Welcome to an icon. While tens of thousands of us can only dream of life with a VW camper, this is the top-of-the-tree, definitive model that only a few hundred will be fortunate enough to purchase this year.
It’s the California SE and it’s the only campervan that’s made by Volkswagen itself. All others come via specialist converters, but that’s a whole different story.
Here, it’s all about the SE version of the California (although there is also the lesser spec’d California Beach) and it should comes as no surprise to see it’s a standard VW camper layout – furniture unit along the side, rear bench seat/double bed, elevating roof incorporating a second double bed overhead.
Except there are significant differences between the California and its UK rival (of which there are many). First, Volkswagen builds all of its “Calis” with a left-hand drive floorplan – hence, although the cab is switched for UK use, the rest of the conversion, including the sliding door, isn’t.
Also, that elevating roof section, in lightweight aluminium, operates electrically via a central panel above the dashboard that also controls noteworthy functions such as the interior heating system (it’s on a timer, too) and the compressor fridge.
There’s a lightweight but strong feel to the furniture, with its aluminium edging and, adjacent to that fridge unit – a top-loader, is a combination two-ring hob and sink unit.
There’s also a clever table that slides away unobtrusively, alongside the rear seat (which is also on rails) when not needed. Also here, as standard, are the two outdoor chairs (stowed in a zipped canvas bag attached to the tailgate) and an accompanying table tucked into a recess in the sliding door.
There’s plenty more clever stuff. Like the fresh water tank that envelops that gas cylinder, the large storage locker above and just behind the rear seat. And the soft-closing side door. The integrated awning rail. The extra cab airbags. Insulating, tinted glass. Flip-down rear head restraints when it comes to making the beds. Extra insulation all-round…
And there’s more. Just cast your eyes over the key options listed below (all of which are on this example here, bumping the price up to nearly £60,000) and you’ll see some of the luxuries other campers (even those based on a T5) can only dream about.
It’s not 100 per cent praise, though. The cab curtain system (cloth panels with spring-out poles) has always failed to convince (a set of insulation screens is a useful investment), although a recent update is the use of magnets for the side units is an improvement). Elsewhere, however, the blinds are top-notch.
Also, it sounds like Volkswagen has resolved the issue of paint bubbling on its aluminium roof section. You may or may not strike lucky with the services of the local Volkswagen Van Centre (the company insists on using at its commercial dealer network to retail the California)… and, if you’re thinking of buying a pre-owned example, well, you’re going to have to do some hard-searching/ bargaining. Which kind of sums up why this can be considered a true campervan classic.
If you think it all sounds a bit expensive, it is. Then again, compare the specifications of the “Cali” with any other T5 conversion and it actually comes out at positively good value. More so, if you bear in mind this is a motorhome that holds its value like no other. It also comes with a class-leading three-year warranty, covering the whole vehicle.
Verdict: A true classic, already
Plus: Car-standard build throughout, class-leading key features
Minus: Sliding door remains UK offside, cab curtain system, storage isn’t the best
In-a-nutshell: Camper meets car, to great effect
Cost to insure: £257.50
- Volkswagen California SE
- Volkswagen Caravelle, 2-litre, 138bhp Euro V
- Dimensions 5.89m L x 1.90m W x 2.00m H
- Maximum weight 3000kg
- Payload 524kg
- Key options: Travel pack –RNS510 navigation/DAB+ radio system with 6.5in colour touchscreen, voice control, 30GB hard drive, single CD player, SD card reader, aux-in socket for connection to an external device, eight speakers; premium Bluetooth connectivity; 3Zone climatronic air conditioning; laminated glass in cab and privacy glass in passenger compartment; multifunction steering wheel; auto-dimming rear-view mirror (£2,676), Safety pack – tyre pressure monitor and lane change assist £732); Media-In with USB adapter (£151) Wi-Fi internet connection (WLAN router in glovebox) (£707), magnetic solenoid torch (£61), silver roll-out awning (£555), electric sliding side door with power latching (£308), mud flaps front and rear (£120), xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, headlight washer system with heated washer jets and washer fluid level indicator (£1,212), storage net – in roof-bed access opening with drawer beside bench set instead of load-through provision (£151), safe box in base of wardrobe (£91), parking sensors, front and rear with reversing camera (£996), alternative alloys – 7J x 7 Neva alloys (£120), all-weather tyres, 235/55 R17 (£126), Alcantara/leather upholstery (£868), metallic paint (£600), bike rack (£485)
- Security and Safety ABS (Anti-lock Braking System), EDL (Electronic Differential Lock), EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution), TCS (Traction Control System), EBC (Engine Braking Control), ESP (Electronic Stabilisation Programme) including ARP (Active Rollover Protection), front and side curtain airbag system for front and rear passengers, driver’s and front passenger’s airbags with passenger’s deactivation switch, electronic engine immobiliser, remote central locking, alarm with interior protection, stop/start; brake energy recuperation, front fog lights with cornering function, daytime running lights, coming/leaving home lighting function
- MPG estimate 28-34
Recommended retail price £45,288
There’s more information on the Volkswagen website and to find out more about our low-cost premiums visit the motorhome insurance discounts page.
Alternatives: Bilbo’s Celex, CMC Reimo Trio Style, Westfalia Club Joker
*Motorhome insurance cost based on Volkswagen California SE retailing at £45,288 fitted with a Thatcham Category 1 approved alarm and manufacturers immobiliser. UK travel only. Kept in secure storage at TD9 8ED. Motorhome owners – professionals over 50 years old with no claims or convictions in last 3 years. 4 years no claims bonus mirrored from car policy and 2 years motorhome driving experience. Members of motorhome club doing less than 5000 miles annually. £300 excess applies. Premiums include insurance premium tax at 6% and are correct at 06/10/2014.
**On-the-road, including VAT at 20%