VW California SE 4Motion TDI

7 Jun, 2006 1:33pm Chris Thorp

VW has to be applauded for developing the original concept, rather than simply recreating it


Be king of the campsite, and pitch up in VW's new California. It lacks the surf cool of the Camper, but it has the right badge on the bonnet and plenty of creature comforts. Given its size, it's a shame there is only room for four, but VW has to be applauded for developing the original concept, rather than simply recreating it.
You could write a book on Volkswagen's historic marketing masterstroke which turned a commercial van into a cultural icon. So it's a huge surprise that the future of the famous Camper looks so fragile... Much to the anguish of surfers across the world, the retro-styled Microbus concept of 2001 has been shelved.

It seems VW is not prepared to re-create the appeal of the original, and has gone instead for the soft option - the Camper has been reborn with the help of the current Caravelle.

Badged the California, the modern-day surf mobile is basically a heavily adapted van, much like the Sixties model. Up front, the standard Caravelle dashboard takes centre stage, but in the back everything is included - even the kitchen sink. There's also a fridge, twin gas hobs and a surprisingly comfortable fold-out double bed.

Much like its predecessors, the California's roof raises for more headroom and a second upper berth. A large awning also creates a sheltered area outside the sliding side door. Connect the VW to a campsite's utility supplies and you can be almost self-sufficient - all that's missing is a shower and toilet.

Out on the road there are a few extra rattles from the accessories in the back, but the Volkswagen is a relaxed and comfortable long-distance cruiser. However, tackle a corner too quickly and both understeer and body roll will remind you that this VW is not as agile as your average car. Two diesel powerplants offer either 128bhp or 172bhp. Our test model was fitted with the stronger unit, but felt far from swift at low speeds. The short first and second gears make keeping up with city traffic a challenge. At £34,045, the entry-level California will set you back £6,350 more than the equivalent Caravelle, while the top-spec four-wheel-drive model is priced at £37,945.

Buyers will have to take a lot of weekends away before the California begins to make financial sense - but no doubt about it, there are few more comfortable ways to camp.

Key specs

* California's cabin is well equipped and superbly built. The driver sits high, with a great view of the road and easy access to all the controls.
* Engine: 2.5-litre 5cyl, 172bhp
* Economy: 30.1mpg
* Price: £37,945