20/01/2022 Share this review   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Motorhome review: Volkswagen Caddy California campervan

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Key Features

  • Model Year : 2022
  • Class : Rising Roof
  • Base Vehicle : Volkswagen Caddy
  • Engine Size : 2.0TD
  • Maximum Weight (Kg) : 2300
  • Berths : 2
  • Layout : Campervan

The Verdict

Offering the driving experience of a Golf, it’s a great five-seater car for day-to-day duties. The addition of a good-sized bed and basic kitchen make it ideal for short camping trips, for solo campers or couples alike.

AT A GLANCE

Base vehicle: VW Caddy LWB Price from: £39,000 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 5 Length: 4.85m Width: 1.86m Height: 1.84m Gross weight: 2,300kg Payload: 500kg

Pros
  • Comfy bed
  • Good on fuel
Cons
  • Very few facilities
  • Fiddly window blinds

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

Model Year
2022
Manufacturer
Volkswagen
Class
Rising Roof
Range
No Range
Base Vehicle
Volkswagen Caddy
Engine Size
2.0TD
Payload (kg)
500
Belted Seats
5
Maximum weight (kg)
2300
Price from (£)
39000
Length (m)
4.85
Width (m)
1.86
Height (m)
1.84
Berths
2
Main Layout
Campervan
Price from (€)
Campervan Test Date
February 2022

DETAILED REVIEW

Words & photos: Peter Vaughan

The Volkswagen Caddy California campervan

We’ve been here before. In its German homeland, VW marketed the Caddy Tramper – a very basic campervan based on the Caddy Maxi Life people-carrier that, in turn, was a derivative of the small, car-like Caddy van.

It came here, very briefly, from 2013, as the Caddy Camper. Now, Volkswagen is having a second stab at a simple, entry-level campervan with the new Caddy California, which will be available from its Van Centres this spring (some months later than originally planned).

The newcomer sits below the existing T6.1 California campervans – Beach Tour, Beach Camper, Coast and Ocean – and means that you can now spend anything from about £30k for a basic Caddy California up to almost £100k for a Crafter-based 6.8-metre Grand California with all the toys. And all are built in-house by Volkswagen itself – no other car/van manufacturer gets so directly involved in the leisure market.                  

 

Next gen engines

It’s not hard to see why VW is back in this market (which it never left on the Continent) – after all, everyone seems to want a campervan in these post-pandemic times. And the timing makes even more sense because it has a brand-spanking-new Caddy on which to base its redesigned mini-camper.

It is the fifth generation of Caddy (the first was a pick-up derived from the Mk1 Golf, sometimes seen wearing a dismountable campervan body) and the first to be based on Volkswagen’s modular transverse matrix (MQB), as used by the eighth-generation Golf hatchback. As with its predecessor, it comes in two overall lengths and a single height, with car and van versions as well as the camper. The new model looks bigger, has a longer wheelbase, and features more distinctive styling, but don’t let the grille-less nose lead you into thinking it’s gone electric – at least, not yet (a plug-in hybrid is promised, but not confirmed for the campervan). In California form, it comes with a choice of petrol or diesel power units. The former is a 1.5-litre 114PS motor with the option of a manual or DSG (automatic) gearbox.

If you prefer your Caddy to sup from the black pump, it’s a 102PS six-speed manual or a top-of-the-range 122PS motor with seven-speed DSG transmission. With diesel being seen as dirty in some quarters, Volkswagen describes the Caddy’s motors as featuring ‘the next stage of engine evolution’. Not only do they have particulate filters but are VW’s first commercial vehicles to feature a ‘twin dosing’ system. Via two catalytic converters and a double injection of AdBlue, the system significantly reduces the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emission levels compared to those of the previous model.

Volkswagen claims that the TDI engines in the new Caddy are among the cleanest turbo-diesel engines in the world. They are also said to be 10% more economical and emit 10% less CO2 than their forebears. Even on local trips with lots of stopping and starting, we got over 41mpg while, on a mix of A-roads and motorway, that improved to an impressive 55mpg.

Another change, as you’d expect, of a just-launched motor vehicle, is a raft of assistance systems – of the 19 available, five are offered for the first time on VW’s small van. These include the oncoming vehicle braking when turning function, which is fitted as standard to every new Caddy as part of the Front Assist to help avoid accidents when turning across possible oncoming traffic. For the first time in a van of this size, there’s also Trailer Assist, which makes reversing with a trailer easier.           

 

Crazy golf

With the new Caddy, VW has certainly created a more attractive-looking van, with its tall tail lights framing the back window and pronounced ‘shoulders’ over the rear wheels – 16in alloys on our test vehicle but 17in and 18in rims are also available. It also has roof rails for the inevitable roof box or surfboard that such a vehicle is likely to sport, at least some of the time, while another new feature is the panoramic glass roof with a huge transparent area of 1.4m2.

There’s no pop-top option but you won’t be short of headroom when travelling. I measured 350mm from my bonce to the ceiling when sat behind the wheel and, while the second row of seats is slightly higher, there’s plenty of room for three adults to be comfortable here. The (larger) sliding doors on either side also provide easy access to the back seats and the outer occupants get little flip-up tables, although these have all the quality of a Fisher Price toy.

Perhaps Volkswagen had run out of budget when it got that far because the driving environment is everything you’d expect of a Golf. The central 9intouchscreen has top-notch graphics but, disappointingly, doesn’t include a reversing camera (even parking sensors are an optional extra).

There are also touch-operated slider controls below for heating and radio volume but these aren’t illuminated and are hard to use on the move – it’s better to adjust the radio from the steering wheel and the heater from the screen. You can also alter the parameters of the safety kit, including how close you can get to the vehicle in front before the VW takes things into its own hands. As usual, I was quick to find out how to switch off the nannying lane assist function but, annoyingly, this turns itself back on again every time you start the engine. Volkswagen knows best, it seems…

That apart, the Caddy takes the role of everyday driver in its stride. The DSG gearbox (with the shortest, stubbiest gearstick ever) is as slick as we’ve come to expect from the Transporter and the ride quality is exemplary, even over pothole-ridden Cambridgeshire blacktop. Thank the long wheelbase for that – at 2.97m, it’s virtually a match for the SWB T6.1 (3.00m).

Of course, with a long bonnet, too, this isn’t the truly compact camper you might have expected. While the standard Caddy is 4.50m overall, this Maxi version measures 4.85m – longer than a Passat estate (4.77m) and less than a thumb’s length shorter than a T6.1. It looks more petite because it’s lower (1.84m) and more car-shaped, and because you sit lower – as if in a Golf with a supersized windscreen.

So, as a five-seater car, the Caddy California scores well, but this isn’t What Car?, it’s Campervan magazine…     

 

Back to basics

Before you think this is going to be like a smaller T6.1 California, let’s manage expectations. Other, more comprehensively appointed, campervans based on the new Caddy will surely appear (Reimo has already launched its new one at Düsseldorf) but VW’s offering takes a back-to-basics approach. So, there’s no pop-top, no mains hook-up, no fridge, no sink, and not even a fresh water supply.

However, the Caddy California does have a kitchen (something the previous Caddy Camper, amazingly, did without. Open the tailgate and you’ll instantly spot a small cabinet on the left-hand side of the boot. It’s discreet and beautifully made and basically consists of two slide-out sections. The lower one includes space for some plates, cups, a kettle and a frying pan, with a cutlery holder integrated at the top. Above that is the cooker, a single-burner gas hob with push button ignition, alongside which is a preparation area. It is fed by a Campingaz 904 (1.8kg) cylinder in a sealed compartment behind the nearside rear passenger seat.

The cooker has a folding splashback and locks into position when pulled out, so it doesn’t matter if you’re parked on a slight slope. The tailgate above provides a little shelter but, if you want more weather protection, you’ll need to add an awning. Volkswagen will offer its own modular

tent with ‘air poles’ and optional sleeping compartments later this year but, in the meantime, most of the usual awning suppliers should be able to help.  

 

Musical chairs

With no lounge, as such, inside the Caddy (just five forward-facing car seats), it’s pleasing to see that VW has provided a set of outdoor furniture – two chairs and a table, that store in a pouch below the bed.

In fact, this is the exact same furniture as you get in a T6.1 California for al fresco dining. Just slide out and unfold for use in the sunshine – or, more likely perhaps, in the awning. And when the sun goes down, there are a couple of small lamps built into the tailgate, so these become downlighters when the back door is raised. Inside, there are also touch-operated and dimmable LED spotlights set into the camper’s roof.     

 

The bed

The big news with VW’s new camper, though, is its bed system. This lies stacked in the boot (leaving room in the back, on this long-wheelbase Caddy, for a coolbox and, maybe, a Porta Potti).

The first task when you’re ready for some kip is to slide the cab seats forward as far as they’ll go, then raise the backrests fully vertical. If the back seats are still in situ, the backs also need to be flattened (just pull a strap and they fold), but you might have decided to leave them at home. Unlike the previous Caddy Camper, the rear seats do not support the bed and taking them out greatly increases storage space for sports gear, your awning, etc.

Removing the seats involves tipping them forward and then releasing a couple of catches underneath. It’s brilliantly simple and the seats even have carrying handles. The off side single seat weighs around 20kg and is easy for one person to manage but, obviously, the centre/nearside double seat is more challenging if you don’t have assistance.

Whether the back seats are in or out, the way the three-section mattress and its base (with plastic springs) unfolds is the same. It’s easy to operate and the final piece of the jigsaw is slotting in the support legs at the front of the bed into their corresponding slots on the B-pillars.

Much of the bed making is done from outside, through open doors, but the completed mattress is long (1.98m), totally flat and very comfortable. At 1.07m wide, it’s smaller than a domestic small double but similar to many VW T6 campervans. There’s room at the foot of the bed to sit on the kitchen unit to take off your shoes but not enough headroom to sit upright here.

The maximum height from mattress to ceiling is 74cm but what a ceiling! Another new feature is the optional panoramic roof – a huge fixed glass panel that’s perfect for stargazing. Like the side windows, the sunroof is provided with a simple cloth screen. For the side windows, these are attached with magnets while, on the windscreen, the blind hangs from the sun visors. Putting privacy in place is quite fiddly and requires doors to be opened again – I think I’d investigate having silver screens made instead.

It’s also worth noting that all the windows behind the cab are fixed so, if you want some fresh air as you snooze, you’ll need to open the cab door windows. These are provided with slot-in vents, so they can be partially open without jeopardising security. Another neat feature is the storage pouches mounted on the inside of the rearmost side windows (each capable of holding up to 5kg). Not only do these act as blinds for these windows and, of course, add space for clothes or oddments, but they can be unclipped from the wall. Then simply add a carry strap and they can be taken indoors for loading up.


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