Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Six alternative campervans to the VW California


The Volkswagen California is the world’s most popular campervan but if you are looking for an alternative to the VW California then there are plenty of options

We've put together a shortlist of California competitors that a potential buyer should consider.

Page contents

Words by Iain Duff


Hillside Birchover S

The Hillside Birchover S

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

Hillside is one of the UK’s largest converters of VWs, also building campers for several leading dealers, and it offers a full range of models. It’s the price of its Birchover S that should really grab your attention, though. It’s a significantly cheaper alternative to the VW California but still a top-quality campervan. At almost £10k less than the lowest-priced California, this looks like a bargain before you even open the sliding door. Do that and you’ll see a full side kitchen conversion (with cabinets in a grey or wood finish), an RIB seat and a top-quality SCA elevating roof (with roof bed!).

For the price of a pre-owned camper, the Birchover S has none of the compromises of going to a lesser-known converter or building on a used panel van. The conversion has full European Whole Vehicle Type Approval and has been passed by the NCC (National Caravan Council), too. It’s based on the latest T6.1 Transporter Startline with air-conditioning, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio with touchscreen and leather steering wheel.

You’ll have to pay extra to upgrade the engine size or to add metallic paint or diesel heating, but don’t buy a used camper until you’ve had a very good look at this brand-new one.

Price: from £51,995

Read our review of the Hillside Birchover S campervan here.

Mercedes Marco Polo

The Mercedes Marco Polo

(Photo courtesy of Mercedes)

Like the VW California, the Mercedes Marco Polo is sold through the motor manufacturer’s own retailer network, although here it’s the car franchisees, not van centres.

Recently updated, the Marco Polo is based on the swish Mercedes V-Class people-carrier, rather than the much more utilitarian Vito van.

The upgraded appearance includes a new front design with a striking radiator grille, newly designed rear LED lights and a new chrome trim strip with Mercedes-Benz lettering at the rear. The upgraded appearance is rounded off by new light-alloy wheels in 17, 18 and 19in formats as well as five new paint colours.

The cockpit has a redesigned instrument panel with touchscreen and two 12.3in widescreen displays.

Campervan fittings include electric roof, full galley with top-loading fridge, two-burner hob, etc, reclining two-seater rear settee, diesel heater, camping table and two chairs.

The Westfalia-built design certainly looks sophisticated, but it lacks the practicality of the California Ocean and cannot match its storage capacity. For buyers wanting a glamorous daily driver with which to impress their neighbours, however, the Marco Polo has no equal!

Price: from £82,090

Read our review of the Mercedes Marco Polo Sport campervan here.

Bilbo’s Nexa+

The Bilbo’s Nexa+

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

Bilbo’s has been converting VWs into campervans from its Surrey base for over 40 years and in that time it has earned a reputation for building high-quality and thoroughly practical campervans.

Its range includes the usual side kitchen designs (both with a slimline galley in the Komba and a fuller kitchen spec in the Celex), but it’s the newest addition to the range that we’re focusing on here, simply because the Nexa+ is a wholly different proposition to the California. And, if you like the idea of a rear galley layout, or want single beds, the Nexa+ is probably the best of its type.

With this style of floorplan, the Nexa+ has an immediate advantage over its rivals because Bilbo’s uses its own, side-hinged Low-Lie elevating roof, which is not only very easy to operate but gives the same generous headroom in the galley as in the front lounge area. Up front, the Nexa+ has four individual seats, with the cab chairs rotating on factory swivels to create a lounge for four, and dining for two with a wall-mounted table on the offside. At night the seats convert into a pair of single beds, leaving a central aisle free to get to the kitchen or the toilet.

Where the Bilbo’s Nexa+ excels, though, is in the galley where there’s a three-burner hob and more storage than in its rivals, thanks to tall furniture on the offside (incorporating a 47-litre compressor fridge). Also here is the built-in cassette toilet, for which an elasticated privacy curtain is provided.

Based on a T6.1 Kombi with VW factory-fitted windows and seatbelt mountings, the Nexa+ is available with a wide range of options, including a long-wheelbase version for even more galley space.

Price: from £62,935

Read our review of the Bilbo's Nexa+ HL campervan here.

CMC HemBil Urban

The CMC HemBil Urban

(Photo by Warners Group Publications)

Another reason to look for an alternative to the California is the need for five belted travel seats. Technically, you can add an extra removable seat in the Cali but it’s not very practical. Campervans with a double passenger cab seat also have disadvantages – they are awkward to rotate and have a fixed backrest that means you won’t want to travel far.

If you need more seats, the answer is a wider rear bench. In that case, you could buy a California Beach Camper, but this is better. It has a much more comprehensive kitchen and the fact that the hob section can be removed for cooking outside is an added bonus.

A further advantage of campers with a wider rear seat is, obviously, a wider bed, and on warm summer nights that’s really appreciated. The excellent Reimo sliding seat system here gives you the same additional versatility as in the Cali.

CMC has been building campervans since 1988 and its HemBil range also includes the Drift, with a second sliding door – out of which the kitchen cleverly pivots. All models are offered in Smart Line or Comfort spec (from £66,250 for the Urban), with the latter based on a T30 Kombi Highline. Long-wheelbase versions are available, as well as a new electric elevating roof and stunning full leather interiors.

Price: from £56,750

Read our review of the CMC HemBil Urban campervan here.

Dirty Weekender

The Dirty Weekender

(Photo courtesy of Dirty Weekender)

If you want a truly bespoke build, have a look at at Dirty Weekender. This Worcester-based converter likes to do things differently, while still retaining the practicality of the proven side kitchen layout and using tried-and-trusted components, such as a Webasto fridge, RIB seat and Reimo roof in its Adventure Vans. Many campervan firms cut costs by using cheaper fittings but there’s nothing like that here.

Instead, you might see Bilstein lowered suspension, metal-coated cabinets (with zinc and copper powder applied in layers and then sanded back for a stunning finish), tweed and leather upholstery, a personalised wrap on the underside of the roof bed, or even a coffee machine that disappears under the counter at the flick of a switch. An extra-long (1.95m) bed is another plus point for these VW campers.

Price: from £60,000

Read our review of a Dirty Weekender VW campervan here.

Rolling Homes Columbus

Inside the Rolling Homes Columbus

(Photo courtesy of Rolling Homes)

One of the main selling points of the VW California is that it has a very automotive interior, but some buyers prefer something more homely, something more traditional. If that’s you and you want the very best solid oak cabinetwork in your campervan, then Rolling Homes is the place to go.

It’s no surprise to discover that company founder, Mark Cooper, has a background in high-end domestic kitchens when you look inside a Columbus. The layout may be familiar but the standard of finish of the furniture, complete with Corian worktops, is certainly a cut above the norm.

It’s the cabinets that make a Rolling Homes camper special, but you also get eco-friendly sheep wool insulation, blackout curtains on a twin track system, a crash-tested RIB seat/bed unit, blown-air heating and a TÜV-approved SCA roof with double bed. Its conversions are NCC approved and can be upgraded with all the usual VW options.

Of course, the Columbus is just one model in the range and, if getting right off the beaten track is your aim, you should look at the Expedition. With 4Motion four-wheel drive, extra underbody protection, and diff locks, this chunky-looking camper is designed to go where others wouldn’t want to get muddy – or stuck.

Price: from £60,695

Read our review of the Rolling Homes Columbus S campervan here.

Final thoughts

The Volkswagen California is the world’s most successful campervan, with more than 260,000 having been sold over a 35-year period. Available in three different variants – Beach, Coast and Ocean – if you're in the process of deciding what kind of campervan to buy, it will almost certainly be on your shortlist.

It is compact and well-equipped and there’s the nostalgia of owning an VW camper. But the California is fairly expensive and there are plenty of other options worth checking out if you are in the market for a compact campervan, many of which are just as well appointed and come in at a lower price.

Expert motorhome advice to your door!

Why not subscribe to one of our fabulous magazines and get expert advice, travel ideas, technical help and all the latest news for your motorhome and your motorhome adventures!

MMM Motorhomers' Magazine

Want to know more about MMM magazine?

Every month MMM has articles written by motorhomers who have been there and done it, from great UK and European (and further afield) tours, campsite reviews, owners' reports and DIY projects among other things.

MMM's tests, reviews and expert buying guides are not to be missed. MMM's technical advice is a must and includes everything from weekend jobs to longer-term DIY projects. And much more!

About MMM magazine  
What Motorhome Magazine

Want to know more about What Motorhome magazine?

Every issue of What Motorhome magazine provides essential buying advice for anyone looking to buy a new motorhome or campervan or upgrade their existing model. With a pedigree of over 30 years of offering the best motorhome and campervan buying advice, every issue of What Motorhome includes more new motorhome and campervan reviews than you will find in any other magazine.

About What Motorhome  
Campervan Magazine

Want to know more about Campervan magazine?

Campervan is the exciting monthly magazine that will give you all the inspiration you need to explore the world in your campervan. Every issue is packed with real-life campervanning experiences, inspiring travel ideas in the UK and further afield, the best campsites to stay on, campervan road tests and reviews of the latest models, and much more!

About Campervan magazine  

Back to "General" Category

13/11/2023 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Whatever your reason for selling, there are a number of steps to take to try to get the best price for your motorhome or campervan

Gas tanks or refillable cylinders: our guide to motorhome gas

From cooking dinner to the central heating, gas is an essential feature of motorhoming – here, we explore ...

Engine management lights: all you need to know

What is the engine management light? What does it mean, and what do I have to do? ...

Motorhome air suspension: all you need to know

Motorhomes are heavy and the additional weight of equipment and height of the bodywork can increase the loads ...

Motorhome WiFi: how to get better motorhome internet

Staying connected on the move is more and more essential, so relying on campsite WiFi isn't an option – here ...

A class of their own - our guide to A-class motorhomes

Thinking of trading up to an A-class, or even going straight to the top of the motorhome tree? We guide you ...

Explore overseas on a motorhome dream tour

Enjoy exotic travel in a campervan or motorhome by hiring, swapping with someone else or exporting your ...

Motorhome water systems: everything you need to know

On-board water is an important part of every motorhome – here’s everything you need to know ...

Campervanning in Europe: what you need to know

Whether you're planning a leisurely drive through the French countryside, navigating bustling city streets in ...

Campervan security: all you need to know

With thefts on the increase, it’s important to know how to keep your campervan secure and prevent campervan ...

Other Articles

Our campervan experts guide you through all the essentials for your campervan, including tables, chairs, inflatable seating, windbreaks and ...

Campervan finance: how to fund your purchase

Here we look at the different types of campervan finance available, to help you decide what’s the best option ...

Britain’s best used motorhomes

Want a great motorhome without paying the premium for a new one? Here's a guide to the best you can get in ...

Which motorhome? Choosing the perfect motorhome for you

Choosing a motorhome or campervan is one of the biggest buying decisions you’ll ever make, so it's important ...

Campervan washroom essentials: stay fresh on the road

Our guide will take you through the campervan washroom essentials you'll need so you're well-prepared for ...

Dogs in campervans: all you need to know

Follow our advice and your dog will enjoy campervanning as much as you do ...

Electric campervans: all you need to know

Our guide will take you through everything you need to know about electric campervans and what the future ...

Motorhome electrics: a complete guide to your motorhome electrical set-up

Motorhome electrics can dramatically enhance the convenience and comfort of your vehicle – but they can be ...

Lighting for campervans: all you need to know

We guide you through all the lighting options available for you and your campervan, including interior ...

Electric bikes for motorhomes: our ultimate guide

Read our comprehensive guide to electric bikes for motorhome owners, helping you add electric power to your ...