We have spent a few days with this Grand California to realize that it is more than a high-volume camper van, it is almost a motorhome and it is a benchmark. At the end of the day it does not have direct competition , so we are going to tell you what its characteristics are, its strengths and those others in which it could improve.
It is unavoidable. When we think of camper vans, our heads almost automatically go to Volkswagen California . What is undoubtedly the most popular camper has been creating school since 1950 (then known as Volkswagen Transporter), with the first model assembled on the basis of Volkswagen Type 2.
The successive generations T1, T2, T3, T4 … were creating a school full of addicts to his style, including the unmistakable boost received from the hand of the hippy movement in the 60s and 70s. and becoming luxury camper vans full of amenities and maintaining that special aura that makes us look at them with special affection in any tourist or leisure destination. It doesn’t matter which generation we talk about.
We are currently going for the Volkswagen California 6.1 , and far from being alone, it is better accompanied than ever. The California have fallen short of the supply of high-volume camper vans, so in Wolfsburg they have decided to launch the majestic Volkswagen Grand California . A model that caused a sensation at the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf in 2017 and has finally reached production .
Your arrival is fully justified. The flourishing of the camper and motorhome world is taking on an unusual weight. During the last five years the sector has increased by 120% , with a demand that has grown both towards small camper vans and those of large volume. Volkswagen has rolled out a minimal camperized variation of the Caddy at the low end, and at the top is Grand California.
The Grand California is assembled in the Polish plant in Września where the rest of Californias are born and from there they are sent to the end customers, channeled through the brand’s own network of dealers. Thus the Germans cover a sector of the market as no other brand does, and the Volkswagen Grand California does not have direct competition in any other brand . To find similar products you have to go to external specialists.
On the outside it looks like a Volkswagen Crafter , and with good reason. The Grand California is built on the basis of the group’s large industrial van. It should be remembered that the new Volkswagen Crafter that arrived in 2017 is already produced jointly with MAN (part of the Volkswagen Group) and not in collaboration with Mercedes-Benz as was the case before with the Sprinter. That is another reason why this camper has not arrived until now.
In terms of dimensions, the Grand California is … very big . It measures no less than 5,986mm long by 2,040mm wide and 2,970mm high. From its length comes its name, Grand California 600, but there is another even larger, the Grand California 680 that goes up to 6,836 mm long.
On the outside there are some elements that clearly differentiate it from a conventional van. The windows on the sides and rear doors, the awning on the right side and especially the raised roof sing . We also see a bulky part in the rear area on each side, but we will talk about that later.
Taking into account elements such as the two-color paint, the alloy wheels or that characteristic line that the roof gives it, it must be recognized that the Grand California draws attention . It is still a van, but it is not just any van at all, and even less in the eyes of other users of this type of vehicle who look at it with some surprise from afar.
As the owner of a large volume camper van built on a Citroën Jumper L2H2, I really wanted to get my hands on this Grand California. We quickly get behind his wheel and the driving position is basically just one more driving position. The environment of an industrial van and little else .
All the dashboard moldings are hard, textured, and in two or three different finishes that basically change their roughness. There are no big fancies but good settings, no crickets, and tons of storage spaces. In the upper part of the dashboard, several areas are distributed over almost the entire width to store objects with a cigarette lighter socket next to the right A-pillar and a USB connector on the left.
In addition, the door bags have double storage space where even large bottles can fit. To the left of the steering wheel, a small surface with a 12V socket that extends in front of the passenger seat, a good capacity glove box with a lid and in the central part a small hole with another 12V socket.
The steering wheel is a multi-function rim with the adaptive cruise control controls on the left and the controls for the dashboard and audio on the right. Its touch is normal, with a thick ring but with a contained diameter and a somewhat plastic feel.
Ahead of the steering wheel is a very simple double dial dashboard . On the left the tachometer with the temperature gauge and on the right the speedometer and the fuel level. In between an extremely simple monochrome display with just the right information.
On the dashboard we have something new with respect to the Crafter. The main one is the radio with a touch screen , it does not look especially modern and it lacks a GPS navigator, something that we see fundamental for the type of vehicle it is, but in return it has connectivity with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and Mirror Link .
Among the controls on the dashboard we find one that catches our attention ahead of the gear lever. It is the one that forces the system to charge the secondary battery , which is intended to power the electrical appliances in the home area. Normally the charge of this second battery is done through an automatic relay that sends electricity when the engine is running and disconnects the circuit when it is off. This solution is good if you always remember to charge the second battery when you need it, but if you do not remember you can keep two candles. Literally.
Sufficient power and high comfort, although with inertia
We set off and embark on our first trip to Greater California. Personally, I am used to a quiet type of travel as my van is less powerful and less modern in design, and driving the Greater California has been quite a surprise .
When we tested the new Crafter, it seemed like a van with concessions to comfort, but this Volkswagen Grand California asserts itself on a well-chosen mechanical basis. The only engine option available is a 2.0 TDI four-cylinder block with 177 hp and 410 Nm of torque .
The propeller moves a set that has a total weight of 3,110 kg really well . It accelerates better if possible than I expected and can match the benefits of a car at a leisurely pace with some solvency. Both accelerations and recoveries are not brilliant, but they are sufficient.
Part of the blame for this is that to transmit power to the wheels the engine is coupled to an eight- speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox . The choice of this transmission is optimal and for the type of vehicle and the pace that we are going to take it works very well, with almost imperceptible seams between gears and the comfort of not having to play with the gearbox. Let the electronics take care of it.
It moves well and is encouraged to keep cruises at high speed without major problem, also taking advantage of the adaptive cruise control that helps us on the trip. The crosswind assistant also helps us, which compensates for body swings when crosswinds blow. Some swings that are not few precisely given the volume of the van, so this help is appreciated.
When facing mountain or curvy sections, the engine pushes well uphill and the brakes hold the type (although we could see that the ABS jumps very soon). For performance, the Grand California can keep pace well above what physical laws allow us within reason when turning the wheel.
With so much weight and so much volume the curves can choke a bit. The suspensions have been tuned in a specific way to contain the movements of the body, although it is inevitable to notice how the centrifugal force pushes us to the sides . We must be aware of what we are driving, especially if we are talking about narrow sections in which this large camper hardly fits within the lines of its lane.
After a few kilometers we realize that the seats are quite comfortable , they have multiple manual adjustment except for the lumbar support, which is electrically adjustable. The lumbar adjustment controls are in an extension on the outer side where it is easy to hook the pants when lowering and breaking the pants or the plastic support. Both seats have double armrests and are swivel, although care must be taken when turning, moving the bench forward so that it does not rub against the door trim.
And after driving we go to the back, where the appeal of this camper really lies. The wooden floor emulates the surfaces of the boats, and on it are distributed elements mostly made in white or light tones, illuminated by white LED lights and, at the back, configurable ambient lighting in four colors .
The first thing we have when turning the seats is the lounge area , with a double seat approved for two seats in motion (two adults travel very, very fair) and with their respective seat belts. Between this seat and the driver’s seat is placed a table that is stored in the rear with longitudinal adjustment and that would configure the living area.
A little behind on the right side we have the kitchen cabinet , consisting of a small worktop in which a module with two gas burners and a sink is embedded. Underneath there are several drawers to store utensils and towards the front an integrated fridge with freezer and vertical load is extracted.
This refrigerator configuration is the most practical and the only one possible, as the Grand California has proposed, but it is not the most useful because its upper load and distribution only in a large space and a small removable basket limit the placement of food. . There is a lot of space, yes, but used regularly.
To finish with the kitchen there are two additional small surfaces. One is spread out over the fridge and one is placed back on the bed to gain some cooking space. What we really missed was having a little more space in the kitchen to store pots or pans , which do not fit in any of the kitchen furniture.
Just on the other side of the kitchen, behind the rear seats there is a small cabin for the bathroom . It has an automatic light and a small skylight, and inside there is a folding sink, several shelves and a cassette-type chemical toilet with extraction from the left side of the van.
It is not a very large space, but it is enough to properly sanitize in the middle of nowhere thanks to the shower that uses the same sink tap extended to a higher support. What we liked is that it had a separate heating outlet , and instead we did not like the storage available so much.
The mirror serves as a door for a small closet and its closure is not particularly solid . In addition, the four shelves are four metal pieces that are attached to metal rods. They are not anchored in a fixed way and in motion they move, sounding. There is also a small watertight compartment under the sink to store the toilet paper so that it does not get wet. Well thought.
And with this we come to the rest area. The star of the accommodation is a king size bed with maximum dimensions of 1.93 by 1.36 meters . We say maxims because their shapes are not regular, but in any case it is more than enough for two adults, bigger than some beds at home. This is thanks to the use of the bumps practiced in the body to gain available width.
The sleeping position is transversal to the march, leaving the head on the right side of the van. This is fine because it is the area where there is more space for the upper part of the body, but it also leaves our faces very close to the kitchen and if odors are generated it is not pleasant, in addition to exposing us to outside light when giving directly the hall.
The bed is foldable and its central piece can be folded to the right . Well, rather than lowering it, it rises and is held by two straps. This solution has seemed very little elaborate on the part of the brand because in the end the central part of the mattress and the mattress remain in suspense and without being well attached. On the other hand, the mattress seemed very thin and soft, although the bed base has pieces that absorb the weight.
Apart from that, the cushions that make up the mattress were already apparently worn , full of pellets and with some dirt. Something that could be anecdotal but we are deeply shocked that in a camper of its price with very little use there is such noticeable wear.
A series of mezzanines are arranged in a U-shape on the bed to store everything you need while traveling. There is a lot of space available and even a small coat rack attached to the left wall, next to the bathroom. The furniture is made of wood and aluminum, with apparently strong fittings, but they generated crickets in motion and some of them, despite being well closed, did not close well and could be opened by hand without acting on the corresponding handle.
Under the bed there are several spaces. On the right side there is a piece of furniture to store up to two butane cylinders that feed the gas circuit, in the center the entire central part remains as a trunk with anchor rails and on the left we have a couple of closed cabinets . From the rear we have full access and the possibility of using an outdoor shower included as standard , in addition to finding two folding chairs and a table attached to the rear doors and the pole used to unfold the awning, placed on the right side of the the van.
Returning to the front of the house we find a small screen on the bathroom wall. This touch panel gives us access to the home automation system that controls most of the electrical systems of the Grand California.
From it we can adjust the color of the ambient lighting, the temperature of the static heating, the configuration of the WiFi access points or the integration with the smartphone of the system. It will also indicate how to expect the charge level of the second battery and the levels of the clean and gray water tanks.
To travel with the family, there is a second bed above the dining room, taking advantage of the raised ceiling . This bunk unfolds at the push of a button, slides back and rests on a retractable support. The space available is limited and its use is intended for a maximum of two children. There is barely 50 cm of height available.
To climb it is accessed with a folding aluminum ladder . It weighs little and anchors easily. The downside is that if it stays in place overnight, the occupants will not be able to pass from any of the beds to the living room and accessing the bathroom will also be difficult. This bunk can be removed and, incidentally, the final purchase price is lowered by more than 3,000 euros.
A huge camper with lights and also shadows
We really liked the fact that the standard equipment includes practical elements such as adjustable and tactile switches for the LED lighting or the hidden mosquito net for the sliding door, which is an invention. On the other hand, other key pieces such as the kitchen storage or the quality of the foams for the bed can be improved. Taking into account that the customer profile of this vehicle is going to cook and sleep a lot in it, it could have been more careful.
Another point that could have been improved is the weight . With 3,110 kg of tare we are only 390 kg from exceeding the 3,500 kg of approved weight that allows driving with the B car license. Exceeding that weight figure is quite easy between liquids, occupants and luggage, so you would have to be careful not to risk a fine. And the penalties for being overweight are really hefty.
We have been positively surprised by the consumption, since by approving an average consumption of 11.4 liters per 100 km we have realized that this figure is easy to lower. In our test we have taken an average of 10.9 l / 100 km but the downside is that this figure can be raised quickly by adding full water tanks, butane bottles, luggage and more.
A nivel general, la Volkswagen Grand California da mucho juego para viajar en familia y disfrutar en cualquier parte, sea cual sea el destino. Se mueve bien, es agradable de conducir y sólo le faltaría un poco de anchura en la zona de la vivienda para sobrepasar el rango de camper y competir directamente contra las autocaravanas. Ahora bien, no tiene competencia ni porque otras marcas ofrezcan productos similares ni mucho menos por precio.
En cuanto al precio, la Volkswagen Grand California parte de 79.155 euros, un precio muy, muy elevado. Al final lo que se paga es el desarrollo y homologación de un vehículo que no va a ser precisamente de gran volumen de ventas, y eso se repercute en el coste para el cliente. Ese es el lado malo; el bueno es que no tiene competencia directa en el mercado.
Also keep in mind that this price can easily rise. The only free paint is white, the metallic gray or silver cost 1,690 euros and the four paints in two colors go up to 3,290 euros. Some of the essential equipment (at least for me) for a camper van is also optional, such as the solar panel, the adaptive cruise control, the rear view camera or the parking sensors.
To compare the Grand California with similar vehicles we have to go directly to motorhome specialists. And this model is a bit in no man’s land , as it is larger than large volume camper vans (especially because of the raised roof and almost borders on the characteristics of a motorhome.
Now, with 80,000 euros we have many options to choose from. None of them will be directly endorsed by a brand like Volkswagen, but it is a price range in which through preparers or specialists we could find larger, better finished, better equipped alternatives or all at the same time . Nor does it take us by surprise knowing that the Volkswagen California 6.1 start above 55,000 euros.
Whoever can afford the Volkswagen Grand California will surely enjoy it to the extreme, as it is a practically unique vehicle on the market and that although it has points of improvement, it is a well made product. In addition, it can also be equipped with 4Motion all-wheel drive and that is a great advantage for this type of large recreational camper, the downside is that it is only for the Grand California 680 version.
Volkswagen Grand California 2020 – Technical sheet
|VOLKSWAGEN GRAND CALIFORNIA|
|Motor||Diesel. 1,968cc inline four cylinders|
|Maximum power||177 hp at 3,600 rpm|
|Maximum torque||410 Nm at 1,500 – 2,000 rpm|
|Transmission||Lead. Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Dimensions||Length x width x height (mm): 5,986 x 2,040 x 2,970|
|Trunk||N / A liters|
|0 to 100 km / h||N / A s|
|Maximum speed||162 km / h|
|Average consumption approved (WLTP cycle)||11.4 l / 100 km|
|Average consumption in test||10.9 l / 100 km|