The California’s countless merits outweigh its few shortcomings. It’s brilliant to drive, and with a bit of flexibility great to live in, if not as homely as some rivals. It’s expensive, but you’re buying the guarantee of quality that the VW brand brings. Little has gone wrong with it, too: occasionally sticking electric wing mirrors, an occasional engine solenoid warning light on the dash, but that’s it: no trim came away, and everything worked brilliantly.
The roof bed is spacious, comfy and has superb headroom
Passengers in the rear can adjust the living-quarters’ climate themselves on the road
The electro-hydraulic elevating roof is simply superb
The push-on fabric frames are quick to deform and a pain to make work
Go for the option of fixed concertina blinds.
In full lounging and camping mode, the California split opinion. The pale wood and grey upholstery (or Anthracite Crete in marketing speak) are rather automotive and stark. We like the hard-wearing and practical nature of the materials – dark grey is never going to show up many stains – but at the same time the California isn’t a particularly welcoming place to lounge in.
That said, trim options enable you to specify a more homely feel, and those who’re interested in a California are more likely to be touring to see the great outdoors than spending extended spells inside their ’van.
On site, swivelling the cab seats involves a little to-ing and fro-ing, particularly the driver’s seat which you need to slide forward and back while fiddling with the rake to clear the steering wheel and pillar. Once done though, the cab seats, both with twin armrests, are hugely comfy.
With the freestanding table, and the chairs that stow in a compartment on the inside of the tailgate, we’d recommend the optional awning (£360) for an al fresco lounging and dining area.
The kitchen unit on the nearside comprises a sink and cooker with a single piece cover, and there’s a drawer for cutlery and storage underneath, with sliding doors. The Waeco 42-litre compressor fridge is operated from the digital control panel. Workspace is obviously at a premium, so the sliding table doubles as chef’s food preparation space.
The kitchens offered in other, identically sized campers are sometimes better, though. The two rings on the hob are spaced too far apart and eat up too much room. There’s not much kitchen cupboard space, and you can’t open the cutlery drawer if the left-hand kitchen cupboard is slid open. Worst of all is the top-opening fridge: to get at something inside you need to move everything off, even if you’re only after a drop of milk for tea.”
There is no washroom in the California, as in many campers of this type and size. However, you can specify a locker toilet when you order new from Volkswagen.
The standard issue loose-fit cab screens were criticised by all our testers. They comprised two fabric push-on frame inserts for the cab door windows and, for the windscreen, a single piece of fabric that requires tent poles to hold it rigid and in place.
One fluorescent and five LED spotlights do a reasonable job of illuminating the interior of an evening, and bed make-up is quick and easy: the seat bench’s back rest lies flat to form a 200 x 114cm double bed downstairs, while the roof bed is slightly larger at 120 x 200cm.
We weren’t impressed with the way that the seat base has to be pulled forward to make up the bed either: it means you have to move everything on the floor into the cab.
Although storage is clever throughout, such as the hinged locker in the ceiling, and the drawer in the seat-bench base, there’s nowhere to stash a portable toilet.
The wardrobe and rear cupboard are well conceived, too – the twin doors allow you easy access from nearly any angle. Also, the rear loading area is superb: you can remove the bed base, or raise it to a higher slot, or fold it and prop it up with a strut, creating a very versatile space.