Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • 2019 facelift brings smarter dashboard
  • Lots of storage space and cubbies
  • High driving position, solid build quality

The California is blessed with great forward visibility thanks to the high seating position – it’s high for a van, let alone a car or SUV – and all of the secondary controls are sensibly laid out and clearly labelled, regardless of whether you’re in a pre- or post-facelift model.

There is also a vast amount of useful storage within an arm’s reach of the driver, from the double-decker door bins to a variety of cup and bottle holders. The updated dashboard in the T6.1 takes this even further, despite having an even smarter and car-like appearance.

Either way, you’re more likely to have trouble remembering where you put something than struggle to find somewhere to put it in the first place.

Interior upgrades for the 2019-onwards California facelift

As well as changing the UK trim line up to Coast and Ocean for 2019 (ditching the more basic Beach) Volkswagen has made a number of detail improvements to the California’s interior.

The one you certainly won’t miss is the new dashboard, which looks much sharper with its newly integrated infotainment screens running VW’s latest MIB3 software and complete with voice control, on-board Wi-Fi and other connectivity features. Losing the physical volume knob for the stereo seems a bit of a shame, though.

Ocean models get a fancy second screen called the Digital Cockpit in place of a conventional instrument cluster. And although this is a touch harder on the eyes, the customisable manner in which you can display information here and on the central touchscreen means you’ll find everything you could want to know available at glance.

Speaking of screens, on top models you’ll quickly notice that there’s now another one lurking above the rear-view mirror. This controls all the camping functions, including the pop-up roof, the auxiliary heating, the lighting and the fridge. It also has a set of digital levels to help you park the California as level as possible and stop things rolling across the cabin.

Elsewhere you’ll find new aluminium door handles for the cupboards, new push-to-open latches for the work surfaces over the kitchen items, opening doors in place of shutters and revised choices of wood finish – which certainly look classier to us. The upholstery has been slightly revised to match.

There are updates to the sleeping areas as well, which we’ve covered in the practicality section.

Easy to use

The high-set gearlever even makes gearchanges a relaxing affair, while the clarity of the instrumentation gives you easy access to all the most important information. This extends to the touchscreen infotainment systems, which are straightforward to use on all versions.

As a camper, there are a number of additional controls – particularly on the Ocean, which has a panel above the rearview mirror for activating the electric pop-up roof canopy and 42-litre cool box, setting the auxiliary heating, and checking fresh and waste water levels. As discussed above, this is replaced by a touchscreen after the facelift, and gets an even greater number of features.

Refinement

We generally use this section of a Parkers review to talk about noise, vibration and harshness – NVH as automotive engineers like to put it – but in the VW California you will experience this in a different way to almost any other vehicle on sale. Which is to say the most distracting thing about driving it is the sound of all the pots and pans and other cooking paraphernalia rattling around in the back…

This aside, there’s a bit of engine noise when accelerating hard – reduced in facelift models but entirely acceptable at any rate – but wind noise is well suppressed. Unseemly vibrations aren’t really an issue; VW’s latest diesels are smooth, and for a big hollow structure, the California is impressively stiff.

Comfy seats up front, loads of legroom in the back

The front seats are comfortable and highly adjustable (they even swivel round to create a lounge-like interior when you’re parked); the standard rear bench – which converts into a bed remember – isn’t quite as comfy on the posterior, but you do get loads of legroom.

As for ride comfort, the California is a touch bumpier than a conventional car over rougher surfaces, but it generally delivers a relaxed, unfussy experience that once again ensures you should arrive at your destination ready to enjoy your camping holiday – or at least a good night’s kip.