Volkswagen is one of the pioneers in the world of camper vans, or campervans, with conversions managed by Westfalia. From now on, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is responsible for converting its models into the California range itself.
A (smaller) MPV is offered, the Caddy California, as well as a (larger) van, the Grand California, but the central model of the range remains the California van. These models are particularly popular because they are compact and discreet. Their height, generally less than 2 m (1.99 m for California), allows them to access more car parks than a traditional motorhome, and can be classified as light vehicle at the French toll .
The California 6.1 is available in different versions: Beach Camper, Coast and Ocean, all approved as a fitted vehicle (VASP gray card). The first offers a lighter layout with a mini-kitchen without a sink, while the other two versions share a more traditional layout for a fitted van. The California Coast, which we are trying today, is slightly more accessible and less luxurious than the Ocean, but retains many of its characteristics. However, it was removed from the catalog to rationalize coverage at this critical time. However, they can be found second-hand or even rented.
As an official conversion, the California is directly distributed and serviced 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 offered, the California Coast was between these two versions, about €10,000 apart from each of them.
Aesthetically, the California is very close to a Transporter 6.1 utility vehicle with which it shares its bodywork. If you are not looking for absolute discretion, however, it is possible to choose a two-tone dress, or at least a more original paint than the gray of our test model.
life on board
Once installed, it is possible to open the outer awning and place the two camping chairs and the table that come with the van. The seats are built into the tailgate and the table into the sliding side door.
However, we regret that the tailgate does not open electrically, as it is a bit difficult to handle due to its high mass.
The light oak-style cladding of this Coast version brightens the interior. Only four seats are combined. If it is still not possible to camp with more than four, we would appreciate a fifth seat. In fact, a van is also designed for daily use and sometimes it is very useful to be able to travel with five or more.
The rear seat slides and the front seats can swivel. Unfortunately, the operation is not very practical for the driver’s seat, where you have to play with different settings and release the handbrake to allow rotation. When the chairs are in the living room configuration, it is possible to open an indoor table.
There is plenty of storage space on board the California. For example, there is a large drawer under the rear bench seat, as well as a mirrored compartment to the left of the kitchen area.
It is also possible to store suitcases in the trunk. In our test model, however, the space was occupied by a set of luggage.
It is also from the rear to access the outdoor shower, which is provided by a 30-liter clean water reserve. The gray water tank has the same capacity – quite limited – 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 power range should be enough to stay parked for about three nights.
Several types of sockets are integrated in the cabin: domestic, 12 V, USB-A and USB-C.
When it’s time to eat, it happens in the middle of the van. By raising the roof, it is possible to stand while cooking, even for the highest. The operation is very simple, 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 cooker powered by an R907 cylinder (2.75 kg of gas) and a 42-liter refrigerated space.
In the absence of a real work plan, it is possible to use the internal table as such.
The kitchen unit comes with storage, especially the cutlery drawer.
The California Coast includes two beds. Folding the bench seat and unfolding the mattress topper gives 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 struggle.
Curtains make it possible to hide the entirety of the glazing. If it doesn’t plunge the van into complete darkness, especially at windshield level, light penetration is limited.
The second bed is integrated into the roof, with a box spring. It is slightly wider (1200 mm x 2000 mm). If you are not well insulated from outside noise and temperature, this bed is easier to set up and store thanks to a system of jacks. However, without stairs, it is difficult to get to.
If necessary, a stationary heating system is integrated. It runs on diesel fuel from the fuel tank. However, it is quite noisy when turned on. It is controlled by a remote control or the ingenious Camper control unit.
It is a touch screen integrated into the ceiling and used to control specific functions of this fitted version. It is possible to program the heating, activate and regulate the refrigerator, configure the lighting, or even program an alarm clock. The level of the water tanks and the state of charge of the batteries are displayed on this screen.
Infotainment and Connectivity
In addition to this first screen, a second is integrated into the dashboard. These two interfaces do not communicate. The central touch screen is quite small (6.5 inches) and limited in its functions, no on-board navigation for example. However, it is quite easy to use and rather responsive. It is primarily used to connect your smartphone to take advantage of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay via the USB-C socket.
We advise the most tech-savvy to turn to the California Ocean which benefits from a 9.2-inch screen with an interface taken from the last Golf, but not necessarily more intuitive.
Finally, the proposed mobile app is also quite sparse in terms of functions. As with Volkswagen vehicles, it is possible to locate your van, check that it is properly locked, or even activate the horn or headlight calls remotely. However, we regret that it is not possible to lock it remotely.
Similarly, no layout function is accessible from the application. We would have appreciated the possibility to control the fridge or the heating remotely, for example.
An app dedicated to California is offered in Germany under the name California on Tour, which allows you to search for campsites. Unfortunately, it is not available to us.
Handling and performance
4.904 mm long, the size of the California is not that far from a car. His behavior is not so scary. The driving position is however typical utility with a high seat, but not uncomfortable. The dashboard is ergonomic with physical controls for ventilation or even multimedia.
Unlike the Ocean version, this California Coast does not have a fully “digital” instrument cluster. Here, only a small screen is integrated between two traditional counters. The display is clear, but a larger screen is good enough to show 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. This leaves a choice between a two-wheel drive transmission (traction) that provides our test model, or a 4MOTION version with four-wheel drive. This is the only version available with a manual gearbox, all others are automatically linked to the DSG7 robotic dual-clutch gearbox.
To move more than 2.5 t of this version, 150 hp show their limit, as evidenced by 0 to 100 km / h that takes 14.3 s all the same. Fortunately, the 340 Nm of torque and the fast DSG gearbox allow proper revivals. If the usual sound of diesel engines is present, this engine is still quite soft to use.
NOISE MEASUREMENT AT 130 KM/H
Behavior on the road is healthy. This California doesn’t roll around, the steering is precise, while the comfort is quite good. In terms of noise pollution, we noted 71 dB (A) at 130 km / h, which is quite high.
However, the provision of driving aids is very limited as standard for this Coast version: the cruise control is not adaptive, there is no automatic emergency braking or lane keeping assistance and even less autonomous driving or parking system.. .Even parking radars and reversing cameras are optional! Unlike the windshield wipers, the headlights have an auto-on feature, but they are halogen bulbs that don’t provide the best visibility.
Finally, we would have liked keyless access and start, as well as an electric parking brake.
Sold and serviced directly at Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
Electro-hydraulic pop-up roof.
The layout is well thought out.
Two real beds.
Several types of sockets (domestic, 12 V, USB-A and USB-C).
Convenient command screen.
Combined camping chairs and tables.
Easy and pleasant driving.
Height less than 2 m (1.99 m).
Tailgate is hard to run.
The driver’s seat is difficult to rotate.
The capacity of the clean water tank is limited (30 l).
Only four seats.
Performance is somewhat limited.
Fuel consumption is slightly high (8 l/100 km in the WLTP combined cycle).
Deficiencies in driving aids.
Lack of on-board navigation.
Mobile app with no functions.