The rear bench can be removed to give you more storage space.

VW is also shortly to bring out the Caddy California Maxi, with the same layout on a longer wheelbase, with prices starting from £31,295. What really could make a difference is the freestanding modular tent that you can fix to the back of the Caddy, which comes with an optional sleeping annexe. 

Even without this, the Caddy California makes a very impressive entrant to this niche section of the market. 

Or you could look at these:

  • Jobl Kampa LE: we think this cleverly designed van conversion would be ideal for weekend getaways.
  • Ford Nugget: we found this camper to be both stylish and great to drive

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