Volkswagen California 2021 Review
Our Rating

4.5/5

Volkswagen California 2021 Review

Against a growing range of rivals, is the California still the camper van to have?

Introduction

It’s safe to say that Brits have become camping and caravan crazy over the course of the pandemic, with many of us looking to holiday at home, rather than head off abroad. 

This fresh demand has seen a raft of new camper vans come to fruition – including from the likes of Toyota, Vauxhall and Ford – and it means Volkswagen no longer has its own way in this market with its iconic California. 

To keep things fresh then, here we have the latest ‘T6.1’ model, which is based on the latest update to the Transporter van. Changes include sharper new styling at the front end, but it’s inside where a range of useful upgrades have been made. 

For starters there’s a new touchscreen control panel that houses a range of functions, such as the pop-up roof and auxiliary heater, while higher-spec cars benefit from new digital dials, along with an updated infotainment system. But can this keep the California on top? Let’s take a look.

Performance 

There are two engines available on the latest California, though a turbocharged 2.0-litre TDI unit serves as the basis for both. All new Californias also now come with a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox as standard.

The first option produces 148bhp, while the latter gets a punchy 201bhp, as well as the option of 4Motion four-wheel-drive too. The 148bhp engine can go from 0-60mph in 14.1 seconds, while the latter can manage it in just over 11 seconds, or slightly quicker if they have four-wheel-drive fitted. 

With each having a 70-litre fuel tank, a range of around 500 miles is possible on longer trips, as well as a respectable 30mpg. Considering the California’s weight and the equipment onboard, those figures are rather impressive.

Ride and handling

An advantage to choosing the California over a more conventional motorhome is that it’s a far more manoeuvrable size. Yet, despite still being a heavy van, it’s surprisingly good to drive, and relatively nimble too. 

The 201bhp engine fitted to our test van delivered plenty of poke for a model like this, while the engine is very quiet and refined at higher speeds, and a great fit for lengthy journeys. There is quite a lot of wind and road noise, though the vehicle itself is well screwed together with no creaks or rattles coming from the living area behind you.

Interior and equipment

Like the standard Transporter, up front the California has a very car-like interior made with impressive quality, while the digital dials and main touchscreen are both clear and easy to use. 

But of course, it’s the rear space that you’ll want to know about. In the back, there’s a bench seat for passengers to sit in while the car is moving, while the ergonomics are fantastic. Especially in the kitchen, as the hob and sink are both positioned well, and make it surprisingly easy to cook a decent meal. 

The pop-up roof (which is either done manually or at the press of a button on higher-spec trims) also unlocks a spacious sleeping area, with taller adults able to get comfortable and a great mattress meaning you can have a good night’s sleep. 

In terms of equipment, standard kit on the Beach versions include 16-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch touchscreen, air conditioning and LED interior lighting, along with four seats, a two-seater bench/bed and a manual pop-up roof. 

The Coast trim then brings more useful kitchen equipment, additional batteries for electricals and a touchscreen to control various elements of the model. At the top of the range, the Ocean is crammed with kit, from its LED headlights, heated front seats and electric roof to additional features to help improve your camping experience.

Cost

The California has always been one of the priciest camper vans of its size on the market, with buyers happy to pay to join the club, paying for the superb build quality that these vans are known for. 

The latest version starts from £56,039 (including VAT) for a standard Beach version, though prices rise all the way to almost £75,000 for a top-spec Ocean model with four-wheel-drive.

Verdict

Volkswagen has consistently been improving its California recipe over the years, and the latest version only takes things up another level. For what is a relatively compact van (by camper van standards), it’s impressively versatile and exceptionally well packaged. 

It all comes at a price, but if you want the ultimate campervan that is well-built and good to drive, the California remains right at the top of its game.

Enquire on a new Volkswagen California

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