The plus points – right up to car-standard build quality – far outweigh the main contention: appearance. That roofline will divide opinion, for sure. But, so much else about this ground-breaking new van conversion is to be lauded. We honestly weren’t expecting that price, either.
Timing right? A year after Volkswagen didn’t really fool anyone by calling its California XXL a ‘concept’, reality has hit. In the interim, it’s gained a new name, Grand California, along with several tweaks – some highly significant.
Gone, for example, is the rear ‘bulge’; also, the extensive glass roof area. The former has been downplayed to twin back doors, which also mean a bike rack can now be fitted, if required. The roof simply sports a large, opening sunroof.
The official launch also saw Volkswagen unveiling a bigger sister model – Grand California 680 – as well as this, the 600 version. Both will go on sale in the UK early next year.
And, although the UK prices are still to be confirmed, the initial mainland tag of €55,000 (just under £50,000 at the time of writing, and that’s for the most powerful 177PS engine with DSG automatic transmission) is going to be enough to send shivers down the spines of anyone else considering converting the Crafter. Ditto Fiat and Peugeot, whose Ducato and Boxer base vehicles are suddenly looking rather aged.
It’s certainly the most modern of base vehicles. Crafter is the Transporter’s bigger sister – that’s just the starting point for Grand Californias.
There's plenty to suggest you're about to enter the next era for van conversions
Swivel the front seats – or enter the living quarters via the slide-out electric step at the sliding door – and, while you’ll probably recognise the floorplan, there’s plenty to suggest you’re about to enter the next era for van conversions.
The sculpted all-white furniture, for instance, is fully in keeping with the more automotive styling that we’ve come to expect from Californias. It’s all assembled by Volkswagen, so we’re right to demand – and get – superior build qualities throughout.
The kitchen facilities, unlike the washroom, are very much campervan. There’s a two-ring gas hob and sink combination unit, as well as a good offering of soft-close drawers and lockers, plus, a smart, slide-out 70-litre compressor fridge that’s located for easy access from inside as well as out.
This is no basic campervan. It boasts a full washroom, with plumbed-in Thetford swivel-bowl toilet, shower and a fold-down basin that, rather than holding water, acts as a straight conduit to the 90-litre waste tank. It’s plastic-lined throughout, also with open shelving, locker with toilet paper dispenser (so the loo roll won’t get wet), towel holders and a rooflight (but, no window).
A nifty touch, however, is the way the lighting in here automatically comes on as soon as you enter.
The Grand 600 is a two-berth as standard. There’s the facility to make a decent sized transverse double at the back, with comfortable mattresses on independent plastic springing. If you don’t fancy sleeping transversely, consider the 680. It’s an out-and-out two-berth, despite being the larger vehicle. For me, it’s the 600 here that will be the more popular, and I’d reckon on the optional roof bed fitting proving one of the most popular add-ons.