King size camping

While two years without international travel has accelerated new interest in campervans, the Kiwi love affair with motorhomes and campervans has been steadily climbing for much longer.

Dec 23, 2021

Thanks to modern, well-thought-out campers like Volkswagen’s family-sized Grand California, a much broader demographic than ever before is embracing the #vanlife culture.

Words Steve Vermeulen Photos Simeon Patience

I’m no stranger to the campervan phenomenon. In a past life, I edited a motorhome-focused publication and watched the industry grow at a rate of knots. Largely, back then the vehicle offerings were all fairly predictable. But it didn’t take long with the Grand California for it to really surprise.

For a start, this was just the ‘smaller’ 6.0 metre, or 600 specification version (for larger family needs, the Grand California also comes in a 6.8 metre specification). Yet it seems to fit everything a family could need comfortably. The Grand California offers giant motorhome features, in a cost efficient and compact form factor.

Most notably, the defining feature of the vehicle is its separate wet room, which includes a toilet, shower, and space-saving sink. There is also integrated shelving and storage for toiletries and towels in there, meaning you can comfortably enjoy prolonged holidays without missing the comforts of home. Overhead in the wet room, a ventilating skylight clears steam quickly and standard motion-sensing lights add a contemporary feel.

There were some things that didn’t surprise of course. I was expecting a clean and efficient layout like only this German manufacturer does, along with high-quality componentry, seamless integration with the core vehicle platform and a bevy of cool convenience features. The Grand California has all of this.

Also unsurprisingly, the Grand California’s living area presented all the above aspects as well. A very simple touchpad that controls house lighting, water and battery levels and an electrically folding sidestep are standard fit. The camper’s dual-fuel heating operates on gas or mains electricity to keep you comfortable all year round, as does the optional roof-mounted air conditioning.

These are big ticket options on many campervans, so it’s great to see them fitted across the Grand California range. Volkswagen is catering for those who want an uncompromised and extremely easy-to-use campervan experience. You even get wireless phone charging at easy-to-find points throughout the interior, as well as plenty of storage bins to keep things tidy.

The fully equipped kitchen area with a double ring gas hob, 70-litre fridge and generous work surface is ideal for making meals. Practical drawers and fold-out top cabinets with 42-litres of storage space make sure all essentials are close-at-hand.

An additional heated outdoor shower is also a great idea for keeping the interior space clean, no matter how muddy or sandy it might be outside. And if the conditions are slippery, the Grand California is underpinned with Volkswagen’s trusty 4Motion All Wheel Drive system. This is a huge benefit over front-wheel drive campers for New Zealand conditions, with many remote DOC camp sites being tricky to navigate to. Having four-paw traction enables even greater adventures and confidence both on- and off-road.

Much of Volkswagen’s passenger car safety technology has made it into the Grand California as well, making it a safe solution for family holidays. The Grand California boasts plenty of advanced safety and assistance features as standard, including Front Assist to monitor your surroundings with City Emergency Braking, and front and rear parking sensors to help you in and out of tighter spots, Crosswind Assist helps keep things stable when encountering high wind conditions out on the open road, while integrated Driver Alert warnings encourage breaks on longer trips.

On the road, the Volkswagen Grand California drives like a big Golf. There’s plenty of visibility, it’s very comfortable for longer stints behind the wheel and with 4Motion All Wheel Drive, it feels well planted and predictable on country roads. I was also really impressed with the lack of rattles from the factory built interior: it’s normal to expect cabinetry and furniture to squeak or shake a bit on the road, but the Grand California felt pleasantly refined.

Long synonymous with camper culture, Volkswagen has manufactured dedicated lifestyle vehicles for much of its history as a carmaker. The Grand California is the pinnacle of that camper heritage. Volkswagen takes all that is great about the popular Volkswagen camper and adds more space for the family, without losing any of the brand’s proud history of building vehicles for adventurers.