It’s now November and Ireland has just gone through Storm Barney – a great name for a storm, but a windy one it was. So, this time of year would not be considered typical for travelling by campervan. But I figured “hey, where’s my sense of adventure?” This week I’m talking about the Volkswagen California.
Never before has a car had such an impact on where or how I drive. From the moment I got it, my kids were a bag of excitement. So much so that my two year old would constantly chant “cam-per-van, cam-per-van, cam-per-van” as we approached it. This machine received a very full and complete test drive. In fact, I even used it for the daily school pick-up. It was at the school gates where I had both parents and children drool over this dressed-up Transporter. This campervan seemed to have arisen a sense of adventure in everyone who saw it. In fact, one guy even told me that the California was his lottery car.
The journey started in Dublin. I brought it to Wexford at the beginning of the week, and on the way back there was a big mess on the M50, so we opted for the coast road towards the East-Link Bridge. Bad move. We stayed in traffic for three and a half hours, and this is where I found one obvious thing that the California needs – start/stop technology.
A couple of days later I brought the California to Donegal and back, via the M1 to Ardee, and then through Monaghan Town. We went from there to Ros Lea in Fermanagh. We then took the Lough Shore Road from Enniskillen to Ballyshannon. The mixture of roads couldn’t have been more of a test.
The 4Motion California is powered by a 2.0 litre engine. This engine offers 148 bhp and I wouldn’t say that it’s under-powered. What I will say though is that this is effectively a van, and if you’re expecting it to perform like a car, you’re out of your mind. One thing that’s very comforting about the vehicle is that it has four-wheel drive. This will give owners the confidence to go anywhere – within reason of course, it’s not going to take you too far off the beaten track. As I was driving through mountainous parts of Fermanagh I came across rain, snow, hail and sleet, and plenty of wind. Knowing that I could get up these hills with the four-wheel drive made me feel more confident about the journey.
On the Road
It didn’t sound as loud as I would’ve expected. There is road noise, but I’ve driven vans that aren’t even nearly as padded as this. It has to take corners slowly, otherwise the body roll is enough to push passengers to the sides. Compare it to vans and it throws up no big surprises.
The steering is a bit vague, but the suspension is nicely tuned and the ride is solid. It soaks up bumps very well.
In the test model I was driving I was amazed by the comforts on offer. There was plenty of space. The back cabin only has two seats, but these can be transformed into a very comfortable double bed. There is a sink, a fridge, a cooker, and plenty of storage space. There are also plug sockets and power outlets. The separate battery is enough to power the heat in the evening (which was extremely handy this week!). Press a button in the driver’s cockpit and the roof expands into another room. The double bed here is very comfortable.
You don’t really get more practical than this. It’s a hotel on wheels. I imagine that plenty of California’s will be seen travelling from Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe to France next summer while Euro 2016 is being played. One minor gripe that I have here is that there were no USB points in the vehicle.
It’s likely that you will be paying in and around the €60,000 mark for an entry-level Volkswagen California, which means it isn’t cheap. However, this is a high-quality vehicle and is certainly worth pondering if you are in the market for a new campervan.
This is the first time that I’ve ever test driven a campervan, and to be honest – I want more. I get it. It’s a machine with a real “go anywhere” attitude. The California opened a sense of adventure in me that made camping a do-able feat in mid-November.