Volkswagen's Caddy California delivers the motorhome vibe in a smaller, more accessible package. There's a double bed from which you can survey the stars, you can have a kitchenette and with an awning, maybe even sleep up to four people. It's a unique proposition for its size.
Staycations. You can't beat them can you? If you're of that mind set, Volkswagen wants you to consider this, the Caddy California. 'California' is the Wolfsburg maker's designation for 'motorhome'. Once, it just designated a camper version of the Transporter van. Then in 2020, a bigger Grand California model based on the larger Crafter LCV was introduced. And a year later, the Caddy van got a motorhome variant too. This one. Given that the Caddy is a commercial vehicle with roughly the dimensions of a Golf, you might think that what it could offer to motorhome folk would be fairly limited. But this is no ordinary Caddy, converted to incorporate a double bed, a mini kitchen and a chair and table package - all have been squeezed in. Basically, there's the convenience of a car for weekdays and the versatility of tent for the weekends. If that sounds appealing, read on.
No surprises here: the Caddy California drives just like the Caddy MPV - which is a good thing. It wouldn't have been if this camper had been based on older Caddy generation models, which used crude leaf-sprung suspension. But the California takes as its starting point the current generation design, which utilises much more sophisticated car-like coil-sprung suspension. A much more sophisticated chassis also helps, the much stiffer Modular Transverse Matrix platform used on all Volkswagen's current Golf, Passat and Tiguan-sized car models. Plus there's an electrically assisted power steering rack with quite a direct feel. The engines on offer are the same as those in the Caddy MPV of course too. There are three - a 1.5-litre TSI petrol unit with 114PS, offered with a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 7-speed DSG auto. Alternatively, there's a choice of 2.0-litre TDI diesels, one with 102PS only offered with that manual gearbox; and the other with 122PS which comes only in DSG auto form. At the time of this review in early 2022, Volkswagen wasn't offering this camper design with the optional 4MOTION 4WD system you can get with the Caddy Cargo van.
You can have your Caddy California based on either standard or larger Maxi versions of the ordinary Caddy. Most will want the bigger option. In everyday format, this Caddy California will function just like any normal 5-seat family hatch - you might even find its twin sliding doors more convenient. It's the only one of its kind though, that can provide fully fledged weekend accommodation, courtesy of a full-sized double bed. That isn't cobbled together perching you uncomfortably on folded rows of seats either. A proper three-part folding bed unit featuring a mattress with plastic cups springs sits neatly in the boot and when needed, it unfolds to sit above the folded rear seats. Measuring 1,980 x 1,070mm, it's longer and almost as wide as a standard small double mattress. And if you option your Caddy California with the extra cost enormous panoramic glass roof, you can lie in it and look at the stars. You can't have everything of course. There's no room for the toilet you'd get on bigger California models, so you'll need the amenities of a campsite. And no space for a fridge either, though a 12V socket just inside the tailgate allows you to bring one along. But this Caddy can include a standard kitchenette - found in a slide-out drawer beneath the boot floor and including a burner hob, storage space for a gas bottle and a cutlery drawer and shelf. There's also space for a storage bag with two chairs and a table - also standard. And you can add in a huge side awning, creating a large lounge area and into which a bedroom pod can be zipped in, turning your California from a 2-berth to a 4-berth conveyance. At the wheel, it is of course just like any other Caddy, which means you get Volkswagen's latest infotainment screen and the option of digital dash tech.
You need to think in terms of a premium of around £4,000 for this Caddy California over the ordinary Caddy MPV. That means pricing in the £32,000-£39,000 bracket. There's a premium of around £1,300 for the longer Caddy Maxi body shape - which you'll almost certainly want. And as with any Caddy, you can only purchase from a Volkswagen Commercial vehicles dealer, so don't go asking for one of these at your local Volkswagen car showroom. A retractable mini-kitchen is included as standard, extending from the rear with single-burner cooker and integrated gas bottle. Clever and practical stowage compartments are perfect for storing your cutlery and kitchen utensils, while California camper chairs and camper table also come included. Interior blinds for the rear windows double up as window storage bags. Light is provided from integrated LED reading lights in the passenger compartment and tailgate. Standard kit includes 16-inch 'Wien' alloy wheels, twin side sliding doors and black roof rails, plus you get Climatic air conditioning and a full rosta of camera safety kit - more on that in a moment. Media connectivity is taken care of by an 8.25-inch 'Composition Colour' central infotainment screen with 'App Connect' (enabling 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring), along with 'We Connect Plus' preparation (so that you can interact with the screen and the car using your smartphone). You might well though, want to upgrade this to the 10-inch 'Discover Media' navigation set-up we tried, with its six-speaker DAB+ audio system.
As you'd expect, the efficiency figures of this Caddy California aren't very much different from the readings quoted for the mechanically identical Caddy MPV. Which means a frugal set of running cost returns. The short wheelbase model in 2.0 TDI 102PS manual form manages up to 56.5mpg on the combined cycle and up to 131g/km; for the comparable version of the Caddy MPV, it's 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and up to 126g/km. For the 2.0 TDI 122PS DSG auto Caddy California version, the figures are up to 53.3mpg and up to 138g/km. With the 1.5 TSI petrol manual model, it's up to 42.8mpg and up to 149g/km. These figures are only fractionally reduced if you choose the 'Maxi' body shape. As for service intervals, the efficient engine range enables Volkswagen to offer service intervals spread quite far apart - every 18,600 miles or every two years, whichever comes first. Various service plans are of course available to spread the cost of maintenance. And there's a 'Service' section of the 'Vehicle' screen telling you when oil change maintenance and inspections are due. You'll need to get the 15-litre AdBlue tank topped up as part of regular servicing too. Finally, there's the three year warranty. This one gets the cover package applicable to a Volkswagen van, so the mileage limit in this period is raised from 60,000 to 100,000 miles. There's also three years of pan-European Roadside Assistance also included with no mileage restriction. The paintwork warranty lasts for three years and the Caddy is protected by a 12-year anti-corrosion body warranty.
Most motorhomes don't make much sense as weekly transport. This one's an exception. You could use it economically to commute with, then trek to the campsite at weekends. On paper, it's all good. There are some caveats of course. The premium pricing for a start, which might make you wonder whether it wouldn't actually be better to add a tow bar and a caravan to your family hatch. Unlike a bigger camper, there's no space for a toilet - and the kitchenette provision is pretty limited. We can't really see why you'd choose this model without the lengthier Maxi body style. And most of the options you'll need cost extra. For all that, there's nothing quite like a Caddy California. In fact, we can't immediately think of a direct rival. As a spur-of-the-moment getaway vehicle, not much beats it. Welcome to the Hotel California.