Long term report: Volkswagen California


Life with the California has been full of highs and lows this month. I learnt a neat trick to overcome one of my biggest bugbears with the camper (highs) and the roof exploded during a recent trip to North Devon (most definitely lows).
> Let's start with the good news and that involves a cheap, simple and effective solution to the irritating problem of over-zealous cupholders found in the front of the California.

Quite simply, the cupholder 'tray' contains two cup-grasping plastic arms that grip the hot drinks vestibule using a spring-loaded mechanism.

The problem is, said spring-loaded mechanism is slightly too 'spring-loaded' so it requires some well rehearsed pinky finger action to open it wide enough to accept a coffee cup and some serious coffee cup juggling skills in order to slide it into position. Try that without taking eyes off the road or spilling contents all over the floor.

To compound matters, if the coffee cup in question is made from the flimsy recycled cardboard you typically find at a lay-by burger van, it can actually find itself ejected from the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like grip of the German-engineered cupholder, sending steaming hot beverage into one's disgruntled lap.

A fellow Volkswagen T5 owner revealed that jam jar lids were the way forward. He slid a pair of metal lids into the spring-loaded arms; forcing them open and allowing for easier cup access.

It does mean the tray cannot be returned into the dashboard but it saves a lot of money on dry cleaning bills and reduces the chances of a serious head-on collision.

And now for the bad news. The electro-hydraulic pop-up roof - that provides the California with a second sleeping quarters and a healthy dose of headroom in the rear – decided to give up the ghost.

Parked up in a picturesque campsite in North Devon, we were preparing to bed down for the evening when disaster struck. I began operating the roof via the California's nifty electronic control unit while a friend circled the exterior, checking for any potential obstructions.

The operation was going smoothly until an almighty bang resounded from the offside of the Cali'.

It turned out that a plastic runner that secures the hydraulic actuator to the roof mechanism had sheered off, sending the powerful piston shooting towards the rear of the van and smashing various other important roof parts.

To cut a long story short, a man from the RAC arrived with a bag of tools, we located a screw that overrides the electro-mechanical system, somehow managed to get the roof shut and drove the 400-miles back home with surfboard roof-straps (a safety net in case the roof decided to spring open on the motorway) vibrating away in the wind like a colony of angry wasps.

Needless to say it wasn't the most relaxing journey home from the scenic surroundings of Devon but nobody died, which is always nice.

We will have to await a verdict from Volkswagen regarding the damage and the estimated cost of repair but for time being we will have to resort to the humble tent if we fancy a camping trip anytime soon.

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: 750
Costs this month: A large bill is on its way