- UK debut of XXL Califonia camper; read our fully updated story with all the latest info
- New big brother to T6 California, full VW factory design and build, expected to cost upwards of £65k
- Comes in two lengths, includes on-board bathroom and rear sleeping area, on sale April 2019
UPDATE: we have now driven (and camped in) the VW Grand California - click here to read our full and in-depth review of this new super-sized campervan
The Volkswagen Grand California campervan is here at last to solve the only major problem with the existing VW California camper: the lack of an on-board bathroom. And now the Grand California has finally made its official UK debut at the 2019 Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show.
VW Grand California UK debut at 2019 CCM Show
Having originally been launched in production form at the 2018 Dusseldorf Caravan Salon, the 2019 CCM Show represents the first opportunity for the British public to see this new factory-built VW Grand California campervan, which is based on the Volkswagen Crafter large van.
On display in its shorter 600 variant only (there's also a longer but lower 680 model, see below), the Grand California is an imposing sight, even in an exhibition hall already packed with 600-class campers and motorhomes.
Most of these rivals are Fiat Ducato-based (the aging Fiat does big business in this market), but there are a few alternative VW Crafter campervan conversions on show as well, just as there are many VW Transporter-based conversions to rival Volkswagen's own well-established California model.
Even so, the appeal of a fully factory-built Grand California appears to be clear, for as soon as the CCM Show opened its doors to the public, a patient line of people immediately appeared on the VW Commercial Vehicles stand, queuing to get their first glance inside this four-sleeper machine.
The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show is on at the Birmingham NEC 19-24 February 2019. Tickets are £10 for adults, available on the door, and under 15s get in for free.
Pre-show UK premiere for VW Grand California
While the first day of the CCM Show represented the Grand California's UK public debut, its actual UK premiere took place the day before, on a roundabout outside the main NEC Birmingham entrance.
Sounds bizarre, but the show organisers were keen to host a California-inspired cook-out with celebrity chef Martin Dorey and television presenter Matt Allwright as hosts.
Sadly, the weather wasn't quite on-message, and instead of bright California-esque sunshine we were treated to grey skies and rain - but since that exact scenario is a big part of the British camping experience no-one particularly minded.
It certainly didn't stop the Grand California looking tremendous. It's a while yet before we'll get to drive it, but this giant campervan is a very impressive-looking bit of kit.
What is the VW Grand California?
Based on the VW Crafter large van and available in two sizes - called 600 and 680 after their lengths in centimetres - 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.
VW began mooting the possibility of factory-building a Crafter-based motorhome in 2017, when it unveiled a concept version called the California XXL.
The Grand California is the production model, and it’s even better than we imagined it might be.
Two lengths of Grand California? Tell me more…
Let’s start with the Grand California 600, which is 5,986mm long (brown model above, pictured in Dusseldorf).
This has enough space for a rear bed of 1,930 x 1,360mm size, designed to be used transversely - meaning you sleep across the vehicle rather orientated with its length.
An optional second bed in the roofspace of the 600 provides space for two more sleepers, though VW describes this as a bunk bed and a '+2' arrangement, meaning it's probably better for children.
Moving up to the Grand California 680 (blue model, below, pictured in Dusseldorf). As the name suggests, this is another 800mm longer - in fact, it's more than that as the total length is 6,836mm - much of which is spent making the rear sleeping area larger.
As such the bed dimensions grow to 2,000 x 1,670mm, allowing you to sleep longitudinally. But this is the only bed you get in the 680, as it's offered as a two-sleeper only, without the bulbous roof extension of the 600 model. Instead it looks much more like a conventional van - albeit a rather long one.
The kitchen area in the 680 is also larger. But general storage capacity is the same for both models - 800 litres in the rear plus an additional 180 litres under the bed platform.
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 good van, being both comfortable and easy to drive, and available with an excellent eight-speed automatic transmission. This should not only reassure anyone looking to trade-up from an existing California model but also interest people familiar with other large van-based campers, which are typically based on vehicles that were introduced much longer ago.
The increased size understandably means there’s more room inside, hence the addition of an 820mm square 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 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 the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show in the UK, and have come 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-looking fixtures and fittings that can nudge towards chinzy, VW has gone for a calmer approach.
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.
We were particularly impressed with the aircraft-style lockers around the edge of the ceiling. They open both ways, look great and feel high quality.
Overall the design of the Grand California really does 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 mid-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. The vehicle also carries a 90-litre waste 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, but only on the shorter 600 model; 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
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.
VW Grand California engines
So far the only engine option confirmed for UK buyers is the range-topping 177hp 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel, which drives the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox as standard.
However, VW has also already confirmed that 4Motion four-wheel drive will be offered in addition to the standard front-wheel drive set-up.
The raised camper roof of the 600 model 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
Pricing and exact on sale information are still to be confirmed for UK buyers of the Grand California, but we've been told to expect a starting price of around £65,000 on-the-road, and dealers should be able to start taking orders in April 2019.
That cost might look like a lot at first glance, but it's not that much more than some of the aftermarket Crafter conversions also on display at the CCM Show, and with the Grand California you're getting a fully factory-built camper with factory warranty and impeccable build quality.
The conversion from Crafter to Grand California is carried out by Volkswagen at the Crafter plant in Poland, with the unique Grand California features fitted out by the specialist minibus department.
Given that the smaller T6-based Californias retail from £47,303 for the entry-level Beach model (no kitchen) and £57,605 for the fancy-pants Ocean, and neither of those come with an on-board bathroom, the Grand California doesn't seem like bad value at all.
And don't forget, VW's campers traditionally command excellent secondhand prices, so your investment should continue to be sound for many years to come.
The Grand California will be exclusively available from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles' existing 'Tour' dealership sites, those which are already authorised to sell the smaller California. There are presently 41 of these around the UK.
VW California 30 Years edition
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.