Camper van comparison test: practicality

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?...

Volkswagen California Ocean 2021 seating

Space and practicality

Front space, rear space, seating flexibility, boot

You’ll find plenty of head and leg room up front in all of our contenders, and with the rear benches slid all the way back, there’s even more leg room in their second rows than in a long-wheelbase luxury saloon; passengers can sprawl to their heart’s content. Just bear in mind that while the Nugget can seat five, the others are strictly four-seaters.

Of greater concern is how they act as mobile homes. The Marco Polo and California have similar interior layouts, with a single sliding rear door on the driver’s side opening to reveal a kitchen unit with a fold-out table opposite.

Ford Transit Custom Nugget 2021 seating

As we touched upon earlier, the Nugget does things rather differently, with its rear-mounted kitchen enabling it to have twin sliding side doors. A table slots into the floor between the rear bench and swivelling front seats (the latter feature being found in all three vehicles), so it’s far easier to keep your kids entertained in the ‘living room’ while someone is cooking at the back. The trouble is, you need to raise the roof to use the kitchen, whereas in the others you can happily stick the kettle on while sitting on the rear bench.

Assuming you’ve hooked up your camper to the mains at your destination, your electric kettle will plug straight into the Nugget and California’s three-pin sockets, while the Marco Polo has a European-style socket that needs an adapter. All come with two gas burners, a sink and a fridge that runs off their onboard electrics. The Nugget adds an outside shower attachment – a feature that’s optional on the California and not available on the Marco Polo.

Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo 2021 seating

If you’re parking up for a while, raising the roof is done electrically in the Marco Polo and California and manually (with the help of a couple of gas struts) in the Nugget. Each vehicle has a pair of double beds: one that’s revealed by flattening the rear bench and another below the pop-up roof. If you want more head room when the beds are unoccupied, you can clip their bases to the pop-top.

If you fancy a snooze, you’ll need to use the front seats to clamber up there in the Marco Polo and California, whereas the Nugget has a handy ladder that clips to the kitchen units. All of the top beds have a sprung base under their thin mattresses and are similarly comfortable, so you should get a decent night’s kip.

Volkswagen California Ocean 2021 beds

Making up the bottom bed – which requires you to slide the rear bench forwards as well as reclining the backrest in each case – is pretty easy in the Marco Polo, thanks to a free-sliding bench and an electric recline function.

On the other hand, the Marco Polo's bed is the most uneven to lie on, because the heavily sculpted seats have pneumatically inflating and deflating bolsters (so passengers can adjust the side support when you’re on the move) that create lumps. This, combined with the firm leather upholstery, means we’d recommend taking a mattress topper.

Ford Transit Custom Nugget 2021 beds

Both the Nugget and California have far flatter benches that are comfier to sleep on – especially the latter with its optional folding mattress topper – but they require rather a lot of muscle power to erect and flatten. The Nugget’s are especially cumbersome and heavy to operate, while its layout means you sleep with your feet in a narrower section under the kitchen cabinets.

Ah yes, cabinets. You’ll find enough of those dotted around the interiors of all three for a week away. The Nugget’s are mostly at the very rear, apart from a deep but thin cabinet by one of the sliding side doors and a large drawer under the rear bench (the latter featuring in the others too). The Marco Polo and California have sizeable cabinets under their kitchen units and large cupboards towards the back that can be accessed from the living area or via the tailgate. The California has slightly more space for storage, but it’s a close-run thing.

Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo 2021 beds

The Marco Polo’s sliding side door and tailgate are electrically operated – a big advantage, given how heavy the manual items are in the other two. You can get an electric sliding door for the California, but not on the Nugget, while neither has the option of an electric tailgate.

The California has the most useful ‘boot’, with plenty of room for shopping above and below the section of the lower bed base that bisects it horizontally. The Marco Polo has the same, with the lower half taken up by its picnic table and chairs in a fabric sling, while the Nugget’s rump, as we’ve said, is full of kitchen. In all three, you’ll end up packing around your passengers, using the generous floor area and cupboards.

Towing and camping aids

Volkswagen California Ocean

Volkswagen California Ocean 2021 kitchen

Fridge capacity 42 litres
Fresh water capacity 25 litres
Awning Yes
Removable table/chairs Yes
Tow bar £768
Braked towing capacity 2500kg

Ford Transit Custom Nugget

Ford Transit Custom Nugget 2021 kitchen

Fridge capacity 40 litres
Fresh water capacity 42 litres
Awning Yes
Removable table/chairs Yes
Tow bar £510 (inc electrics)
Braked towing capacity 1800kg

Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo

Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo 2021 kitchen

Fridge capacity 40 litres
Fresh water capacity 38 litres
Awning £820
Removable table/chairs Yes
Tow bar £785
Braked towing capacity 2000kg

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