IAIN ROBERTSON 

When Volkswagen Group decided to create its own caravanette, in the California version of the Transporter van, it set the market alight, highlights Iain Robertson, but it has now taken one step further with the Crafter-based four-berth alternative.

While I cannot state that I am impressed with everything produced by VW, just occasionally, it manages to make a vehicle that might create some impact. When the German manufacturer decided to go its own way and create a caravanette of which to be immensely proud, I was deeply impressed. After all, much of my loathing of these mobile chicanes arises from the omni-present ‘Eau de Plastique’, a malodorous ‘cologne’ that emanates from trim glue, fibreglass and acres of chintzy fabric. That so many of them handle like boats in storms and perform like snails on amphetamines has not helped their cause.

Making its world debut at the Caravan Salon, held in Düsseldorf (24th August to 2nd September 2018), a completely new VW motorhome is based on the larger Crafter van. With the arrival of the Grand California, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is extending its range by adding a model to the six-metre class, complete with fully-equipped bathroom. In addition to the large, double-bed sleeping area in the rear, the Grand California is also available with a high bunk bed for children. The actual launch of the new campervan will be in early 2019.

First unveiled in 1988, the ‘Bulli’-based California is the world’s most successful campervan, with sales of over 160,000 units. VW Commercials has used the experience gained from that amazing camper to create the new Grand California on the Crafter’s platform. The regular two-berth California (T6) demonstrated VW’s competence at interior décor, which arises from a manufacturer’s mind-set, as opposed to talented conversion specialists. The result was ‘a perfect place for everything, in a perfect installation’, from slide-out deckchairs, to multi-functional surfaces and storage solutions.

With fresh clarity, plenty of practice and ingenious detailing, the interior of the XL variant reflects the qualities that made the California such a big-seller. The cabinet trim in the Grand California is white, creating a bright and spacious environment. This is boosted by the pop-open camper windows both at the back and on the sides of the vehicle, as well as the large skylights above the double-bed in the rear and the living area. All camper windows are fitted with cassette blinds and fly-screens. For the driver’s cab, there is also a new ‘blackout’ concept.

Further standard features include, in addition to the kitchen and spacious bathroom (840 x 800mm), details such as external lighting above the sliding door. The standard connection at the rear for an external shower (with adjustable water temperature) will make life on the campsite just heaven. An electrically-powered step, which moves out in front of the sliding door, makes entering and exiting the cabin much easier, while a two-part mosquito net in the door is part of the standard specification. One innovative feature is the option to control the loudspeakers in the living area via Bluetooth. This makes it possible to listen to music independently of the infotainment system using a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

The Grand California is fitted with swivelling ‘Captain’s chairs’ at the front and a double bench seat in the living area. Families with small children will appreciate the ISOFIX anchor points, complete with top tether, in the rear bench seat. A large dining table provides ample room for four people to sit down and dine together. The kitchen fittings include a pull-out 70-litre refrigerator, with freezer compartment (accessible from outside as well as via the sliding door), a twin-hob gas cooker, a sink and a wide range of drawers, pull-out storage compartments, aircraft-style lockers and tip-up shelves.

A key feature of the Grand California, to differentiate it from the California ‘T6’, lies in its bathroom. In addition to toilet and shower, its fittings include a fold-out wash basin, shelves with holders for toiletries, a cupboard with integrated toilet paper holder (to protect it from getting damp), towel holders and a skylight for ventilation. The Grand California has 110-litres of water carrying capacity. There are no light switches to be found in the bathroom, as they come on automatically via motion detectors.

Optionally available is a high bunk-bed for kids, complete with integrated panoramic skylight. Also available are details such as an additional roof-mounted air conditioning unit at the back, an awning, a rear bicycle rack and a camping table and chairs (which can be stowed in the wing doors). The standard gas heating can be expanded as a heating system to run on Propane, or diesel-generated electric power. There will also be a solar panel system mounted on the roof, a satellite dish (for TV reception) and an LTE/WiFi hotspot (router).

As you might expect of a factory-warranted vehicle, the Grand California will be available with the Crafter’s driver assistance and infotainment systems. They include the front assist surroundings monitoring system, with city-brake, lane assist, blind- spot monitor, rear traffic alert for reversing out of parking spaces and park assist for steering into them, the sensor-controlled side protection system, adaptive cruise control and a vital rear-view reversing camera.

It is my hope that the top-heavy California XL will take corners and negotiate roundabouts with as much ease as its smaller brother but I do not believe you should expect record-breaking campsite-to-campsite journey times. Yet, intended for travel anywhere in the world, VW Commercials is also offering the new model with the firm’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system, which will be ideal for extraction from most grass camp-sites and provide a degree of additional stability and grip. The camper high roof has been shaped aerodynamically, in order to avoid some of the negative implications on fuel consumption, although 20-25mpg will be close to the norm.

The two-colour paintwork concept is adapted from the California ‘T6’. However, the single colour paintwork options include: Candy White, Reflex Silver, or Indium Grey. Available as two-colour paintwork are combinations of the silver and grey, Candy White with Cherry Red, Candy White with Deep Ocean Blue, or Candy White with Mojave Beige metallic.

While there are neither prices, nor availability dates, provided as yet, they will be announced in the New Year. You can rest assured that, much as the regular California is available from around £55,000 to £70,000, the Crafter-based XL alternative is not going to be the ‘campervan bargain of the century’. However, as a factory-built model, you can rest assured that it will probably look as good in ten years’ time as it would from new.

Conclusion:    Campervans are hot property at the moment, especially at Camp VW. If you desire the two-berth California (T6), your local VW specialist might help you to obtain one, although a discount might be harder to come by. You are forced to await the arrival of the California XL but we know it will be worth it.