Ocean view

Volkswagen’s iconic campervan has been given a refresh – Nick Harding dives in…

While there are large numbers of Volkswagen-based campervans from independent converters on the market, the California is the only model made by VW itself.  

On-the-road prices for the latest Ocean derivative start at £74,102, while our test model also sported the optional Acoustic Package with heated windscreen (£516), mattress topper for the lower bed (£354) and Reflex Silver/Fortana Red metallic paintwork (£3,096), taking the price of this example up to £78,068. (Note that two-tone paintwork options are no longer available.) 

The main California proposition remains the same as ever – the floorplan (with sliding door on the UK offside) is the classic side furniture unit with rear seat/bed, and an elevating roof overhead.

Build quality – 96%

The key point to make here is that Volkswagen has its own California manufacturing plant in Hanover,  Germany, the result of which is exceptional build quality. Plenty of key fittings are exclusive to VW, including the electric/hydraulic elevating roof, which now comes with a heavier-duty canvas and the facility to zip open the whole front section in addition to smaller opening panels with flyscreens to its three sides.  

Inside, there’s the rear seat/bed system on rails, a 12V set-up that includes twin leisure batteries and an inverter, the extensive use of quality plastic mouldings and furniture construction like no other – lightweight and strong thanks to the use of aluminium. If you want an example of a more recent improvement, that self-latching function for the sliding door is quieter than ever.  

The ‘Woodstock’ black alloy wheels you see here are a no-cost extra (from a choice of five designs), and the wind-out awning is standard.

Driving – 89%

In the cab, the latest dashboard has fully-illuminated (and dimmable) instrumentation that’s a paragon of clarity and modernity. 

Only when you put your foot to the floor does the standard Euro 6D, 148bhp engine feel anything other than quiet and refined. Even so, the 201bhp engine upgrade is a tempting one as it offers even more torque (332lb ft versus 251lb ft).  

Ride and handling are good by motorhome standards but you could consider a VB air suspension as an after-market fit at £6,500-£7,000.

Safety-wise, you get the likes of Driver Alert and Brake Assist technology as well as the Front Assist with City Emergency Braking system, which warns of possible collisions and can apply the brakes automatically if necessary.

Carbon dioxide emissions are rated at 211g/km and Volkswagen claims fuel consumption of over 35mpg. We’re pretty confident you’ll top 40.

Daytime  – 82%

Lounge in day set-up

With both cab seats swivelled, combined with the rear forward-facing seat, you have a living area that can comfortably accommodate four. A particularly neat piece of design is the 68cm x 58cm table that slides out from beside the rear seat. Plus, there are those other California favourites – the larger table that stows in the sliding door and is primarily for outdoor use, along with two folding chairs that have dedicated storage in the tailgate.

Overhead, the elevating roof couldn’t be easier to operate. Just turn on the ignition, select ‘roof operation’ from the panel over the dashboard and press the appropriate button – that’s it! 

Night-time – 81%

Lounge in night-time set-up

The two double-beds arrangement is unchanged but there are upgrades to the blackout and lighting systems. Cab windscreen blinds pull together – a slightly fiddly connection process – while the cab windows get fabric curtain sections with magnets around their edges that are effective and easy to use, despite having limitations as far as insulation is concerned.

For the majority, using the roof bed (one-piece mattress on plastic springs) will be preferable as it means you can leave the downstairs in daytime mode. If you do see yourselves using the lower bed, the mattress topper option (as here) is a benefit, unless you prefer a particularly firm mattress.

Kitchen – 83%

Split lids for the twin-hob/sink combination

An improvement in the California kitchen sees split lids for the otherwise typical camper sink (with plastic washing-up bowl) and hob combination. There’s a bigger cutlery drawer now, too, and the top-loading compressor fridge has a ventilation setting.

There are fresh and waste water tanks, the former a particularly clever piece of design in that it incorporates a well where the gas cylinder sits. There’s a more easily accessible in-line gas isolator under the hob now, too.  

At the forward end of the kitchen unit there’s a double USB port as well as mains socket and light switches, plus there’s more storage than normal in the sliding-door lockers, complete with shelving and interior lighting.

Washroom – n/a

As is typical in a VW camper, there’s no washroom, but you can get a portable toilet which stores under the section of bed just inside the tailgate – which incidentally now has a better hinge operation.

Details – 91%

California boasts much that other VW-based campers can only dream about. Take that touchscreen over the cab, which lets you control everything from raising and lowering the roof to setting the heating, as well as monitor tank levels and battery conditions – even how level you’re pitched.  

Storage and lighting, which were already very good, are further improved. In terms of storage, the cab seat backs get high-level double pockets, the slide-out panel that goes across the section of window by the fridge now has moulded pockets and there’s a storage caddy under the mirror in the wardrobe. With regard to lighting, lights in the living area come on automatically when you unlock the vehicle doors, there’s lots of ambient strip illumination, the downlighters in the tailgate come on when it’s opened and there’s even extra detail lighting in the recesses at the back of the cab seat bases.  

Also of note is the ‘three-zone’ air conditioning (each side of the cab, plus the rear) and the 12V socket in the roof bulkhead.  

Verdict – 87%

The latest California may not be bigger (overall dimensions stay the same), but it is definitely better than ever. It’s quite expensive, but try ordering an all-new camper from any specialist Volkswagen converter to the same specification and you won’t find much difference. Plus residual values for the California should always remain strong.

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