Volkswagen Caddy California review

VW brings the California camper vibe to the Caddy class, and it’s the kind of car everyone would like to own.

Pros: cleverly designed interior, good economy, lots of customisation

Cons: not refined to drive, quite expensive to add options

In the space of as many years, Volkswagen has tripled its California camper range to include the massive Grand California based on the Crafter van and the brand-new Caddy California tested here. No prizes for guessing what that’s based on. The camper model arrives not long after the launch of the fourth-generation Caddy, based for the first time on the same ‘MQB’ platform as found under the Golf – and dozens of other Volkswagen Group cars. As those underpinnings allow for the fitment of all the same safety systems and technology as in the regular cars, the passenger version of the Caddy is more appealing than ever.

VW Caddy California Design

Based on the long-wheelbase Maxi model, the Caddy California is, we think, an attractive-looking car. VW has given the new Caddy more design clout than in previous generations, so it’s far more distinctive than most cars based on commercial vehicles. Check out its unique perforated front apron style, and the swage line joining the front and rear lights, for example. Roof rails are standard, though the five-spoke alloys pictured here – an 18-inch design – are an expensive option; it’s 16-inch steel wheels as standard. There’s a wide range of paint colours to choose from, including the Copper Bronze metallic hue of our test car, though only plain white or red are ‘free’.

There are sliding doors on either side to access the rear seats, and a large tailgate to gain entry to the back of the camper.

VW Caddy California Interior

Really, this review is all about the interior. We won’t waste time on the front of the cabin, which isn’t very different to any other Caddy, which is to say it’s clearly related to the VW Golf, but with fewer soft-touch plastics. The company’s latest infotainment systems, slow as some of them are to start up, can all be fitted, but you’ll need to pay extra for the privilege.

The second row of seats is wide and spacious, easily accepting three child car seats, for example. There are tables on the backs of the front seats and while the rear seats don’t slide, their seatbacks can be tilted, or folded down completely.

You’ll need to do that if you want to deploy the built-in ‘bed’, which is normally stored in a Z-shape behind the rear seats. Other than having to put the front seats in a very specific position, it’s a cinch to unfold and it’s actually really comfortable - and very large, too. A couple will be quite content in it for a few days away.

There are magnetised cloth blinds for all the windows – even the optional panoramic glass roof – and neat plastic inserts for the front door windows that allow air into the vehicle when it is parked up without sacrificing security.

Under the bed is a surprising amount of storage, even with the two picnic chairs and table folded up and slotted into place. To one side is a kitchenette-in-a-drawer with a single gas hob and more storage space.

The whole bed can be removed if needs be, though it’s not the work of a moment. Still, that turns the rear into a cavernous luggage area, allowing the Caddy California to play the role of practical family car between camping trips.

VW Caddy California Performance & Drive

This generation of the Caddy is more car-like to drive than its predecessors, but it’s best not to expect refinement on a par with something like the VW Tiguan. The 2.0 TDI engine isn’t the smoothest and there’s sometimes a harshness through the suspension, depending on the surface of the road. Nonetheless, it’s likely that the car fares better when it’s not riding on 18-inch wheels, and the engine is at least economical. It works well with the optional seven-speed DSG automatic, too, though with 122hp on tap, it’s never in any way quick.

VW Caddy California Pricing

The California version of the Caddy is acceptably priced as standard, starting at €43,515. There’s only one trim level to choose from as such, and the bed and kitchenette are included, but other than that the specification is a little thin. The options aren’t cheap either – our fully-loaded test car would cost €57,103.

Carzone Verdict: 4/5

Despite the temptation to up-spec the car from the expensive options list, it’s hard not to be impressed by the concept and installation of the Caddy California. It manages to double up as a useful day-to-day vehicle and an occasional camper. Given the explosion in sales of campers in Ireland this year, we suspect it will do rather well.

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