Long term report: Volkswagen California


A rather rare and unique vehicle joined the AOL Cars long-term fleet this month in the form of an Olympian Blue metallic Volkswagen California.

Typically, when we have a car loaned to us over a set period of time, we report on how well it drives, how reliable it is, how frugal the engine is compared to its implied fuel consumption figures and how much enjoyment the vehicle provides on a daily basis.

Life with the California won't be so simple because although Volkswagen has done its utmost to ensure the mobile hotel drives like a true Wolfsburg product, it is, after all, a four-person motorhome with all the bells and whistles.

KT13 HJA is the fifth generation of VW's popular 'campervan' products and with the recent announcement that the German firm will cease production of its Kombi model (the closest modern vehicle punters can get to the original T1 and T2 camper vans of the 1960s and 70s), it is spiritual successor to that iconic vehicle that graces t-shirts, mugs and the walls of any self-respecting surf shop around the world.

But those imagining a rusting shell with a pathetic longitudinal rear engine and leaky sleeping quarters can think again, because the T5 California is a technological and engineering masterpiece.

Firstly, the model in our possession boasts a torque-y 2-litre diesel engine that produces 340Nm and can propel the weighty vehicle at speeds of up to 104mph, ensuring motorway cruising is both comfortable and speedy.

But again, it's not really about the driving experience, which, by the way, is extremely easy for such a large vehicle. VW California ownership is all about enjoying the open road and getting 'close to nature' without having to ditch all of the creature comforts that a bed and breakfast has to offer.

"How does a VW panel van achieve this?" we hear you ask. Firstly, by featuring two extremely comfortable double beds - one 'upstairs' and one 'downstairs'. By 'upstairs', we mean the California has an electronically folding roof that pops up to create snug sleeping quarters for two adults.

On top of the plentiful living space, customers are also treated to a twin gas hob, a fridge, ample storage space for cutlery and utensils, electrical hook-up points and running water. That's before we've mentioned the picnic table that fits snugly into the electronically sliding side door, the massive awning attached to the roof, high-tech bike racks and foldable outdoor chairs that zip into the boot door.

VW California long term report

VW California long term report

Honestly, wandering around the California's interior is like taking a stroll through the Design Museum as every little gadget, button and mechanism is finished with unparalleled attention to detail and precision.

The Cali's major stumbling block comes in the form of price as it retails at £46,440 as standard but our model - that is positively dripping in gadgets and extras that make life easier and more comfortable for the user - wades in at just shy of £60,000.

It is a hell of a lot of money and many AOL Cars readers were quick to point out when we tested the model this summer that a second hand motorhome can be purchased for as little as £5,000.

But this isn't your run of the mill motorhome; it is the Rolls-Royce of the camping world. A vehicle that cleverly disguises its size on the road (it's surprisingly easy to park in a supermarket) and can be used every day, yet transforms into a luxury living space at the touch of a few buttons.

KT13 HJA has already been called upon for steaming hot tea following a rather arduous dog walk in the New Forest and it has doubled up as winter changing room that offered warmth and protection from the elements following cold surf in the freezing November sea.

More testing times are to come as various members of the team plan camping trips throughout December. One thing is for sure, the auxiliary heater - that cleverly runs on diesel rather than use the leisure battery – will be put to good use.

The knowledge

Model: Volkswagen California SE 2-litre TDI
Price: £56,440 (as tested)
Engine: 2-litre BlueMotion diesel
Power: 138bhp
Max speed: 104mph
0-60mph: 16.6 seconds
Emissions: 206 g/km CO2
Mileage this month: 150
Costs this month: 0