Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • Exceptionally clever packaging and design
  • Sleeping room for four
  • Gas hob, fridge and sink included

One of the most appealing things about the California is just how cleverly VW integrates the campervan features.

There are cupboards and wardrobes in the back, a two-ring hob (with integrated storage for a 2.8kg gas bottle), 42-litre electric cool box (which can be used to keep things warm as well) and on-board tanks for both fresh and waste water – all of which are now standard on every UK California following the 2019 facelift.

The range-topping Ocean gets two large auxiliary batteries to power all this (and its electric pop-up roof; the roof is manually operated on lesser models), and all versions come with an electric hook-up so you can plug them into the mains when you’re parked at a suitable camp site.

There’s also an awning on the side, a fold-up table hidden in the sliding door and a pair of fold-up chairs in the tailgate –  brilliant packaging, though note that the struts that hold the tailgate aloft are particularly strong as a result, and it requires quite a tug to close.

Seating arrangements

You get four seats as standard in the California: two individual swivelling chairs at the front and two on the rear bench that doubles as a bed in the back. Beneath this is a large, strong drawer unit that is useful for storing items like the electric hook-up cable.

This whole bench slides back and forth on the standard floor rails. Two extra individual seats could be added ahead of it in the entry-level Beach, but you can only add one to the Coast and Ocean models due to the included sink and stove. Similarly, the Beach had the option of a three-seater rear bench, and therefore the ability to transport up to seven, but this is too wide for the amount of space available in the equivalent Ocean.

There is room for further storage behind the bench seat, so you can adjust this using the rails as required.

Sleeping arrangements

The two-berth bed in the passenger compartment is created by folding the rear bench flat; if you’re thinking that can’t possibly be long enough for an adult you’d be right – you have to attach an additional frame and mattress portion to extend it. The process is a little bit awkward, but we’re sure you’d soon get used to it if you were using your California on a regular basis.

Up on the roof things are much more straightforward – as the mattress is ready and waiting as soon as the canopy is raised. However, to get up there you have to climb through a hole roughly the size of an old-school sunroof above the front seats, so access requires a certain amount of physical dexterity.

For pre-2019 facelift models, the upper mattress rests on sprung wooden slats; after the facelift these have been replaced by individual plastic coil springs, designed to be more comfortable and to allow people to shift around without waking their sleeping partner. We can testify that they are certainly comfortable – just remember to pack a decent pillow.

The pop-up roof area is surrounded by fully waterproof material with zip-out portions for visibility and ventilation. For the 2019 facelift this material is darker grey than before to reduce the amount of light that leaks through; again, this seems to work well.

Let there be light – and auxiliary heating

Lighting features include built-in rechargeable torches that can be removed to help you find the shower block in the dark as well as all the proper interior illumination you’d expect – including upstairs in the roof area.

On 2019-onwards models with the new camping touchscreen controller above the rear view mirror, this can be used to switch the lights on and off, and even activate a sunrise alarm feature, which instead of making lots of noise gradually brings up the lights at a set time to (theoretically) wake you gently.

All UK trim levels include an auxiliary heater, so you shouldn’t freeze during especially cold nights, but only the Ocean gets three-zone climate control and a programmable parking heater as standard.

Safety

Euro NCAP is yet to crash test the latest generation of VW California, and though it is structurally similar to the preceding T5 Transporter van that received four stars in 2013, there are now more of the latest electronic safety aids available on the camper.

Standard equipment on all T6 models include six airbags and electronic stability control, but the number of active driver aids (standard or otherwise) has increased considerably during the vehicle’s lifetime – with examples being the inclusion of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) on all UK models from mid-2017.

The latest T6.1 facelift Californias have gained electrically power-assisted steering (EPAS), which has made even more active safety items possible, including crosswind assist (now standard on all models), lane-keeping assist and automatic parking.

Other safety items available include blindspot monitors, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition.

Isn’t the sliding door on the wrong side?

The California’s sliding side door is on the driver’s side in the UK when you might expect it to be on the passenger side so that people are less likely to exit from it into traffic.

However, since you can walk right through the cabin into the front of the van, any safety concerns about this are easily resolved by letting rear passengers out through the front passenger door instead.

It’s also worth noting the sheer size of the rear tailgate, which requires plenty of space to open, making it potentially difficult in crowded car parks. On the plus side it serves as a handy rain shelter when changing muddy boots.

Basic equipment

The basic equipment list includes equipment that is standard across all versions of the Volkswagen California.

  • ABS
  • Alarm
  • Alloy wheels
  • Body coloured bumpers
  • Cloth seat trim
  • Driver`s airbag
  • Full size spare wheel
  • Isofix child seat anchor points
  • Lumbar support
  • PAS
  • Passenger`s airbag
  • Service indicator
  • Side airbags

Equipment by trim level

To view equipment options for a specific trim level, please select from the following list:

Equipment included on some trim levels
  • 3x3 point rear seat belts
  • Air conditioning
  • Audio remote
  • CD
  • Climate control
  • Cruise control
  • Electric mirrors
  • Folding rear seats
  • Front electric windows
  • Front fog lights
  • Headlight washers
  • Heated mirrors
  • Heated seats
  • Height adjustable drivers seat
  • Metallic Paint
  • Parking sensors
  • Rear electric windows
  • Remote locking
  • Roof rails
  • Sat Nav
  • Steel wheels
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment
  • Traction control

30 Years equipment

30 Years standard equipment
  • 3x3 point rear seat belts
  • Audio remote
  • Cruise control
  • Electric mirrors
  • Folding rear seats
  • Front fog lights
  • Headlight washers
  • Heated mirrors
  • Heated seats
  • Metallic Paint
  • Parking sensors
  • Roof rails
  • Sat Nav
  • Steel wheels
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment
  • Traction control
30 Years optional equipment
  • CD
  • Front electric windows
  • Height adjustable drivers seat
  • Rear electric windows
  • Remote locking

Beach equipment

Beach standard equipment
  • Air conditioning
  • CD
  • Climate control
  • Electric mirrors
  • Heated mirrors
  • Height adjustable drivers seat
  • Remote locking
  • Roof rails
  • Steel wheels
  • Traction control
Beach optional equipment
  • Folding rear seats
  • Front electric windows
  • Rear electric windows
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment

Beach Edition equipment

Beach Edition standard equipment
  • Audio remote
  • CD
  • Electric mirrors
  • Front electric windows
  • Front fog lights
  • Heated mirrors
  • Parking sensors
  • Rear electric windows
  • Roof rails
  • Sat Nav
  • Steel wheels
  • Traction control
Beach Edition optional equipment
  • Air conditioning
  • Climate control
  • Folding rear seats
  • Height adjustable drivers seat
  • Remote locking
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment

Coast equipment

Coast standard equipment
  • Parking sensors
  • Remote locking
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment
Coast optional equipment
None available

Ocean equipment

Ocean standard equipment
  • Front fog lights
  • Heated seats
Ocean optional equipment
  • 3x3 point rear seat belts
  • Audio remote
  • CD
  • Electric mirrors
  • Folding rear seats
  • Front electric windows
  • Heated mirrors
  • Height adjustable drivers seat
  • Parking sensors
  • Rear electric windows
  • Remote locking
  • Roof rails
  • Sat Nav
  • Steel wheels
  • Steering wheel rake adjustment
  • Steering wheel reach adjustment
  • Traction control