Volkswagen Grand California review

Category: Camper van

Cleverly designed motorhome makes camping trips a piece of cake.  

VW Grand California front right driving
  • VW Grand California front right driving
  • VW Grand California rear right driving
  • VW Grand California interior dashboard
  • VW Grand California interior seating
  • VW Grand California interior infotainment
  • VW Grand California right driving
  • VW Grand California front left driving
  • VW Grand California rear left driving
  • VW Grand California badge detail
  • VW Grand California step
  • VW Grand California interior
  • VW Grand California interior bed
  • VW Grand California interior kitchen
  • VW Grand California interior bathroom
  • VW Grand California interior storage
  • VW Grand California interior control panel
  • VW Grand California interior detail
  • VW Grand California front right driving
  • VW Grand California rear right driving
  • VW Grand California interior dashboard
  • VW Grand California interior seating
  • VW Grand California interior infotainment
  • VW Grand California right driving
  • VW Grand California front left driving
  • VW Grand California rear left driving
  • VW Grand California badge detail
  • VW Grand California step
  • VW Grand California interior
  • VW Grand California interior bed
  • VW Grand California interior kitchen
  • VW Grand California interior bathroom
  • VW Grand California interior storage
  • VW Grand California interior control panel
  • VW Grand California interior detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The Volkswagen Grand California and other campervans provide a real tonic for the soul, putting the prospect of getting away from it all at a moment's notice right on your driveway. Owning one allows you to grab the keys and hit the road for somewhere more appealing whenever you want.

With the Grand California, you'll have plenty of comforts when you get wherever you're going, too. The Volkswagen design team started with a VW Crafter van then used every cubic millimetre of space to its best advantage to create a proper home away from home.

You can stay civilised when you're living off-grid because there's a shower, a toilet, hot and cold running water – and even central heating. 

In other words, the Grand California is a step up into motorhome territory, and while it's not the only vehicle of its kind available in the UK, it's unusual because it's produced in-house by VW, rather than being converted from a van model by a specialist builder.

So, while the smaller VW California contends with the likes of the Mercedes V-Class Marco Polo and special-order versions of the Ford Transit there aren’t really any manufacturer-backed rivals at the moment to challenge the Grand California.

You can choose from two different versions, depending on how many people you want to accommodate on trips. For families, there’s the four-berth 600, which is six metres long and has room for two adults and the option of a top bunk for two children.

For couples who want maximum luxury, there's the 680, which sleeps two in greater comfort. The 680 is 6.8 metres long, and to get behind the wheel you need a driving licence that covers vehicles weighing more than 3.5 tonnes.

Read on to find out what the VW Grand California is like on the road, how practical it is inside and what it’ll cost you. And in the interests of thoroughness, we’ll also describe what it’s like to sleep in.

When you're looking for a fresh set of wheels, remember we can make the whole process easier and save you some cash if you search our free What Car? New Car Deals pages. It lists some of the best new Campervan deals.

Overview

While there are cheaper van-based motorhomes, the fact that the Grand California is built in-house by Volkswagen and is covered by a comprehensive warranty will appeal to many. It’s also very well thought out inside and comes with plenty of appliances to make camping trips a piece of cake.

  • Torquey diesel engine
  • Practical
  • Slow depreciation
  • Can’t disguise its bulk in corners
  • Pricey
  • Unappealing plastics up front
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Target Price from £84,290
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From £76,950

Our Pick

OurPicks
Volkswagen Grand-california 2.0 TDI 600 5dr Tip Auto [3.5T]
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Unlike with the VW California there’s only one engine and one gearbox available in the Grand California. However, the 174bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine is more than up to the job of motivating this vast motorhome in an easy, if relaxed, fashion.

In fact, there’s more than enough power to panic the van’s overactive stability and traction control system, which will often limit engine power halfway around a roundabout or during tight turns.

Volkswagen GRAND CALIFORNIA image
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Mind you, it’s better to play it safe and drive calmly when even the smallest (and we use that in the loosest of terms) Grand California weighs 3.5 tonnes. The last thing you want to do with a vehicle of such mass is to spill your passengers’ morning bowl of Shreddies as you attempt to take the racing line through corners.

You might expect such a tall and heavy vehicle to feel intimidating to drive, but the Grand California is an easy steer once you’re used to its length. The accelerator pedal is very progressive, so it’s easy to make tiny movements to and fro when parking in a tight bay.

The steering requires you make fairly large movements to follow your chosen course, but it’s light enough that you can ease your way down a narrow lane without breaking into a sweat.

The eight-speed automatic gearbox is far smoother than the occasionally jerky automatic found in the smaller California. Front-wheel drive is standard, while the longer 680 version offers the options of 4Motion four-wheel drive and a locking rear differential, for extra traction on boggy campsites.

The gearbox keeps revs low when you're not demanding full acceleration, and the engine is fairly muted at cruising speeds. At such speeds, though, potholes and expansion joints on motorways are heard as a noticeable thwack, accompanied by the cupboards rattling.

With such an upright windscreen, a degree of wind noise is to be expected, but our test vehicle’s exterior add-ons – a side awning, a satellite dish and an air-con unit  – exacerbated wind whistle.

The sheer mass can cause the vehicle to lurch over undulations at higher speeds. Also, because even the shortest version is almost three metres tall, it’s affected by crosswinds on breezy days, which keep you busy at the wheel, making frequent, sizeable corrections to keep going in a straight line. Fortunately, a crosswind-assist safety feature is standard for when you encounter particularly bad weather.

VW Grand California rear right driving

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

The front compartment of the Grand California betrays its commercial van origins: it’s constructed from the same hard-wearing materials you’ll find in the regular VW Crafter van. The hard plastic, particularly on the door cards, is fairly easy to scuff, and gets marks on when you try to swivel a front seat without first opening the door for clearance.

Forward visibility is good because of the raised driving position and big windows, and the wing mirrors are big enough to help with any potential blind-spots (there’s a second mirror below the main one that allows you to see the kerb).

As with most motorhomes, there’s barely any view directly backwards. The bathroom obscures one of the back windows, leaving you with just a single pane of glass (smaller than an A4 sheet of paper). You get front and rear parking sensors, but you have to pay extra for a reversing camera, which should really be a standard feature on such a big vehicle.

Every version comes with an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system with a DAB radio, sat-nav, Bluetooth, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity. The screen is logical to use and has shortcut buttons for all the major functions. It’s not the most modern-looking system, but it does the job.

There's also a touchscreen near the bathroom with settings for the hot water and central heating temperature. It also tells you the water level and the status of the leisure battery (which powers the interior lights, the fridge and other systems).

VW Grand California interior dashboard

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

The VW Crafter van that the Grand California is based on has lots of front storage, and that's true of this motorhome too. There are three open areas above the dashboard, and the one directly in front of the driver house as USB port. You also get four cupholders and deep storage pockets in the doors.

Just behind the front seats is the dining area, where you’ll find a bench seat for two people (with Isofix child seat points and top tethers) and a cut-out into which a removable table can be fitted below the window. The front seats can be swivelled to create a four-person dining area.

In the 600 model, there’s the option to have a slide-out bed area above the front seats. It can take up to 150kg, but because it’s quite close to the ceiling, it’s best suited to children. Adults are likely to bump their shoulders when turning over in the night.

Towards the middle of the van, you’ll find a kitchen area just inside the sliding side door with a bathroom opposite. There's a 70-litre fridge-freezer, a two-burner gas hob. The 600 has an additional pop-out surface for extra counter space, while the 680 simply has a longer kitchen unit. All drawers can be easily locked to prevent items from spilling out while on the move.

Having a self-contained bathroom is perhaps the biggest news for campers – it brings an end to setting your alarm early to beat the rush for the public showers. It has a toilet, a shower (with two drain plugs to cope with an uneven pitch) and a fold-down sink tray. There's a 110-litre fresh water tank and the combined gas and electric boiler can be used to provide hot water, central heating or both.

The boiler’s exhaust is directly below the dining room window and, as a safety precaution, a microswitch automatically shuts the boiler down if the window is opened, preventing any fumes from getting into the van.

At the back of the van is the main bedroom area. There are overhead lockers and a couple of bigger storage areas under the fold-down bed.

The sleeping arrangement differs between the 600 and 680 versions: the 600 has a shorter bed for two people to sleep across the van widthways, while the 680 has a longer mattress that allows two people to rest their heads lengthways. Both set-ups are enough for a decent night’s sleep, despite the mattress being pretty thin.

Inside the rear doors are two fold-out camping chairs. All the windows and skylights in the living area have insect nets and black-out blinds that do an excellent job of keeping out bugs and light, and you can get covers for the front windows for extra privacy. The sliding side door has a mosquito net.

VW Grand California interior seating

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Some will baulk at the Grand California’s substantial asking price, but it compares favourably with other van-based motorhomes. Plus, the regular VW California has been one of the slowest-depreciating vehicles you can buy, maintaining well over half its original value after three years. That should make buying one on finance a relatively attractive proposition.

Official fuel economy and CO2 emissions are more inline with a Ferrari than a family SUV but remember this is a huge and very heavy vehicle. Expect to see an average of around 25mpg on a mix of country lanes, urban roads and motorways.

All versions come with 17in alloy wheels, manual air-con, sat-nav, cruise control, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. There are four three-pin plug sockets and six USB charging points dotted around the interior. 

Families might prefer the 600 because its higher roof allows it to accommodate more people, while the longer 680 could be the one for retired couples who want all the luxuries of home and generally take longer road trips.

Euro NCAP hasn’t tested the model for crash protection, but awarded the closely related VW Crafter van a silver badge for its advanced driver assistance systems. There's a decent amount of safety tech as standard, including automatic emergency braking (AEB) along the usual electronic stability control systems. 

Volkswagen gives you a three-year, 100,000-mile warranty that applies not only to the mechanical parts of the vehicle but also to its fixtures and appliances.

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VW Grand California interior infotainment

FAQs

  • The Grand California isn't cheap – it starts at more than £80,000 new and there are loads of options that push the cost even higher. You can check the latest prices on our New Car Deals pages.

  • Yes. Unlike the smaller VW California the Grand California comes as standard with a bathroom, including a toilet, sink and shower.

  • Yes. Volkswagen camper vans have historically held their value extremely well and we don't expect that to change anytime soon.

At a glance
New car deals
Target Price from £84,290
Swipe to see used car deals
Nearly new deals
From £76,950
RRP price range £84,290 - £94,910
Number of trims (see all)2
Number of engines (see all)1
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)diesel
MPG range across all versions 24.1 - 26.4
Available doors options 5
Warranty 3 years / 100000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £6,041 / £6,827
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £12,081 / £13,653
Available colours