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Volkswagen California

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A recent trip up to Bishopscourt Race Circuit in Northern Ireland for a weekend of motorsports proved to be the ideal testing ground for the Volkswagen California. The majority of race teams sleep overnight in their race transporters, whilst some affluent drivers have plush motorhomes some resembling a typical semi-detached house in suburban Dublin. Although the later are undoubtedly impressive, they aren’t very practical, their immense stature takes some serious HGV driving skills to navigate your way along country roads and through towns and villages.

Volkswagen’s modern take on the classic camper is the California, utilising the same platform as the popular Volkswagen Transporter and Caravelle. Key to the outstanding quality, fit and finish of the California is that Volkswagen manufacturer the California themselves, as opposed to outsourcing the interior construction to a third party. The California is a compact unit with a surprisingly adequate amount of space for all occupants, capable of effortlessly sleeping four adults.

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For us the key attribute of the California is the driving experience, due to its van-like size it’s effortless to drive and park. Fully loaded acceleration is sufficient, it cruises at motorway speeds with no fuss too. With Volkswagen’s 4motion all-wheel-drive, there’s added comfort when driving into a field or across soft ground to get to your camping spot. The high seating position aids all-round visibility. Our test vehicle had some optional extras that enhanced the comfort levels, these include leather and Alcantara upholstery, double glazed windows and cruise control.

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The Volkswagen California is far removed from a van with two beds thrown in, somehow Volkswagen’s engineers have managed to neatly fit in a working sink, fridge, two-ring gas hob and a shower hose. There is a storage tank for fresh water and one for waste water from the sink, the gas bottle for the cooker fits neatly in a storage compartment at the rear of the vehicle. Below the sink there is storage space for your items, there is also storage compartments above the rear seats, under the seats and along the left hand side beside the fridge. The California has a second battery which is used to power the fridge, lights and heater. If you are parked close to an external power socket you can connect to this using the connection point on the side of the California. The California’s party piece is the electric folding roof which rises at the touch of a button to reveal a double bed. The floor of this additional space can be raised to increase headroom when sitting downstairs. The two front seats rotate around to face the rear seats with a folding table that slides into position. There is another table neatly secured inside the rear sliding door, with a pair of matching seats stored inside the rear tailgate.

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Our test model had the optional awning and bicycle rack attached, further enhancing the practicality of the California. The rear seat slides forwards and backwards to increase legroom or luggage space, it folds into a double bed, with integrated blinds in the rear windows. The heating system is impressive, at the touch of a button on the key fob the whole cabin heats up in just a few minutes, you can also set the heat to come on and off with the timer from the control panel.

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The Volkswagen California is a quality piece of kit and one that’s price reflects this, with pricing commencing from €61,050. There’s an argument to be had that for this spend you could certainly purchase a larger motorhome. However, the compact size of the California is key to its success, it’s practical to park and painless to drive. The quality is exceptional, having spent a few days travelling and staying overnight in the California I’m converted to the idea of undertaking a holiday abroad in a camper. The freedom it offers is unrivalled.

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