Long term report: Volkswagen California


The trusty Cali' met a rival this month in the form of a sparkling white Mercedes Vito Sport Van.

The new kid on the block arrived sporting enormous 18-inch Brabus monoblock alloy wheels, sumptuous leather seats with Sport-X insignia, a chromed radiator grille and, most importantly, a stonking 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine underneath the bonnet.

It makes the little 2.0-litre BlueMotion diesel found in our trusty campervan look a little weedy but then again, the Mercedes Sport Van can't transform into a luxury hotel at the press of a button. Not in this country, anyway.

Although the Mercedes Vito Sport Van isn't exactly a direct rival, the German marque is aiming it at a similar customer to the one who may be courting the idea of a VW California or Transporter.

In fact, a quick web search for the Vito Sport will instantly throw up a funky-looking microsite that is littered with surfers, downhill mountain bikers and chaps in baseball caps – all of whom are currently acting as ambassadors for the brand.

The big Merc makes a compelling case for a sports equipment-lugging mule, the mighty V6 providing a serious amount of torque and an impressive top speed, while clever engineering ensures it returns 32mpg on the combined cycle.

It's also bleedin' massive. With rear seats removed it can happily double-up as a removal van, swallow a 9'2" surfboard and transport at least eight bicycles without the need to remove wheels.

Volkswagen California Vs Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport

Volkswagen California Vs Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport

Unfortunately, the Marco Polo version that boasts all of the luxurious bells and whistles (such as a fridge, gas hobs and beds) isn't available in the UK so it will never quite rival the California's camping abilities in the UK.

Mercedes has informed us that an entirely new V-Class is on its way and that the marque hasn't ruled out a camper version just yet.

After a long weekend with both machines I can happily say I'd stick with the California for the time being. Although the Mercedes offers a far superior ride, I much prefer changing out of muddy mountain-biking gear in the back of a heated and carpeted Volkswagen that can also supply endless amounts of tea, as opposed to a chilly panel van with a cold rubber floor.

The knowledge

Model: Volkswagen California SE 2-litre TDI
Price: £56,440 (as tested)
Engine: 2.0-litre BlueMotion diesel
Power: 138bhp
Max speed: 104mph
0-60mph: 16.6 seconds
Emissions: 206 g/km CO2
Mileage this month: 600
Costs this month: 0

Model: Mercedes-Benz Vito 122 CDI Sport-X Long Dualiner
Price: £36,842 (as tested)
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 CDI
Power: 220bhp
Max speed: 125mph (limited)
0-60mph: 9.1 seconds
Emissions: 226 g/km CO2
Mileage this month: N/A
Costs this month: N/A