Volkswagen was one of the pioneers in the world of vans or campers converted under Westfalia. From now on, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is responsible for converting its models into the California lineup.
A (smaller) Caddy California minivan is offered, as well as a (larger) Grand California van, but the California van remains the centerpiece of the lineup. These models are especially popular because they are compact and discreet. They are typically less than 2m tall (1.99m for California), allowing them to have access to more car parks than a traditional motorhome and be classified as a passenger car by French tolls.
The California 6.1 is available in different versions: Beach Camper, Coast and Ocean, all approved as equipped vehicles (VASP gray card). The first offers a lighter kitchenette layout without a sink, while the other two versions have a more traditional built-in van layout. The California coast we sample today is a bit more accessible and less chic than the Ocean, but retains many of its qualities. However, it has been removed from the catalog to streamline the range during this delicate period. However, they can be found used or even rented.
As an official conversion, the California is distributed and serviced directly by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles. The price starts at €65,420 for the Beach Camper version and €85,420 for the Ocean version. When it was still offered, the California Coast was sandwiched between these two versions, about €10,000 apart from each.
Aesthetically, the California is very close to the Transporter 6.1 SUV, with which it shares a body. However, if you’re not looking for absolute privacy, you can opt for a two-tone dress, or at least a more original coloration than our test model’s gray.
life on board
Once installed, the outer canopy can be deployed to accommodate the two camping chairs and table supplied with the van. The chairs are built into the tailgate and the table is built into the sliding side door.
However, we regret that the tailgate does not open electrically, as it is rather difficult to handle due to its large mass.
The light oak veneer of this Coast version brings the interior to life. Only four seats are integrated. If in any case it is not possible to camp with more than four, we would appreciate a fifth place. After all, the van is also designed for everyday use and sometimes it is very useful to be able to travel five or more.
The rear seat is sliding, and the front seats can be rotated. Unfortunately, this operation is not very comfortable for the driver’s seat, which requires you to play around with various settings and release the handbrake to allow rotation. Once the seats are in the living room configuration, the interior table can be folded out.
There is ample storage space on board the California. For example, there is a large drawer under the rear bench seat, and a compartment with a mirror to the left of the kitchen area.
It is also possible to store suitcases in the trunk. However, on our test model, the seat was taken up by a set of luggage.
In addition, at the back you have access to an outdoor shower, supplied with a 30-liter supply of clean water. The sewage tank has the same capacity, but is quite limited, and the two auxiliary batteries have a capacity of 150 Ah.
These batteries charge while you drive, but can also be powered from an outdoor outlet to keep you camping longer. However, an electric stove should be enough to stay in the parking lot for about three nights.
Many types of sockets are built into the cabin: household, 12 V, USB-A and USB-C.
When it’s time to eat, it happens in the center of the van. Having raised the roof, even the tallest person can stand while cooking. The operation is very simple because the roof is electro-hydraulic and therefore all you have to do is press a button.
The galley has a small sink, a two-burner gas stove powered by an R907 bottle (2.75 kg of gas) and a 42-litre refrigeration room.
In the absence of a real work plan, it is possible to use an interior table as such.
The kitchen set includes storage space, in particular a drawer for cutlery.
The California coast includes two beds. Folding the bench seat and unfolding the mattress topper results in a first bed measuring 1140mm x 2000mm. Width is limited to two people and folding the bed down each morning can be restrictive.
Curtains allow you to completely hide the glazing. If this does not plunge the van into complete darkness, especially at the level of the windshield, light penetration is limited.
The second bed is built into the box spring roof. It is slightly wider (1200 mm x 2000 mm). If you are poorly insulated from outside noise and temperature, this bed is easier to set up and store thanks to the jacking system. However, without a ladder, getting to it will be problematic.
If necessary, a stationary heating system is integrated. Runs on diesel fuel from the fuel tank. However, it makes a little noise when turned on. It is controlled by remote control or original Camper control box.
This is a touch screen built into the ceiling and used to control certain features of this built version. You can program the heating, turn on and regulate the refrigerator, adjust the lighting, or even program the alarm. This screen displays the water level in the tanks and the state of charge of the batteries.
Infotainment and Communications
In addition to this first screen, a second one is integrated into the dashboard. These two interfaces do not exchange data. The central touchscreen is quite small (6.5 inches) and limited in its features, such as no on-board navigation. However, it is quite easy to use and quite responsive. It is mainly used to connect your smartphone to take advantage of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay via the USB-C connector.
For the more tech-savvy, we advise the California Ocean, which benefits from a 9.2-inch screen with an interface taken from the latest Golf, but not necessarily more intuitive.
Finally, the mobile app on offer is also quite poor in terms of features. As with Volkswagen vehicles, your van can be located, checked to see if it’s properly locked, or even remotely activated with a horn or headlights. However, we regret that it is not possible to block it remotely.
Likewise, no layout function is available from within the application. For example, we would appreciate the ability to remotely control a refrigerator or heating.
An app dedicated to California is offered in Germany under the name California on Tour and allows you to search for campsites. Unfortunately, it is not available to us.
Manageability and performance
At 4,904mm long, the size of the California is not far from the size of a passenger car. Therefore, his behavior is not so intimidating. The driving position is nonetheless typical of high-seat comfort, but not uncomfortable. Ergonomic dashboard with physical ventilation controls or even multimedia.
Unlike the Ocean version, this California coast doesn’t have a fully “digital” instrument cluster. Here, only a small screen is built in between two traditional posts. The display is crisp, but a larger screen would have been enough to show more information at once.
California is available in two diesel versions: 2.0 TDI 150 and 2.0 TDI 204. This is the 150 HP version we tested. This leaves the choice between the all-wheel drive transmission (traction) that our test model is equipped with, or the all-wheel drive version of the 4MOTION. This is the only version available with a manual transmission, all others are automatically linked to a DSG7 dual-clutch robotic transmission.
To move more than 2.5 tons of this version, 150 hp. show their limit, as evidenced by the acceleration from 0 to 100 km / h, which still takes 14.3 seconds. Luckily, 340Nm of torque and a fast DSG transmission allow the engine to be revitalized properly. If the typical sound of diesel engines is present, then this engine is still quite smooth in operation.
NOISE MEASUREMENT AT 130 KM/H
Road behavior is normal. This California does not fall into turns, the steering is accurate, and the comfort is not bad. In terms of noise pollution, we noted 71 dB(A) at 130 km/h, which is relatively high.
However, the set of driving aids as standard on this version of the Coast is very limited: cruise control is not adaptive, there is no automatic emergency braking, no lane keeping assist, much less autonomous driving or parking… Not even parking aids. And there are no rear view cameras. optional! Unlike windshield wipers, headlights have an auto-on feature, but they are halogen bulbs and do not offer the best visibility.
Finally, we’d appreciate keyless entry and start, as well as an electric parking brake.
Sold and serviced directly by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles.
Electro-hydraulic lifting roof.
Two real beds.
Multiple outlet types (household, 12V, USB-A and USB-C).
Convenient command screen.
Built-in chairs and camping table.
Easy and pleasant driving.
Height less than 2 m (1.99 m).
The back door doesn’t work well.
The driver’s seat is hard to turn.
The capacity of the clean water tank is limited (30 l).
Only four places.
Slightly limited performance.
Slightly high fuel consumption (8 l/100 km WLTP combined).
Disadvantages of driving aids.
Lack of onboard navigation.
A mobile application that lacks features.