Volkswagen’s California can trace its history back to the original Beetle-based Microbus, though today’s models are based on the latest T6 van. But there’s a big market for a larger camper van, one with a shower and a loo on board as well as more space and headroom. With the Crafter van being the big brother to the T6, it made sense to base a new, bigger California on the larger platform. The result is the Grand California, available to order from September 2019.
This high-spec vehicle gives tour sites the chance to make a huge impact in the leisure sector – the Grand California has the potential to attract a whole new group of customers looking for a motorhome with enhanced features and refined driving.
There are two body types: the 600, based on medium-wheelbase Crafter, and the 680, based on the long-wheelbase. They offer different roof and bed configurations, but have the same high-quality shower, toilet, kitchen and dining facilities. The 600’s unique roof offers greater height, allowing the opportunity to specify four-berth accommodation with junior-sized roof beds plus a 1,930mm transverse double bed. The extra 80cm of the long wheelbase accommodates a longer double bed, longer kitchen & additional storage.
Both models have an efficient dual gas/electric heating system, with an option to upgrade to diesel-powered heating as well as roof-mounted solar panels for more self-sufficiency when camping in remote spots. Large fresh- and waste-water tanks are also provided as standard.
Additional options include roof-mounted TV satellite dish and auxiliary air-conditioning, as well as a side awning similar to the one on T6 California. All variants have the popular 2.0 TDI 177PS engine with eight-gear automatic transmission and front-wheel drive; the 680 can also be specified with 4MOTION all-wheel drive.
No fuel economy figures or performance figures are available yet, but we know the Grand California will be powered by the VW’s dedicated 2.0 TDI commercial diesel engine. In the Crafter van this is available with 102PS, 140PS and 177PS BiTDI power outputs and 4Motion all-wheel drive is available with the two higher power outputs. Both six-speed manual and eight-speed auto gearboxes are available on the Crafter, so we’d anticipate Grand California customers will have the same choice.
The Grand California will include many of the advanced safety technologies that VW pioneered in its car range. This includes front assist monitoring, city emergency braking, lane assist, blind spot monitor, rear traffic alert (handy for when you’re reversing out of parking spaces) and park assist. There’s also a sensor-controlled side protection system, adaptive cruise control and the rear-view reversing camera.
The Grand California’s touchscreen is just like the one on a Passat or Golf and will allow you to control all the infotainment functions as well as integrate your smartphone via the optional App-Connect system. Other features include automatic lighting that comes on when you enter the bathroom, Bluetooth-controlled speakers in the living area, an external shower and an electric step.
The extending rear platform of the concept California XXL has gone, but much has been retained from the camper concept that wowed last year’s Dusseldorf Show. It’s based upon a medium-wheelbase Crafter with a high roof that has a streamlined aero profile to maximise fuel economy; total length is 5986mm, and there’s enough room inside for adults to stand upright (in the smaller T6-based California you can only do that when the extending roof is up). The interior includes berths for two adults and two children, an 840 x 800mm wet room bathroom, and an integrated kitchen area that has a sink, gas hob and two fridges. There are pop-open camper windows at the back and sides and large skylights above the double bed in the rear and the living area. All windows are fitted with cassette blinds and flyscreens. Two-tone paint will be available, as on the California, as will options like a fold-out awning and dining set.
Verdict: there are many independent companies offering motorhome conversions based on a variety of van platforms, but the appeal of a manufacturer’s model like the Grand California is that the build quality, design, technology and support are all up to Volkswagen standards. The Grand California will be priced at a premium compared with the offerings from independent conversion companies, but as with its little brother the California it will undoubtedly retain its value very well. A quality product that should reward you with years of globetrotting adventures.
"Whether you’re driving it or staying in it, it is a truly feel-good vehicle, not just for what it is, but for what it allows you to do."
"Don’t be put off by its size – driving the Grand California is such a doddle even Brian Harvey would manage it."
"The Grand California is incredibly easy to handle. More importantly, the Grand California is thoroughly comfortable, even over broken surfaces. Good news for the crockery."
"The Grand Cali changes direction remarkably easily for such a big bus, with surprisingly little body lean and decent front-end bite. Meanwhile, the gutsy, 2.0-litre turbo means it never feels breathless."
"Even the most hardened camping sceptics will find they enjoy spending time with it, while for dyed-in-the-wool camper enthusiasts, this slick, smart and beautifully appointed van will be achingly desirable."
"With no exaggeration, we’re close to describing the Grand California 600 as simply brilliant from a driving perspective."