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The VW Grand California campervan is here at last to solve the only major problem with the existing Volkswagen California camper: the lack of an on-board bathroom. And naturally, Parkers has had a poke around this new vehicle at the 2018 Dusseldorf Caravan Salon to see what’s what.
Based on the VW Crafter large van and available in two sizes – called 600 and 680 based on their lengths in millimetres - the Grand California takes Volkswagen deeply into the ‘six-metre’ campervan class for the first time, and might just be nicer inside than your house.
While the release of both body lengths to the UK market hasn’t been confirmed at this stage, we believes it’s highly likely given the parallel rise of motorhome sales and reduction in caravan sales the British market is currently experiencing, as Brits embrace these all-in-one staycation solutions. There are plenty of lifestyle towing markets such as horse riding, motor racing and pleasure boating.
VW has been mooting the possibility of factory-building a Crafter-based motorhome since the latest one arrived in 2017 – showing a concept version called the California XXL the same year. This, however, is the full production model, and it’s even better than we imagined it might be.
Two lengths of Grand California? Tell me more…
That’s right: there are effectively two Grand Californias, and which you pick depends largely on how much you’ve got to spend but also the amount of space you’ll have to park it – the Grander of the two won’t fit into many parking spaces, if at all, and you’ll need a specially built garage too.
But in return you’ll get a spacious vehicle with the steering wheel on the right-hand side, which will be a big point in the VW’s favour compared with those cumbersome American RVs some people import.
VW Grand California dimensions
Let’s start with the 600, which is exactly six metres long (brown model pictured). That makes for a laterally integrated bed of 1,950x1,400mm size. An optional bed in the roofspace (price still TBC) caters for smaller children, and this comes with a panoramic glass roof thrown in.
Moving up to the 680 (blue model, above), you’ve got another 800mm of room to play with, so the main bed dimensions grow to 2,000x1,700mm. It also gets a superhigh roof from the Crafter line-up, so there’s loads of space.
What’s the VW Grand California like inside?
The major point of difference between the Grand California and previous Volkswagen Californias based on the Transporter van family is the size – the Crafter is a much bigger van.
Fortunately, it’s also a very, very good van, being both comfortable and easy to drive, which should be reassuring for anyone looking to trade-up from an existing California model.
The increased size understandably means there’s more room inside, hence the addition of an 840x800mm bathroom complete with toilet, shower and fold-out wash basin. This is positioned centrally, opposite to the kitchen area, and ahead of the sleeping area at the back.
All of the interior cabinets are finished in white, to enhance the feeling of space, while several of the windows are pop-out camper-style items, which together with skylights in the roof again aim to help the make the cabin feel spacious.
The rear windows have fly screens and cassette blinds, while the driver’s cab area has what’s described as a ‘new blackout concept’ – hopefully one that’s less of a faff to deploy than the smaller California’s (and this is already a very minor quibble).
But what’s it really like inside?
We’ve had a good root around the Grand Cali at the Caravan Salon in Dusseldorf and came away extremely impressed with the fixtures and fittings on offer here.
There’s a stark contrast with the smaller Marco Polo that Mercedes-Benz will sell you to start with. While the Merc gets posher, more premium-feeling fixtures and fittings that can nudge towards chinzy, the VW goes in a completely different direction.
Thanks to the white, high-quality cabinets and functional features in the back, all with neat soft-closing doors or hatches, there’s an airier, lighter-hearted feel at play in the Grand California. It’s at its best with a panoramic roof to let as much sun in as possible, but don’t be fooled by what can look like plasticky bits and bobs back there. The closer you look the better the quality gets.
While we’re not sure whether they’ll be standard equipment at this point, we were impressed with the aircraft-style lockers around the edge of the ceiling. They open both ways and look fabulous with the integrated ambient lighting.
Overall the design of the Grand California can’t help but impress. Clearly there’s been a huge amount of though put into cramming as many useful features in there as possible, and the result is a vehicle that needs time to appreciate. Roll on the launch test drives, which are likely to be in early 2019.
VW Grand California – bathroom included
We’re used to VW Californias being incredibly well designed, but the attention to detail in this new Grand model steps things up to another level.
The bathroom, for example, not only includes the toilet, shower and pull-out sink, it also features shelving with holders for toiletries, towel rails, skylight for ventilation, a cupboard with integrated toilet roll holder – to prevent this from getting damp – and motion-activated lighting as standard.
A connection for a second, external shower is fitted at the back. This, too, offers adjustable water temperature and is also fed by the Grand California’s 110-litre water storage tank.
VW Grand California kitchen and lounge details
The kitchen area has a 70-litre fridge with freezer compartment, a twin-hob gas cooker, sink, and lots and lots of storage.
There’s also a four-seater dining table included – though external lighting above the sliding side door means there should be plenty of illumination if you want to dine outside as well.
An electrically powered step makes getting in and out of this door easier, while a two-part mosquito net comes as standard to block the little critters from getting in if you want to leave this entrance open.
Both front seats swivel to face the living area, where you’ll find a double bench seat for two additional passengers. This includes Isofix mountings with top tethers for fitting child seats.
In another nice detail, the speakers in this area have a dedicated Bluetooth connection, so you can fire up some music via a phone or computer independently of the Grand Cali’s main multimedia infotainment system, which is controlled by a touchscreen in the dashboard as usual.
VW Grand California optional extras
As standard the Grand California only sleeps two – in a compartment at the rear. You can add a ‘high bunk bed’ for children as an option if you need to; this also comes with a panoramic skylight.
Other options include an additional roof-mounted air-conditioning system, while the standard gas heating can be upgraded to run on gas- or diesel-electric power. Solar panels will also be available for the roof.
There are more optional creature comforts in the form of a side-mounted awning, a satellite dish for TV reception, a Wi-Fi hotspot and a bicycle rack. An outdoor table and chairs set can be integrated into the rear doors as well.
VW Grand California safety equipment and engine choice
The Grand California benefits from the Crafter’s extensive suite of safety equipment, with all of the following available on this large campervan:
- Front Assist surrounding monitoring system with City Emergency Brake (autonomous emergency braking)
- Lane Assist
- Blind Spot Monitors
- Rear Traffic Alert
- Park Assist
- Sensor-controlled side protection system – works like parking sensors to stop you accidentally driving into low object at the side of the van
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Reversing camera
This modern safety tech will set the Grand California aside from most large van-based camper competition – aside from any produced on the 2018 Mercedes Sprinter platform, which has also been developed with campervan conversions in mind.
Certainly the VW will be a step up from the popular Fiat Ducato-based motorhome conversions in this regard.
VW hasn’t mentioned it, but the Grand California presumably also takes advantage of the Crafter’s automatic side-wind correction, and may be available with the innovative Trailer Assist system. This is still TBC, however.
Engine availability hasn’t yet been announced, but we would expect only the more powerful versions of the Crafter’s 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine to be fitted, meaning a minimum of 140hp and a maximum of 177hp at this stage.
VW has confirmed 4Motion four-wheel drive will be offered in addition to the standard front-wheel drive set-up.
The raised camper roof has been aerodynamically tested to make it as fuel efficient as possible, but don’t expect the Grand California to be super frugal.
VW Grand California price and on sale info
We’re expecting the Grand California to hit VW Commercial dealers in early 2019, and while the UK product team have yet to decide exactly what we’ll get (length or kit), a starting price of below €55k (£49,735) has been announced for the German market for an eight-speed automatic front-wheel drive version.
That makes it rather good value from the get-go, but optional extras will inevitably push the price you pay far higher. Luckily, extremely strong resale values have historically helped justify California ownership.
Will we see a six-figure VW campervan? Don’t bet against it...
Also new: VW California 30 Years
Also at the Dusseldorf show and looking resplendent in distinctive metallic paint with a contrasting roof, the California 30 Years has been built to celebrate – you’ve guessed it – 30 years of California. The campervan; not the state.
Aside from the roof colour, changes also include polished 17-inch wheels, Bright Wood cabinet finishing and a commemorative plaque stating you’ve bought one of 999 units available worldwide. Expect just 60 of those to hit the UK market, though. In Germany it’ll cost €57,215 (£51,737) before options, but we're anticipating it will be more over here.