Car Reviews

2020 Volkswagen California Review

The California has always been a very desirable campervan and these latest improvements make it the best model to wear the badge to date.


2020 has been the year of the staycation, which means there has been a surge in demand for campervans like this, the new Volkswagen California T6.1. This is Volkswagen’s latest and greatest California and it packs lots of new features, from subtle styling changes on the outside, to clever tech inside to help with choosing your perfect camping spot.

Starting outside, there are a few changes from the old model, including California badges on the front wings, a new bumper design, a chrome front grille on high specification models, new wheel designs and colour options. This two-tone Candy White and Copper Bronze paint scheme gets lots of attention out on the road. 

The new California is available in three specifications, Beach, Coast and Ocean, each offering different features depending on your needs. This is high-end Ocean model which is kitted out with larger wheels, LED headlights and lots of useful features such as an electrically-operated pop up roof for impressing your fellow campers. Prices for the entry five-seater California Beach start from around €55,000, while this highly-specced four-seater Ocean model with a long list of options is over €85,000!

Owners of the previous generation California will note the biggest changes inside. Most notably there is a new digital driver’s display and a new touch screen infotainment system with Apple Car Play as standard. These new features add to the California’s appeal in particular, especially on longer adventures.  There is more new technology above the driver with a new touchscreen system for operating the roof, interior lights and various other camping features. It’s clear and easy to use, displaying information such as how much water is left in the tank and how much charge is left in the two leisure batteries. The batteries are charged during driving and offer around 60 hours of use when fully charged.

The California manages to pack a huge amount of features into a relatively compact space, with a two-burner gas cooker, a 42-litre fridge, drawers with a cutlery tray and a kitchen cabinet with a sink/stove combination. One of the most impressive new features is this level function which shows the exact angle that the California is parked at, allowing you to choose the perfect spot for a good night’s sleep. Speaking of sleep, the new California now comes with a sunrise feature that gradually lights up the cabin in the morning time allowing you to wake naturally while the blinds are down.

Stepping upstairs into the pop up roof, the upstairs bed has an improved mattress frame for better sleeping comfort. Downstairs, the bed can be configured into a new lounge setting for relaxing during the daytime, while the front seats swivel around like before if you need extra seating. There are blinds on all of the windows, including these handy magnetic blinds up front. Unlike larger campervans that can’t be parked into tight spaces, or are simply too big for day-to-day driving, the California doubles as an excellent family run-around if needs be. Once the roof is stowed away and everything is set into place, it’s very comfortable, refined and drives confidently on the road. New electric power assisted steering helps with tight parking. spaces

The California is equipped with a 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine and DSG automatic transmission as standard, which means it has plenty of pulling power out on the road, and it cruises easily at motorway speeds despite weighing in at over 2.5 tonnes in weight. This is the 199-horsepower version with 4 Motion all wheel drive for extra oomph.

The drive is smooth and surprisingly car like, although the suspension is firm to support the weight and this means you have to pack everything away well to avoid rattle on bumpier roads. In terms of safety the California is fitted with Lane Keep Assist along with other optional features such as parking assist and a new trailer assist feature for towing.

The California has always been a very desirable campervan and these latest improvements make it the best model to wear the badge to date. It’s more refined than before, better to drive and the new technology throughout makes it more luxurious than other comparable campers on the market. It is expensive though, especially when specced with as many options as we have here, while the larger Volkswagen Grand California offers the added benefit of increased space and a bathroom at a not too distant price point. All things considered, it’s hard not to be impressed by the California, and we don’t want to give it back!

Test Car Details: 

Model driven: Volkswagen California T6.1 Ocean

Prices from: €54,995

Price as tested: €85,831

Annual motor tax: €102

Fuel Consumption: 8.5l/100km

Engine: 2.0-litre TDI diesel

Transmission: 7-Speed DSG

Towing Capacity: 2,500kg

Gross Vehicle Weight: 3,080kg