Volkswagen launches new California camper in T6.1 form

  • New vehicle based on very latest T6.1 Transporter
  • Slicker, more comfortable and more sophisticated throughout
  • Rivals the Ford Transit Nugget and Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo

Just days after the first press drives of the very latest Transporter panel van, Volkswagen has unveiled the California camper version. Using the new ‘T6.1’ generation van as a base, the 2020 California aims to offer buyers a truly luxurious home-away-from-home, with space to travel with and sleep four people alongside full cooking facilities.

What is the VW California?

The California nameplate has been around for years – first applied on a converted Transporter T3 back in the 1980s. Originally built by specialist converter Westfalia, since 2005 Volkswagen’s taken ownership of the California name, building the vans in a dedicated facility to the same standards of fit and finish as its passenger cars.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, rear view, with roof up, on beach

This is the third such California since production started, with previous T5 and T6 models achieving remarkable popularity and selling over 175,000 units.

The basic form of the California is that of a fairly conventional campervan. Swivelling front seats face a sliding rear bench, which can be laid flat in the traditional ‘rock-n-roll’ format to act as a double bed. A side-mounted kitchenette provides two gas rings, a small sink with running water and a top-loading fridge box, while dining is taken care of with a handy sliding table.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, interior lounge area

Meanwhile, the elevating roof allows for standing room when cooking as well as providing two extra berths – which, thanks to a proper sprung bed base, are actually the preferable sleeping positions.

What’s new for the 2020 VW California campervan?

For the T6.1 California, VW hasn’t messed with this arrangement at all. It’s merely refined it, taking customer feedback into account and making a succession of small changes to the accommodation.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, new cupboard latches

To that end, you’ll find sturdy new latches for the cabinets and cooker lids, as well as darker canvas for the roof section – campers found the previous fabric allowed in too much light for a truly restful night’s sleep.

That upper bed no longer sits on wooden slats, either. Volkswagen’s replaced them with individual plastic springs, giving a softer bed which won’t transfer movement – so there’s no danger of waking your partner if you roll over in the night. And, since the sunrise won’t penetrate the canvas like it used to, the LED lighting can be set to simulate it – increasing in intensity for a more natural wakeup pattern.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, roof sleeping area

The lighting, along with most of the other camping-specific features can now be accessed through a colour touchscreen, which replaces the monochrome control panel found on the previous model.

Upgraded infotainment and safety technology

Up front, of course, you’ll find the same cab as the new Transporter panel van. It’s a big upgrade over its predecessor, with a large touchscreen infotainment system and improved material quality, but the big news is that it now uses an electromechanical power steering system rather than a hydraulic one.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, dashboard, steering wheel, infotainment, windscreen blinds

Switching to this means that VW’s been able to fit the Transporter – and by extension the California – with a range of safety and driver assistance aids more commonly found on passenger vehicles, such as lane-keeping assist, active parking assist and clever trailer assist.

You can also have adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, both of which are upgraded over the previous version.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, front view with roof stowed

Alexander Ruhland, who’s responsible for sales and marketing of the new California, spoke to us about the new model – calling it the ‘best yet’ and saying that it plays a key part in Volkswagen’s ambition to be the leader in private sales through its Commercial Vehicles arm.

‘California is a really important vehicle for us. From my perspective, I love it. Certainly in Germany, it’s really part of everyone’s mind and life, and everyone has a story about a California.

‘Of course, the base vehicle is the main topic of change, with all its new security and assistance systems. All of these systems that we weren’t able to offer before because we didn’t have this electromechanical steering system.’

VW California T6.1 trim levels and specifications

On the continent, the California will be offered in three trims – starting from Beach, which does without the side kitchenette unit, through Coast and top-spec Ocean.

You might notice we’ve not mentioned the Beach before now, and that’s because Volkswagen says there’s currently no plans to offer it in the UK – a shame, as it’s undergone some impressive refinements of its own.

VW California T6.1 campervan - 2019, 2020, Beach showing deployable kitchen unit

Most striking is the deployable mini-kitchen, consisting of a work surface and single gas burner that folds away seamlessly into the side of the van.

Beach models also feature a manually-operated rising roof and greater interior flexibility – plus, they can be specified as five-seaters, while Coast and Ocean models only seat four.

When does it go on sale, and how much does it cost?

Pricing and full UK range details have not yet been released, but we’ll update this page as soon as they become available.

UK sales of the California T6.1 are set to start in early 2020.

Also read:

>> Full VW California review

>> VW Grand California review – the larger Volkswagen campervan

>> Full VW Transporter review