What is it?
Volkswagen’s California has a following like few other vehicles on the road. So desirable is this official Transporter conversion, many imitate the German firm’s work. It’s been a hugely successful formula for VW and continues to earn the brand a reputation as being among the best in the camper van world.
The standard California has been so popular that Volkswagen has now broadened the line-up, creating something smaller with the Caddy California, and then larger with the Grand California we’re looking at here.
Just like the standard California is based on VW’s Transporter van, this Grand model uses Volkswagen’s largest commercial vehicle, the Crafter, as its underpinnings.
While you might have to make compromises with the standard California, such as with what items you can take and bathing arrangements, such things are not a worry with the Grand version because of its vast footprint. There are two versions too – the 600 and the 680, the number correlating to the length in centimetres of the two vans.
What’s under the bonnet?
Regardless of which Grand California you go for, they use all the same engines – Volkswagen’s tried-and-tested 2.0-litre turbocharged diesel engine. You can have it capable of a 3.5-tonne gross vehicle weight or a 3.88-tonne option instead.
Each produces 174bhp, with the drive being delivered to the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. There’s no manual option here, while all models are front-wheel-drive currently too.
Given the nature of these vehicles, there are no quoted performance figures, but Volkswagen does give you the efficiency figures. They look quite high on paper, but it’s worth considering this vehicle’s size – Volkswagen claims 26.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 284g/km.
What’s it like to drive?
There’s no hiding the size and weight of the Grand California on the road. While the standard Cali could be quite easily used on a daily basis, this larger model is far more likely to simply be used as a camper van.
However, once you’ve got used to the sheer length of the Grand California, it’s fairly easy to drive. The controls are fairly light, while the gearbox is fairly smooth. This is a heavy van so performance is certainly on the more leisurely scale, but you wouldn’t want to rush along a vehicle like this anyway.
How does it look?
The Grand California’s sheer size means it doesn’t offer the same level of cool as its smaller sibling, but this is a purposeful camper that’s certainly more pleasing to the eye than other vans of this size.
The colour choice, at the time of writing, is quite limiting, with only white, grey and silver shades available, though all come with alloy wheels and LED headlights. It’s worth remembering the 680 model is significantly longer to look at.
What’s it like inside?
Up front, the Grand California’s interior mirrors that of the Crafter, with a functional layout with hard-wearing plastics. Visibility is excellent up front, though just like a van, you’ll be reliant on your mirrors for the view out the back.
But it’s behind the seats that’s the important bit, as just behind there’s a dining area, with the front seats swivelling to allow room for four people to eat together. Interestingly, the longer ‘680’ is only suitable for two people to sleep, with greater space to accommodate the kitchen and a larger double bed, while the smaller 600 has a sleeping area available above the front seats, though this is really best for children.
A key draw to the Grand California is that it has a self-contained bathroom, including a toilet, shower and a 110-litre fresh water tank to supply it.
What’s the spec like?
Given the Grand California’s sheer size, it doesn’t come in at cheap, with the 600 costing from £81,890, while the 680 comes in at £84,598 before options.
You do get a decent level of equipment, however, including adaptive cruise control, parking sensors and a touchscreen navigation system in terms of more conventional features.
The options list is fairly extensive so you don’t want to be too bold with what you choose. A Wi-Fi hotspot costs £732, for example, while a water heater will set you back £1,206.
The Grand California is most certainly a welcome addition to Volkswagen’s camper van range. Bringing far more space in what feels more like a purpose-built tool for the job, it’s ideal for longer extended breaks.
Packing plenty of creature comforts like a kitchen and a bathroom, it really could be a home away from home.