Volkswagen was one of the pioneers in the world of camper vans, or campers, with the Westfalia-powered convertible. From now on, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is responsible for replacing its models with the California range itself.
A (smaller) MPV is offered, the Caddy California, as well as a (larger) sedan, the Grand California, but the middle model of the range remains the California sedan. These models are especially popular because they are compact and smart. Their height, generally less than 2 meters (1.99 m for California), allows them to reach more parking spaces than a typical house, and is classified as a light vehicle in French tax.
The California 6.1 is available in different versions: Beach Camper, Beach and Ocean, all approved as a fixed vehicle (VASP gray card). The first offers a light layout with a mini-kitchen without a sink, while the other two versions share a more traditional layout for a closed van. The California coast, which we are testing today, is more accessible and less smooth than the Ocean, but it retains many of its characteristics. However, it has been removed from the catalog to balance the frequency in this beautiful period. However, they can be found second-hand or even rented.
As an official convertible, the California is distributed and serviced directly by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. It starts at €65,420 in the Beach Camper version and €85,420 in the Ocean version. When it was still in production, the California Coast was placed between the two versions, about €10,000 away from each of them.
Aesthetically, the California is very close to the Transporter 6.1 utility vehicle that shares its bodywork. If you are not looking for absolute discretion, however it is possible to choose a dress in two colors, or at least in a more natural color than the gray of our test model.
life on board
Once installed, it is possible to unfold the external awning and place two camping chairs and a table provided by the van. Chairs are built into the back entrance and a table inside the sliding side door.
However, we regret that the tailgate does not open electrically, as it is difficult to handle due to its high mass.
The light oak-style panels of this Coastal version brighten up the interior. Only four seats are connected. Had it not been possible to camp with more than four, we would have enjoyed the fifth seat. Indeed, the van is also designed for daily use and sometimes it is very important to be able to travel with five or even more.
The back seat slides and the front seats can rotate. Unfortunately, the operation is not very practical for the driver’s seat, which you have to play with different settings and release the hand to allow rotation. Once the chairs are in the living room configuration, it is possible to reveal the interior table.
There is plenty of storage space on board the California. For example, there is a large drawer under the back seat of the bench, as well as a compartment with a mirror to the left of the kitchen area.
It is also possible to store boxes in the trunk. For our test example, however, that position was taken by a set of loads.
It is also from the back that you find the outdoor shower, provided with a fresh water reservoir of 30 liters. The gray water tank has the same capacity – quite small – and the two auxiliary batteries have a capacity of 150 Ah.
These batteries recharge while driving, but can also be powered by an external outlet for longer camping. However, the electric range should be enough to last for about three nights.
Many types of sockets are connected to the cabin: internal, 12 V, USB-A and USB-C.
When eating, it is in the middle of the van that it happens. By raising the roof, it is possible to stand while cooking, even longer. Operation is very easy, because the roof is electro-hydraulic and therefore all you have to do is press a button.
The galley includes a small sink, a two-burner gas stove powered by an R907 cylinder (2.75 kg of gas) and a 42 liter fridge space.
In the absence of a real work plan, it is possible to use the interior table as such.
The kitchen area includes storage, especially a cutting drawer.
The California coast consists of two beds. Folding the bench seat and unfolding the mattress topper provides a first bed of 1140 mm x 2000 mm. The width is limited for two people and folding the bed every morning can be a hindrance.
Curtains make it possible to hide the perfection of the glazing. If this does not immerse the van in complete darkness, especially at the level of the windshield, the penetration of light is limited.
The second bed is attached to the roof, with a box spring. It is slightly wider (1200 mm x 2000 mm). If you are not insulated from the noise and heat outside, this bed is easier to set up and store thanks to the system of jacks. However, without a ladder it can be difficult to reach.
If necessary, a stationary heating system is connected. It uses diesel fuel from the fuel tank. However, it is a little noisy when it is turned on. It is controlled by remote control or Camper control unit.
This is a touch screen attached to the ceiling and used to control the special functions of this installed version. It is possible to program the heating, activate and control the refrigerator, configure the lights, or even program the alarm clock. The water tank level and battery charge status are displayed on this screen.
Infotainment and Connectivity
In addition to this first screen, the second is connected to the dashboard. These two interfaces do not communicate. The central touchscreen is quite small (6.5 inches) and has limited functions, with no on-board navigation for example. However it is easy to use and rather responsive. It is mainly used to connect your smartphone to take advantage of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay via the USB-C socket.
We advise the more tech-savvy to turn to the California Ocean which benefits from a 9.2-inch screen and an interface taken from the last Golf, but it’s not necessarily the easiest.
Finally, the recommended mobile app is also very limited in terms of functionality. As with Volkswagen cars, it’s possible to find your car, check if it’s locked properly, or even turn on the horn or lights remotely. However, we regret that it is not possible to close it remotely.
Similarly, there is no setting feature available from the app. We would appreciate the possibility to control the refrigerator or the heating remotely, for example.
A California-specific app is offered in Germany called California on Tour, allowing you to search for campsites. Unfortunately, it is not available to us.
Handling and performance
Length 4.904 mm, the size of the California is not too far from that of a car. So his behavior is not scary. The driving position is however normal use with a high seat, but not a concern. The dashboard is ergonomic with physical controls for ventilation or even multimedia.
Unlike the Sea version, this California Coast does not have a full cluster of “digital” instruments. Here, only a small screen is connected between two traditional counters. The display is clear, but a larger screen would be good enough to display more information at once.
The California is available in two diesel versions: 2.0 TDI 150 and 2.0 TDI 204. This is the 150 hp version we tested. It leaves a choice between the two-wheel drive transmission (traction) that equipped our test model, or the 4MOTION version with four-wheel drive. This is the only version available with an automatic gearbox, all others are linked automatically to the DSG7 robotic dual-clutch gearbox.
To move more than 2.5 t of this version, 150 hp shows their limit, as evidenced by 0 to 100 km / h which takes the same 14.3 s. Fortunately, 340 Nm of torque and a quick DSG gearbox allow accurate revving. If the usual sound of diesel engines is present, this engine is still quite smooth in use.
NOISE MEASUREMENT AT 130 KM/H
Road behavior is healthy. This California is unshakable in turns, the handling is precise, while the comfort is quite good. In terms of noise pollution, we noted 71 dB (A) at 130 km / h, which is high.
However, the provision of driving equipment is very limited as the standard of this version of the Coast: the cruise control does not change, there is no automatic emergency brake support or lane keeping support and not even a system for autonomous driving or parking… Even parking radars and reversing cameras are there. optional! Unlike the windshield wipers, the headlights have an auto-on feature, but they’re halogen bulbs that don’t offer the best visibility.
Finally, we’d appreciate keyless entry and start, as well as an electric parking brake.
They are sold and serviced directly at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
Electro-hydraulic pop-up roof.
Well thought out design.
Two real beds.
Multiple types of sockets (internal, 12 V, USB-A and USB-C).
The appropriate command screen.
Included camping chairs and table.
Easy and pleasant operation.
Height less than 2 m (1.99 m).
Tailgate difficult to operate.
The driver’s seat is difficult to move around.
The capacity of the fresh water tank is limited (30 l).
Only four seats.
A little less performance.
Slightly higher fuel consumption (8 l/100 km in the WLTP combined cycle).
Deficiencies in driving equipment.
Lack of onboard navigation.
A mobile app that has no functions.