Volkswagen California

California conjures up images of sun-kissed beaches and songs about open highways - but now Volkswagen has given that name to a van!

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California is much more than any old van: it's a four-seat, four-berth camper that, unlike most true mobile homes, can be driven and parked as easily as a car. 

In order to give the front-wheel drive, Transporter-based California a good test I took it and my youngest on a trip to the most exotic place that featured in my diary at the time... Athy, Co Kildare. The annual 'minis' rugby blitz would see a dozen or so teams of under-12s and younger enjoy their last few games of the season and then enjoy (or endure) a night's camping under the stars. 

While most of the participants would be seeping in tents, we had the California! It features a host of clever sleeping and storage solutions that go a long way to justifying the big asking price of €57,890 (up to €61,200 for the 4-Motion all-wheel drive). 

When configured as a regular passenger vehicle, there are four seats - two captain's seats up front that can swivel around to face the rear two bench seats when stationary. The rear bench slides and folds flat to join a rear split boot deck that forms a double bed. The clever bit is the roof that houses a double mattress. To raise the roof, you slide back a sunroof-type hatch and press a button and up she goes. To access the area it takes no effort at all - if you're a kid! Grown-ups will opt to sleep on the ground floor! 

A 'leisure' battery (not the one used by the engine) powers a heater, fridge and the cabin electrics. You can also plug the California in to the mains supply at campsites. There is a water tank that supplies the taps in the small sink. A two-ring gas hob sits to the left of the sink with the fridge further left. A sliding table folds up from in front of the cupboard space and makes an excellent desk - where I'm writing now.

Closet space is also cleverly packaged, but what really impresses the design nerd in me is the two chairs stored in the tailgate and outdoor table in the sliding door! In-built blackout blinds feature from the B pillar rearwards and a Velcro curtain covers the front windscreen and side windows.

Noah tells me to write that the rooftop bed is very comfy. I was less comfortable below and would recommend the use of a slim mattress topper to even out the surface - but hey, this is a camper ,not my own five-star bed. 

Overall, California is a brilliant bit of machinery. In fact, the only features missing from it that you'd find in larger, road-blocking, gas-guzzling campers are a toilet and a shower. In reality, most camper van users seldom use their own facilities and instead use those at campsites. California is a perfect vehicle for two people (ideally) to hit the road and just go with the flow. Its ease of use and compact dimensions make it truly liberating. 

Imagine a summer following the F1 or Moto GP circuit - bliss. In the meantime, cruising to Athy, while averaging a very respectable sub-eight litres per 100 kilometres (35mpg), will have to do. As for Californian sunshine... it rained!

Michael Sheridan


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