Volkswagen have been a market leader in campervan sales for years. In 2023, is the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach the best campervan on the market? Let’s check it out!
The global pandemic changed the way many of us approached travel. It certainly did for me. We stopped thinking about international travel and focussed more domestically. Sales of campervans, camper trailers and caravans exploded. Younger generations started to discover what grey nomads have known for years. Camping is awesome!
Why the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach?
The Volkswagen California 6.1 is based on VW’s most durable and reliable commercial vehicle platform. It can be your daily drive for the family as well as a weekend camper that can easily sleep four people. It has a flexible design, great towing capacity and VW’s reputation for producing quality vehicles is unprecedented.
The new generation T7 version of the Multi-van is currently available in Europe. However, it’s unlikely to hit Australian shores until 2024. As a result, most people want to stay with the current 6.1 version. However, you will need to get a move on. Most of the allocation to come to Australia have already been snapped up.
How does it look?
The California Beach continues to offer a modernised take on VW’s iconic Kombi. Whether you’re picking the kids up from school or spending a relaxing weekend away at the beach or in the bush, your van stand out and look the part.
As far as people movers and commercial vehicles are concerned, the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach is one of the more stylish out there. Multiple great paint options, matching painted bodywork, alloy wheels, LED light package and a chrome embossed grille.
The bold two-tone paint options are very retro cool. Although, I must admit they took me a little while to warm to. If you’re not quite there yet you can still go with solid and metallic single tones.
On first glance, the California Beach blends in so well with other people movers and commercial vehicles in traffic that you may not even notice that it’s a campervan.
What about the greasy bits?
All the current generation Volkswagen vans are powered by a 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine.
Of course, the van is front wheel drive. The entry level TDI 340 produces 110kW of power and is paired with a seven-speed automatic gearbox. It’s not really going to blow your hair back but still adequate for everyday use.
The TDI450 is more powerful option at 146kW due to being fitted with a second turbocharger. That could be your choice if you want a bit more squirt around town.
The dual clutch seven speed gearbox is smooth and works well with the engine. Although, it can feel a little sluggish off the line. However, you get used to it quite quickly. In my opinion, the Volkswagen does its best work at cruising speed on the highway. It will comfortably sit there all day.
The Volkswagen California Beach TDI340 has a combined fuel consumption figure of 7.5L/100km and a relatively large 80-litre fuel tank. You can certainly travel to some far-off places on one tank of diesel.
I love the elevated driving position and find the Volkswagen easy to drive. The visibility is great which makes parking and manoeuvring in tight spots a breeze. The seats and steering wheel have plenty of adjustment, even for a short guy like me.
Ride comfort is pretty good. It handles most bumps reasonably well but it’s not like driving a Range Rover. However, you can’t comfortably sleep four people in a Range Rover either.
What is the Interior Styling of the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach like?
The forward cabin is typical Volkswagen. Like many of the vehicles in the VW range, it has a combination of digital and analogue features.
You’ll still need to stick the key in the barrel and twist to start the van. That can be a little hard to get used to these days. Especially when the majority of vehicles have keyless entry and push-button start.
The digital instrument display and touchscreen infotainment system is like that available in the Volkswagen Golf. The touchscreen is functional, responsive and has good resolution.
It has manual steering wheel adjustment which is both tilt and reach adjustable. The front seats are also manually adjustable. They both come with fold down armrests for comfort on the road and can swivel 180 degrees when you’ve reached that perfect campsite for the night.
Volkswagen continue to utilise their rail system with the rear seats. The rear seat will lay completely flat to allow for the mattress to go over the top. It’s wide enough to sleep two adults. However, it is a little tight and may take a couple of nights to get used to it.
The electro-hydraulic roof is a highlight on this van. My recommendation would be to get this option over the manual version. The roof is a high-quality construction and it’s controlled by the touch operated Camping Van Control Panel. In less than one minute, the roof will completely open to reveal another double bed. You can also adjust the light and heating from the Camping Van Control Panel.
Speaking of lighting, the California has LED lighting throughout. It even has a magnetic LED torch with its own charging port behind the driver’s seat. Handy when you arrive at your campsite after dark.
The Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach comes with two fold-up chairs that are stored in a zippered compartment in the tailgate. You also get a picnic table that stores in one of the sliding doors.
As always, there is never a shortage of storage space in the Volkswagen. Dual pockets in the front doors plus bins and compartments under the seats.
If you need to get out of the weather, you can take cover under the massive tailgate or wind out the awning on the side on the van.
There is also a good range of options available for the California including off-road package, power-sliding doors, fog lights and park assist. Check with your local Volkswagen dealer to see the full list of standard equipment and optional extras.
The Volkswagen California Beach also comes in a variety of solid, metallic and two-tone paint options. My favourite colour is the Mojave Beige Metallic/Deep Black Pearlescent.
How much does the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach TDI340 cost?
The California 6.1 Beach TDI340 front-wheel drive starts from $90,990 plus on-road costs. You can load the van up with options but keep in mind that could add $20,000 to the price tag.
The more powerful TDI450 will cost you around $100,990 plus on-roads and options.
The only real comparable van to the California in the market is the Mercedes Benz Marco Polo which comes in around $10,000+ more expensive.
To build to your own specifications and get a better idea of pricing, use the Volkswagen Multivan configurator.
The California Beach is covered by a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty with one year of roadside assist.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000km – whichever comes first. A five-year care plan is also available through Volkswagen Australia which covers scheduled servicing. The pricing is from $1400 – $1800 depending on the model.
What about Safety?
The California has only front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger. Something to think about if the kids are in the back.
Standard safety inclusions in the California are auto emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors.
It currently doesn’t have an ANCAP rating.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
I love that Volkswagen don’t try to reinvent the wheel with each new model. You always know what you’re going to get but it’s just a little bit better each time.
As an everyday drive, the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach is practical and comfortable. You get the aesthetics, design and comfort that we’ve come to expect from Volkswagen passenger vehicle range.
As a camper, it only takes 10 minutes to set up and pack down. Perfect if you decide on a last-minute weekend getaway.
Now for what I didn’t like. The TDI340 engine does feel a little underpowered but it’s more noticeable around town than it is on the highway. Having said that, it’s more than adequate and you get used to it quickly.
The California lacks some of the things that more serious campers want in a van. Things like a kitchenette, fridge, water supply and upgraded power system. If you want these things, you’ll have to look at other vehicle options or check out aftermarket outfitters like VanEssa.
The Volkswagen California Beach is just cool! You could buy something cheaper and with less style….but who wants that?
When it comes to choosing a campervan, the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach works well as an everyday family drive and as a camper. Pick the kids up from school on Friday and head straight out to your favourite bush or beach location for a great weekend!
The tough part will be trying to find one.
For a more comprehensive review of the Volkswagen California 6.1 Beach TDI340 check out what the team at CarExpert have to say.