Volkwagen California

iDrive: 'The California boasts all mod-cons, but is it really worth £46,000?'
  • @Jamie_Merrill

Price from: £42,000 (£46,605 SE 2.0 litre BiTDI tested)

Engine capacity: 2.0l

Power output (PS @ rpm): 180 @ 4000

Top speed (mph): 115

0-62 mph (seconds): 12.8

Fuel economy (mpg): 33.6

CO2 emissions (g/km): 221

Cruising the country lanes of East Anglia in search of our campsite my fellow California testers and I soon struck up the following conversation.

“This is lovely,” we all agreed, as we drooled over our soft beds, the cool beers sitting in our chilled fridge and a two-ring gas hob, “but who exactly would spend £46,000 on one?” “Outdoor-loving bankers?” I suggest. “No,” says my navigator, “it’s for young families.” “Not for this price,” chimes a voice from way, way back in the rear. It might be laden with kit (though no loo), a comfortable ride and a luxury option over a night under canvas, but the California certainly doesn’t come cheap.

For your money you do get a surprisingly pleasurable and responsive drive. And after a short dash down some winding roads – where the van performs wells in the corners, akin to a nippy Transit – we arrive at our campsites in Southwold. Where it becomes clear quickly that the California appeals to a very specific constituency. For it’s the lucky demographic of retired camping geeks (spending their baby-boomer pension pots on permanent staycation) who turn their heads as we pitch up.

“Is that the 2011 model?” asks the first friendly camper who sidles over to admire our bed for the night. “Yes,” I reply. Explaining to her that it’s VW’s latest front-engine camper. “It’s not as pretty as the older ones, though,” she replies, pointing to three or four VW campers of varying age that dot the campsite. And she’s right. VW’s latest take on the classic Kombi doesn’t share its older sibling’s pretty styling. But it’s more than comfortable enough for four and as two cars of tent-dwelling friends arrive to complete our party, my California dreamers and I make them very aware we’ll be enjoying our little luxuries while they struggle with tent poles and groundsheets.

But is this luxury really worth the money? We still can’t decide. And as I manage to set off its deafening alarm at 4am after too many cold beers necessitate a trip to the toilet block, I wonder if perhaps we’d have been better off in a tent? Probably not, but we could have done with a loo.

The Competition

Around £30,000 will get you a good-sized motorhome. Alternatively a trip for two around the world flying first class should come in at less than the price of this beast.