New VW California pop-top campervan gains plug-in powertrain and car-like handling

David Roy previews the new and improved version of Volkswagen’s best-selling camper

The new VW Californias
Volkswagen California VW's new range of pop-top campers is coming soon

A BRAND new version of Volkswagen’s best-selling California campervan is about to arrive, and this time around it’s not actually a van at all.

Unlike the outgoing model, which was based on the VW Transporter, the new generation California is the first to use Volkswagen’s modular transverse matrix car platform, known as MQB Evo. Thus, it shares the same underpinnings as the likes of the Passat, the Tiguan and the misleadingly named Multivan - the long-wheelbase version of which the new camper is based upon.

Crucially, this means the new California will now drive more like a standard car than a van, making the roadtrip part of any camping-based adventure that much more comfortable for whomever is behind the wheel.

The new generation California is also the first to be available as a 242hp plug-in eHybrid, combining a TSI petrol motor with an electric one and the 4Motion all-wheel drive system, though standard TSI (201bhp) and TDI (148bhp) front-wheel-drive lumps are also still available.

It goes on pre-sale from next month and will be the first version of VW’s pop-top camper to feature sliding doors on both sides – there is also now the option to attach an awning above both doors to maximise your sheltered camping experience – plus a new touchscreen-style campervan control panel in the rear of all but the base model.

Read more:

The latest California comes in five distinct trims in ascending order of spec and price:

  • Beach: Described as “essentially a Multivan with a manual pop-up roof”, it’s a six-seater with three rows of individual (and fully removable) seats, plus space for two people to sleep under the pop-up roof.
  • Beach Tour: A five-seater equipped with rotating and height-adjustable front seats plus three individual seats in the rear. The backrests of the two outer rears fold completely flat to form the base for a fold-out mattress. This model also comes with an additional leisure battery, a folding table and pair of folding chairs stowed inside the load compartment and rear hatch, lighting and USB ports in the pop-up roof area, sliding windows in both sliding doors and a new campervan control touchscreen mounted in the C-pillar.
The Bear Tour comes equipped with a mini-kitchen in its tailgate
The Beach Camper comes equipped with a mini-kitchen in its tailgate
  • Beach Camper: Now we’re cooking – literally, as this is the first California trim to offer an onboard mini kitchen with a fridge, stowage boxes, cutlery drawer and slide-out single hob gas stove located at the rear, just like the set-up on the compact Caddy California camper. You also get a 230V shore power connection for hooking up to on-site juice.
Volkswagen California Beach Tour
The Beach Tour comes equipped with a mini-kitchen in its tailgate
The California Coast and Ocean feature a full-size interior kitchenette, accessible from outside the camper
The California Coast and Ocean feature a full-size interior kitchenette, accessible from outside the camper
  • Coast: A four-seater with two individual rear seats and a ‘proper’ kitchenette with sink (utilising a 28-litre water tank), fridge, cabinets and single hob gas stove on the driver’s side, with a convenient gap left via which you can enter/exit through the driver’s side sliding door. A larger fold-out bed sleeps two in the living area, and there’s an extra folding table for dining al fresco plus an additional exterior 230V socket with shore power for an electric hob.
VW California Ocean
The top of the line Ocean trim features all the bells and whistles you could ask for in a home away from home
  • Ocean: The flagship California model tops the Ocean with highfalutin’ extras like fancy recycled seat fabric, front heated seats, an auxiliary air heater, automatic air conditioning (Climatronic), a large roof stowage box and mood lighting in the kitchenette.

Exact pricing and performance figures for the new Volkswagen California range has yet to be announced, but it’s expected to start at around the £65k mark for the basic Beach model, with prices rising to around the £80k mark for the dreamy top-spec Ocean edition.