Camper van comparison test: interiors
The Volkswagen California, Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo and Ford Transit Nugget really do let you take everything with you, including the kitchen sink. But which is best?...
Behind the wheel
Driving position, visibility, build quality
In terms of comfort, the California’s cramped footwell and heavily angled wheel give it the least accommodating driving position. The Nugget, too, has a steering wheel that feels like it sprouts from beneath you rather than in front of you, but at least there’s more space for your left foot while you’re driving. The Marco Polo has the greatest range of adjustment in its seat and steering wheel and the most SUV-like driving position.
All have steeply raked windscreen pillars, but while these are fairly unobstructive in the Nugget and California, the Marco Polo’s chunky pillars make pulling out of junctions rather tricky. You’ll find sizeable side windows up front and in the middle of all three, plus usefully large mirrors (especially in the Nugget).
It's worth noting that over-the-shoulder and rearward visibility is hampered somewhat by the cupboards in all three, making the rear screens seem far narrower than they actually are. The Nugget’s kitchen furniture also reduces the depth of its rear window to a small sliver across the top. Thankfully, all come with front and rear parking sensors, while the Marco Polo also has a handy rear-view camera.
The Nugget and Marco Polo have clear conventional analogue dials for your speed and revs, while the California comes with a configurable digital instrument panel. As well as displaying all the normal driving data you’d expect, it can present a full-screen sat-nav map right in front of you.
Overall, the Nugget has the most utilitarian interior, with lots of hard, shiny plastic. The California has a similar spread of hard stuff, but it’s more appealingly textured and is livened up with a few attractive trim pieces. In comparison, the Marco Polo is positively sumptuous, with a decent spread of soft-touch plastic on the dashboard and doors and the most car-like layout. The only downside is that it doesn’t feel quite as robust as the California's.
Volkswagen California Ocean
Our test California had the upgraded 9.2in Discover Pro infotainment system, although we actually prefer the standard 8.0in Discover unit for its physical knobs and greater number of shortcut icons around the edge. Both come with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with Discover Pro also adding sharper graphics and gimmicky gesture control. Both systems have easy-to-fathom menus with usefully big icons. Either way, it’s the best here.
Ford Transit Custom Nugget
All Nuggets get Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system with a reasonably large 8.0in touchscreen. The graphics aren’t the flashiest, but it responds promptly to inputs and the menus are clear, with big icons. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring are standard, so you can use sat-nav without paying for the upgraded system of our test van – assuming you’ve got a signal. Adjusting the volume and tuning the radio is easy, thanks to physical controls.
Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo
Order a Marco Polo now and you’ll get a newer MBUX system with a larger, 10.3in screen than the one pictured. You can operate it as a touchscreen, via touchpads between the front seats and on the steering wheel, or by voice. The graphics are sharp, although the menus take a little getting used to and some of the icons are small. Sat-nav is standard, but phone mirroring is an extra £450, disappointingly. If you love music, a punchy Burmester sound system is a £705 option.
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