The idea of an enlarged California camper, based on VW’s bigger-boned, third-generation Crafter panel van rather than the current Transporter T6, first emerged in 2017 when VW Commercial Vehicles showed off the California XXL concept. That show car was close in layout and execution to the production-version Grand California that went on sale last year; so much so that if you’d simply edited out the XXL’s bulbous stepped rear end from your mind’s eye, you might have been viewing the finished article.
This is what motorhome experts call a van conversion – and sadly, an optional two-tone paint job doesn’t exactly make it attractive. As distinct from something with a commercial backbone chassis and a third-party body, then, this is effectively a Crafter van that has been slightly modified and refitted internally.
Unlike most motorhomes, it has full-height twin back doors and a full-height sliding side door. On the inside, meanwhile, you’ll find an adult-sized double bed and lots of storage space at the rear; ‘dinette’ living quarters at the front immediately behind the swivelling front seats; and kitchen and – for the first time in a California – on-board bathroom facilities in between.
Thereafter, the layout of the two varying-length derivatives offered by VW diverges a little. Opt for the shorter-wheelbase 600 version (the nomenclature describes the vehicle’s six-metre overall length) and you’ll get a higher roof and an optional kid-sized double bed slung out immediately above the driving quarters. Go for the longer 680 instead and your roof will be lower and your wheelbase and primary double bed longer – although the over-cab second bed isn’t available.
Both versions of the Grand California are based on Volkswagen’s front wheel-drive Crafter van chassis, although part-time 4Motion four-wheel drive is available on the bigger one. Whereas lesser-powered versions are offered in other global markets, UK models have a 174bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine slung transversely in the nose and an eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Construction is body-on-frame, with suspension via MacPherson struts at the front and a beam axle and leaf springs, with load-sensitive dampers, at the rear – all pretty typical for a commercial vehicle of this size. The big shame for those who might like to tow with it is that VW doesn’t offer the Crafter’s less space-efficient rear-driven driveline and chassis here