Volkswagen Grand California review – full UK test of factory-built supersized campervan from VW

  • Super-sized California XXL camper based on the Crafter van tested in the UK
  • Fully equipped for life on the road, including built-in bathroom with toilet and shower
  • Great to drive, great to live in – it’s an outstanding upgrade over smaller campervans

This is our full and detailed VW Grand California review - we've driven and tested this large, factory-built campervan at the original launch in Gran Canaria as well as right here in the UK.

There is a lot of information on this page, so to make things easier you can click the headings below to jump straight to the section that most interests you, or keep reading for the entire Volkswagen Grand California review:

What is the VW Grand California?

The Grand California is a campervan based on the Volkswagen Crafter large van, and it joins the VW range above the existing non-Grand California model that’s based on the Volkswagen Transporter medium van.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, front view, red and white

A camper based on a large van is not a new idea – there are any number of third party conversions available, including several constructed on the very same VW Crafter platform. But the Grand California is the first to be factory-built by a fully-fledged van maker, in much the same way that for decades the smaller California was the only factory-built camper of any kind.

It comes in two sizes, labelled 600 and 680. The first is big, the second is bigger – though only the 600 gets the raised ‘camper’ roof, with the 680 more proportionally similar to a van.

We're testing the 600 version here. Full dimensions of both versions can be found on our dedicated Grand California Dimensions page.

Volkswagen takes enormous pride in its California products, so this new flagship was never going to be anything but exceptionally well thought-through. And for the most part VW has succeeded in creating a hugely appealing mobile home.

What are the main features of the VW Grand California?

Like the regular California, the Grand version offers beautifully integrated solutions for living life on the road, including a kitchen area with twin-hob cooker, sink and fridge-freezer, a dining area, and sleeping space for up to four – plus all the storage space you’re likely to need to surround yourself with the comforts of home.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, rear view, red and white

The major benefit of being based on a larger van, however, is that the Grand California has room for a fully-fitted bathroom, complete with toilet, sink and shower.

It’s amazing what a difference this makes to your immediate sense of liberty, even compared with its little brother. As long as you set out with your preparations correct – meaning gas bottles and water tank full – you can take this campervan anywhere, and still have all the facilities you need.

What is the VW Grand California like inside?

The living area inside the Grand California is a thoroughly clean and modern design, dominated by smooth white fixtures and fittings that have a cool and sophisticated air – more like a minimalist Japanese hotel room than a chintzy gin-palace on wheels.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, living area showing seats, kitchen and rear bed

Everything is softly and subtly backlit rather than dazzlingly bright – there’s even ambient lighting in a choice of four colours round the rear bed – and all of the corners are rounded to stop you injuring yourself at night. Though if you’re tall and don’t occasionally bang your head where the ceiling changes height you’re a better person than I am.

Additional lighting is available from touch-sensitive and dimmable strips in every area where extra illumination might be required, including over the kitchen work surfaces, the dining table and throughout the sleeping areas.

The floor is wood-effect vinyl, intended to evoke the deck of a ship – an idea VW might possibly have nabbed from the Mercedes-Benz V-Class Marco Polo.

VW Grand California camper review - interior storage lockers, aircraft-style, above rear sleeping area

Storage mostly comes in the form of aircraft-style lockers, which cling to the walls wherever they’re least likely to be in the way, but there are soft-close drawers with pop-out handles, multiple cupboards with the same, and unobtrusive alcoves throughout the vehicle as well.

Everything feels high quality and robust, and you’ll spend weeks inside before you’re confident you’ve tracked down all the thoughtful touches.

Speaking of which, the camping functions and facilities are controlled and monitored by an easy to use touchscreen panel mounted adjacent to the bathroom door.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, camping panel

The cab and dashboard are identical to those of the Crafter van, but this is no bad thing as far as we’re concerned. Quality is top notch, the infotainment works well, and there are lots of useful storage areas, including triple-decker door bins and a shelf that runs nearly the whole width of the dash.

Covers for the dash-top cubbies wouldn’t go amiss, though, as if you put anything light coloured into them it will reflect annoyingly in the windscreen. This includes USB cables for the sockets up there.

What’s the bathroom like inside the VW Grand California?

At just 820mm by 820mm wide and 1,850mm tall, it sounds very compact. But again, clever packaging means there’s room inside for a toilet, a sink and a shower – plus a surprisingly generous amount of additional storage.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, bathroom toilet

The sink folds up when not needed, and the showerhead retracts to function as the tap; the holder for the showerhead even has two height settings, though the difference between them is minimal.

In addition to the obvious open shelves on the wall above the toilet, there are more hidden behind the mirror, while the upper cupboard beneath the sink has a toilet roll holder on the back of its door – a design feature intended to keep the toilet paper dry. A nice idea, but only partially successful in our experience.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, fold-out bathroom sink

A 110-litre water tank and a water heater with 40-degree and 60-degree settings should comfortably see you through a few days away – though do be aware that the cassette-style toilet only has a 10-litre waste capacity (the cassette is accessed via a flap in the outside of the van that locks with the central locking).

The main waste water tank is 90 litres; you can monitor your fresh and ‘grey’ water levels via the touchscreen panel, which is also where the heating controls are situated.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, bathroom with shower

We found showering in the bathroom – which is really more of a wet room – surprisingly roomy, but there is also an outdoor shower attachment at the back of the Grand California as standard. Don’t think this is just for washing off your shoes, either – it too has a temperature control.

Heating for both the water and the van when parked in camping mode is provided by a pair of gas bottles stored in the rear load area beneath the bed platform. These also provide the gas for cooking. An optional upgrade is offered to use diesel for heating, too.

How many people can sleep in the VW Grand California?

While all versions can carry four passengers, as standard the Grand California has sleeping space for only two people – and that is all you can have in the longer 680 variant.

The 600 model we’ve been testing made full use of its raised camper roof by demonstrating its optional second sleeping area over the cab – boosting the total number of sleepers to four.

What’s the main sleeping area of the VW Grand California like?

The main sleeping area for both the 600 and the 680 versions is located at the back of the Grand California, on a platform above rear storage compartment.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, all set-up for camping, rear view, red and white

In the 680, which has a bigger bed, you sleep in-line with the main length of the van. In the 600 you sleep across it, and the maximum width available is 1.93m – anyone close to six-foot tall is going to start thinking it’s a bit tight. If you are that tall, you’ll also have to get used to having a cupboard right over your head (they surround the bed).

The 600 also features a small hanging rail on one side, and a couple of slim alcoves in either rear corner – useful for stowing reading glasses and other bedroom essentials at night. One of these has a pair of USB sockets for powering phones and tablets.

What’s the additional sleeping area like in the VW Grand California?

The optional sleeping area over the cab is aimed at children, but the side opposite the sliding door extends to 1.9m, so a reasonable large percentage of adults will be able to make do up there as well.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, upper sleeping area

Be warned, there is not much headroom. Still, at least there’s a sturdy ladder for access (unlike in the smaller Transporter-fornia, where you have to jump up via the front seats), plus another couple of USB sockets for powering phones and tablets in an adjacent alcove.

There’s also a net to stop you falling on your head during the night, while the lighting up there can be switched off remotely via the touch panel – for occasions where the kids just won’t take the hint that it’s time to say goodnight.

Is the VW Grand California comfortable to sleep in?

We’ve spent a couple of nights camping in the Grand California 600 so far, and had no problem with the comfort of the main bed at all.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, view through rear doors showing storage and rear sleeping area

The mattress is 80mm thick, and sits on a complex-looking steel spring arrangement – and despite the fact both are actually in separate sections so that the bed can be folded up to the walls to increase rear storage room if required, we awoke refreshed and free from any unusual aches or pains.

While you can’t help but notice the surrounding cupboards, at no point did we feel worried about banging bonce on these, either.

So though we can’t speak for the secondary area – there just wasn’t enough head room or leg room for us to seriously consider checking it out – sleeping in the main bed proved to be a resounding success.

What’s the VW Grand California like to drive?

With no exaggeration, we’re close to describing the Grand California 600 as simply brilliant from a driving perspective.

VW Grand California camper review - overhead view, driving, white and beige

We already know that the Crafter is a fine van – it’s won the Parkers Van of the Year Award twice in a row in 2018 and 2019 – so perhaps it should be no surprise that turning it into a mobile home with a kerbweight of over 3.0 tonnes doesn't trouble it. But surely no vehicle so big and so heavy has any right to be as easy to drive as this.

And it’s not just easy – it’s actually a pleasure to drive in all circumstances except those where you need to turn it round in a particularly small area. Even then it’s not difficult to handle, with front, rear and side mounted sensors plus a rear camera available to make life more straightforward.

Three things really hit home, though.

Firstly, for something so big and tall, the 600 always feels unexpectedly nimble. Electric power-steering assistance makes turning the wheel effortless, but you always remain in touch with the road. The turning circle is surprisingly tight, and although it does – inevitably – lean in the corners, it doesn’t lean very much, and the way it moves is very controlled. Honestly, it’s fun.

VW Grand California camper review - front view, driving, white and beige

Secondly, the Grand California is comfortable – over bad surfaces and long distances. The seats are great and the suspension is compliant. The vehicle’s weight and length help with this, no doubt, ironing the worst imperfections out of the road surface.

Thirdly, the engine and gearbox combination also work very well.

What engine and gearbox does the VW Grand California have?

Like the Crafter, the Grand California is powered by a modern 2.0-litre TDI turbodiesel engine. Some cynics may immediately worry that 2.0-litre isn’t big enough for a vehicle of this weight and type, but that perhaps is a failure to appreciate modern turbocharging technology.

Not only does the engine in the Grand California produce 177hp, it also makes 410Nm of torque – and this all-important maximum muscle is available from 1,500-2,000rpm.

VW Grand California camper review - front view, driving past windmill, white and beige

While VW doesn’t quote a 0-62mph acceleration time for the big camper, it pulls away from a standstill with plenty of vigour, and has no trouble passing other traffic on the motorway, or when climbing uphill.

And although the Grand California is front-wheel drive as standard – 4Motion four-wheel drive is optional, and we’re yet to test this – the closest we got to experiencing traction issues was a touch of torque-steer when we were a little heavy-footed coming out of slower turns. This is a very well sorted thing to drive.

Faced with some fairly extreme mountain roads on the international launch in Gran Canaria, we did need to work the engine fairly hard on occasion. But the Grand California also comes as standard with the Crafter’s excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is smooth and responsive, and swiftly makes up for any breathlessness by sorting out another gear.

VW Grand California camper review - rear view, driving round corner, white and beige

All told, this campervan delivers an enormously impressive driving performance. Better overall, we would say, than the established California.

Though the smaller model is available with a more powerful engine, and will ultimately be faster, the Grand California is a more satisfying steer in its entirety, and should ensure you arrive at your destination relaxed and ready to enjoy your holiday.

What's it like driving the Grand California in the UK?

For our first UK outing in the Grand California 600, Volkswagen started us out at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. The route programmed into the (standard) factory sat-nav would take us via Blenheim Palace for some photo opportunities, across the picturesque Cotswolds and on to our final destination – Caffeine & Machine, located just outside Stratford-upon-Avon.

We’d have been happy with this route in a normal car, with a good combination of winding B-roads, small villages and faster motorway sections to really assess the vehicle. But in a three-tonne-plus van?

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, front view, driving, red and white

VW’s confidence in the selection of the route wasn’t misplaced, happily. The Grand California handled everything with the sort of unflustered competence we’ve come to expect from the brand – cars or vans.

That’s due mostly to the powertrain. A 2.0-litre diesel might sound puny for this size of vehicle but it outputs 177hp and 410Nm of torque so it’s capable of a surprising turn of pace. Better yet, it’s paired to an eight-speed automatic gearbox that makes progress effortless.

Obviously, the Grand California can’t bend physics, and by no stretch of the imagination can you call it fast. But you won’t be the archetypal motorhomer holding up a vast queue of traffic, as you’re able to get up to speed quickly and easily. It’s an effortless cruiser at 70mph, and the initial turn of pace from a standstill is actually surprising. The body rolls in the corners – big surprise – but it’s well controlled, and you certainly won’t be fighting this beast on roundabouts or through winding roads. It’s certainly better to drive than a Fiat Ducato-based motorhome, and that’s what a good three-quarters of the European market uses as a base vehicle.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, side view, driving, red and white

Those used to a standard van will probably be disappointed by the Grand Cali’s refinement, but by motorhome standards it’s exceptional. There’s a fair bit of wind noise from the raised roof, and the engine gets raucous under acceleration but those are really minor points. More importantly, the only rattles and squeaks you’re likely to hear are from the items you’ve packed away in the van’s myriad cupboards, lockers and drawers. The fittings themselves are rock-solid and silent – a far cry from most third-party conversions which rattle like an old convertible Saab.

We wonder if some of the noise could even be dampened simply by putting some carpet down. Floormats in the cab would certainly be our first upgrade – it’s packed with equipment but unlike some conversions it remains staunchly utilitarian in form, with automotive fabrics for the seats, bare plastic floors and grey plastic throughout.

All UK vans will come very highly-equipped, though, which does soften the blow somewhat. There’s a standard-fit infotainment touchscreen with smartphone connectivity and sat-nav, straight from Volkswagen’s passenger car range. A heated steering wheel and parking sensors are standard too, while our test van also had a reversing camera and heated seats. With many third-party conversions based on entry-level vans – or older models such as the Fiat Ducato – this is a big tick in the Grand Cali’s favour.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, dashboard, steering wheel and infotainment, right-hand drive

UK motorhomers – who are quite a traditional bunch – may have a few more complaints. The Grand California’s interior is very cool, calm and stylish, but that comes at the expense of some cosiness. The automotive-style seat fabrics and plain white lockers may come across as cold, utilitarian and uncomfortable for those more used to light woods and patterned velour upholstery.

We’re also a rather antisocial bunch on holiday, and enjoy barricading ourselves into our vans to cook and watch TV. For those people, the Cali’s lack of an oven or grille may grate, and it does lack a convenient place to put a TV for viewing from the lounge.

The final sticking point is the price – set to be just under £70,000, likely just over once first year’s road tax is applied. We reckon that’s somewhat of a false negative, though. You’re paying for a highly-equipped base vehicle, great powertrain and fittings of a quality you just don’t get from third-party conversions. And it’s not as if rivals are cheap – budget a bare minimum of £50,000 for a premium Crafter conversion from a respected outfit, and then keep going skywards if you’d like one with a powerful engine or lots of cab equipment.

By Tom Wiltshire

What is it like to go camping in the VW Grand California?

We’ve spent several days in its company now, and enjoyed every minute of it.

You’ll have to be neat and tidy to be sure not to clutter up the interior – the space available is still ultimately limited, after all – but everything from the way it drives to the ease of living inside it fully meets up to the high standards and expectations set by the existing California model.

Using the bathroom is simple and convenient, and might just revolutionise the way you go camping – or convince someone who wouldn’t usually be interested to give it a try.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, people standing at kitchen area

Setting the van up for the night is relatively straightforward, since there are blinds and mosquito nets built into the frames of all the skylights and windows, except the windows around the cab.

Darkening the cab is probably the biggest faff of the whole exercise, but even this isn’t a major deal; magnetic blinds similar to those used by the regular California seal the side windows, while the windscreen uses a fabric blind held in place by the sunvisors and a pair of collapsible fibreglass poles. Takes maybe five minutes in total to complete.

The sliding door opening also has built in mosquito nets to keep the pests out, so you can leave this open for ventilation. All of the rear windows pop out to aid cooling as well, though unless you go for the optional camping air-conditioner, the van will likely be rather warm inside in the summer.

VW Grand California camper review - fridge / freezer

The fridge / freezer is positioned to make it easy to access from the outside as well as the inside of the Grand California, and there are power sockets on the back of the kitchen counter that can be used from the outside, too.

Up to four 230v plug sockets are available in total, but be aware that these only work if the camper is plugged into an external power supply (as many professional campsites offer); there are up to six USB sockets for the living and sleeping areas, and these work all the time.

Both sets of plugs are in addition to those in the cab, which features a 230v socket in the driver’s seat base that’s powered by the ignition, and the option of numerous USB connections in addition to old-school 12v sockets.

VW Grand California camper review - gas cooker and sink

It’s also worth noting that the kitchen work surfaces in the Grand California 600 can be extended at either end to increase the work area. The dining table slides on a rail, and can be removed altogether (as you’re supposed to do when driving). The table will easily accommodate a family of four, with the driver and front passenger seats swivelling round to face the rear seats fixed to the bathroom wall.

It really is a proper home away from home.

Can the VW Grand California be customised with options?

We’ve already mentioning the optional parking aids and roof-mounted air-conditioning unit, and you’ll have spotted the two-tone paint in the pictures, but this is just scratching the surface.

VW Grand California camper review - optional bike rack

Want an awning? Done. Want a table and chairs to go under the awning? No problem – and they store out of the way on the inside of the rear doors. Want a way to get around when your Grand California is all set up at the campsite already? Then take look at the bike rack (though if you don’t fancy that, a bike will fit in the rear storage area if you fold the bed up to the wall).

Upping the tech factor, VW also offers solar panels to keep the leisure battery topped up, a satellite dish for TV reception, a 4G Wi-Fi router, and a Bluetooth sound system that allows passengers in the back to listen to something different to those in the front when you’re on the move, or combines the power of every on-board speaker to dominate the soundscape at the camp.

Don’t be surprised when the neighbouring tent complains.

VW Grand California camper review - 2019 UK 600 model, electricity hook-up

You get a decent amount of active safety kit as standard, with all UK Grand Californias upgraded to include autonomous emergency braking (AEB) in addition to crosswind assist. But you can add to this with blindspot monitors, active lane-keeping assist and VW’s slightly mad trailer assist system that allows you to reverse with a trailer using the electric mirror knob as a joystick.

The lane-keeping assist works impressively well, though can be a bit aggressive in combination with the blindspot monitors, as the duo will actively resist you if it thinks you’re cutting in too close in front of another car.

This is only properly annoying when the other vehicle being detected is actually two lanes away, and the combo is definitely worth considering on a camper of this size.

How much is the VW Grand California and when does it go on sale?

Volkswagen finally announced pricing for the Grand California in October 2019, and confirmed that the 600 model would cost from £68,999 for the 600 model, rising to £78,145 for the 680 with 4Motion four-wheel drive.

Both of those examples include VAT, but not on-the-road costs - because at the time of writing VW is still figuring out which tax band the vehicle will fit into.

With this proviso, you can order one now.

VW Grand California verdict

If you’re wincing at the price you perhaps haven’t looked at how much third-party Crafter camping conversions already cost – the Grand California is likely to be more expensive (just like the standard California is pricier than other Transporter-based campers), but it’s not looking like it will be a huge amount more.

And for the quality this factory-built effort gives you we aren't expecting to have any issue with its value.

This is, quite simply, an excellent piece of kit. Well thought-out, well put together, enjoyable to drive and great to spend time in. As far as we’re concerned, the Grand California is exactly the kind of vehicle that brilliant memories are made from, and we’re certain it’s going to make a lot of buyers very, very happy.

Congratulations, Volkswagen: job done.

For full details of interior and exterior dimensions, including a comparison between the 600 and 680 variants, see our dedicated VW Grand California Dimensions page.

Also read:

>> Volkswagen California (Transporter) full review

>> Mercedes-Benz V-Class Marco Polo full review

>> Volkswagen Crafter (2017-on) full review

>> Campervan speed limits explained