T6 Cali4

 

The latest version of the VW California goes on sale in the UK this month.  With 50,000 Californias sold over the last decade alone it’s proved a real winner for outdoor enthusiasts.  But if you’re looking to buy a new camper van should you buy a new T6 Cali ?  Here’s my personal ‘take’ on the introduction of the new T6.

Introducing the T6 California

The new T6 California should really be seen as an evolution of previous models rather than a brand new design.  VW are keen to highlight its heritage as the latest in the long line of VW campers dating back 60 years to the first Splitscreen T1 models of the 1950s.  It’s a modern, factory-build camper van that sleeps four adults in comfort and has all the mod cons you’d expect in an upmarket car.  The new T6 is a slightly squarer shape, with redesigned bumpers, grilles and rear lights but essentially looks very similar to the T5 California.

In the UK two versions are on sale, the Beach and the Ocean, the latter replacing the former SE model.  (A third version, the Coast, is available in Continental Europe but not in the UK, and fits in between the Beach and Ocean in terms of specification).  The Beach is at the cheaper end of the range and features five seats as standard; an additional two can be added but must be removed in order to make up the lower bed.  The Beach has a manual pop-top roof which includes the upper bed, but lacks a kitchen unit downstairs.  Just like the SE, the Ocean is a four-seater/sleeper (with an optional fifth seat), has an electronic elevating roof and a kitchen unit.

T6 Cali7

Inside, it’s difficult to tell the T6 from the previous model.  The Ocean’s kitchen unit still features a two-burner gas hob, sink, 42-litre top-loading fridge but now sports an additional “multifunctional holder’ including a cup holder, ashtray and towel rail.  The seat coverings also sport slightly lighter-coloured fabric but otherwise, things look much the same.

T6 Cali6

T6 Cali5

The biggest changes take place behind the scenes.  All TDI diesel engines are now Euro-6 compliant and VW claim they’re up to 15% more efficient.  Three versions are available (102, 148 and 201 bhp), the first two available on the Beach and the 148bhp and 201bhp versions on the Ocean.  A 7-speed DSG automatic gearbox is available on all engine sizes and the 4Motion can be specified for the two most powerful engines.

VW claim 6,000 differences compared with the T5 but most of these innovations seems to be related to the engines, suspension and technology.  Some features only available as options on the T5 now come as standard including Bluetooth, DAB digital radio, climate control (three-zone in the Ocean), alloy wheels, LED tail lights, a wind-out awning and an auxiliary internal heater.

T6 Cali2

All versions boast the neat design features we’ve been used to in the T5 Cali including front swivel seats, a foldout table and chairs stored in the side door and tailgate respectively, and ample storage throughout.  A variety of options will be available including two different trim levels.

You’ll also see pictures of the new Cali in two-tone paintwork but indications are that this special edition ‘Generation 6’ will not be available in the UK.  Personally I think that’s a good thing since the paintwork, quite frankly, looks fairly hideous and the squarer T6 certainly doesn’t pull off the two-tone look quite like the Splittie.

T1 T6 Transporter

While the Transporter has been available for order in the UK for some time the T6 California goes on sale this month for deliveries in late 2015.

How much does it cost ?

The California isn’t cheap by any means but provides arguably the best way to enjoy the ‘camper van living’ experience on a daily basis compared with other camper vans and motorhomes.  The on-the-road price of the Beach is between £37,657 – £41,515 and the Ocean ranges between £47,840 – £54,975.

Prices appeared to have increased slightly compared with the outgoing model although some options are now offered as standard in the T6.  However, for most people it’s still a lot of money so buying a Cali needs to be very carefully weighed up (see ‘Verdict’ below).

How does it compare with previous models ?

Following the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach, VW have been very faithful to the look and feel of the T5, particularly the post-2010 ‘facelift’ model.  In fact, you’d be hard pushed to see significant differences in the overall owner experience excepting the cosmetic changes and different engines.  There’s no difference to the seating or sleeping arrangements and the ‘camping equipment’ (kitchen etc) is essentially the same.

The T6 is a big step up from the earlier T4 model of course and so anyone considering trading in an older VW, a T5 conversion or a motorhome will certainly be interested to see what’s currently offered in a modern, factory-built camper.

T6 Cali1

What do others say about the T6 California?

At the time of writing we’re yet to see a new Cali ‘in the flesh’ in the UK.  Motoring journalists have been treated to test drives in mainland Europe but these are so far simply ‘descriptive’ reviews and no one yet has had the benefit of driving one for any length of time.

Currently, the best UK-based reviews I’ve seen are by Auto Express (here and here) and the Telegraph.  There are a couple of YouTube videos showing different versions of the Transporter but not the California (note: you may want to mute the sound on both of these …).

What other options should I consider?

The camper van market in the UK has certainly developed in recent years and prospective purchasers will want to look carefully at the competition.  I’ve listed below the various options that most people will consider, together with the various pros and cons:

Motorhome:  

  • Pros:  Have more features (eg internal toilet and shower, grill/oven/microwave, TV); often have permanent beds.
  • Cons:  Too big to be a daily driver; lack the flexibility and convenience of a camper van; expensive new and high depreciation; ugly.

VW T6 conversion:

  • Pros: Slightly cheaper (perhaps) than a new VW T6 (but often not to the same level of specification); conversion companies offer a greater variety of internal seating/sleeping configurations; ability to custom-design your own van
  • Cons: Higher depreciation than a Cali; design and materials often don’t match VW’s standards.

Second hand VW T5 Cali:

  • Pros:  Most of the advantages of the T6 but at a significant cost-saving; the ‘cache’, practicality and cool design styling of a modern VW camper
  • Cons:  Comes with the mileage and use of a second hand vehicle; you may need to address the (well-known) faults with the T5, particularly the roof corrosion, EGR and control panel issues (see this article or visit the VW California Club website).

Classic VW camper van (eg Splitscreen, Bay window):

  • Pros:  Fantastic design styling; instant membership of the worldwide VW community; complete strangers will wave at you on every journey;
  • Cons:  Poor reliability and the need for constant maintenance; cost (eg a vgc Splittie will cost £15k+); only practical as a 2nd or 3rd vehicle; space is much more limited than in a T5 or T6.

Campers from other manufacturers (eg Mercedes Marco Polo, Wellhouse Terrier, Westfalia Club Joker):

  • Pros:  Alternative configurations if you don’t like VW’s offerings; lack the ‘cache’ of a VW camper van
  • Cons: Lack VW’s design ingenuity (eg folding tables/chairs stored in the door and tailgate); cost is similar to the new VW T6; the Mercedes isn’t available until 2016.

The verdict

The T6 California is a multi-purpose, high specification camper van that remains the benchmark standard.  Its proven design, evolved over six generations, means that it has the practicality and sophistication that other competitors will find hard to beat.  Only the Mercedes Marco Polo is a potentially serious contender but without VW’s design ingenuity and heritage.

However, all of this comes at a fairly significant cost which will force new buyers to think very carefully.  What you’re getting is luxury camper van living combined with the driving experience of an upmarket car (and you can’t sleep four adults in a typical £35k car!).  Not only is the Cali a daily driver but it also provides the flexibility for outdoor pursuits or weekends/holidays away, providing opportunities for a family to much more easily enjoy the great outdoors.  Buying a camper van like this is a lifestyle decision, not simply a vehicle purchase.

Depreciation on VW camper vans is very low and combined with a worldwide dealer network, means that this gives them a significant edge compared with the many variations of camper van conversions now available.

The T6 will no doubt be very tempting to those new to camper van ownership or those trading in a motorhome or conversion for higher quality and convenience.  However, given that you could buy the same benefits for a significant cost-saving, the strongest competition will come from the T5 California.

Existing owners (like me) are unlikely to want to trade up for marginal benefit (eg we could upgrade our kitchens with a multi-purpose shelf for £57…).  Most importantly, second hand buyers are likely to want to make a significant saving; expect to pay around £30k for a 2005-10 California and £35-40k for a 2010 – 14 model.  While residuals remain high, there are now many more second hand Californias around and so sourcing a used model is not nearly as difficult as it was a few years ago.  So unless I was desperate to have my own van from the forecourt, my advice is to look out for a good second hand California and put the ‘savings’ towards some great trips away.

 

Further articles:

My owner’s review of my T5 California after nearly 5 years of ownership

60 Years of the camper van – Into the 21st Century

The VW Transporter – 60 years in 60 seconds

Happy Campers – Owners’ reviews of camper vans

 

30 Comments on “Is the new VW T6 California for me?

  1. Great article as ever, full of interesting and very useful reflections for those considering a purchase. I certainly read your blog avidly before purchasing my VW .
    However, I can’t agree with your thoughts on conversions. Maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I believe my Jerba conversion is more highly specified than the Cali at the same cost. However it doesn’t have the seats in the back door (but has extra space instead) and doesn’t have an electric roof. But, it has RIB seats which are comfy to sleep on and, I personally feel, it uses the space more efficiently and has more style.
    I think us VW owners are all the same….very precious of the type we chose for ourselves,
    I don’t think I’ll be changing for the T6 any time soon but will definitely return to this article when I do.

    • Thank you – a great reminder that not all camper conversions are the same ! Like you, we also looked at Jerba vans but we preferred the California’s design and layout. As you say, personal preference counts for a lot and it really depends on exactly how you’re going to use your van.

      When we were weighing up the options we also viewed a conversion from a small company (essentially a one-man band). Compared with the Cali and reputable converters like Jerba it was really very poor and unfortunately there are lots of these around. So you really have to do your homework and shop around.

      Thanks again for this really useful comment and I’ve altered the article to try to make a clearer distinction between the standards of conversions available.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, I’d wondered how the T6 was different and what I would be longing for if saw one drive by. Thankfully no upgrade required. We also looked at Jerba, a great little place and hired a t5 conversion for the weekend before we made a decision. I have mixed feelings on the differences especially when it comes to having breakfast in bed, the Jerba won for me (it’s the little things). We went with the Cali because it was our main vehicle and the moulded design was important to us, everything is finished off to a standard you would expect for a factory fitted vehicle.

    • That’s a useful assessment – thanks. I think you’re right to point out that individual preferences count for a lot (the little design features as well as internal layout). It’s clearly a personal decision; no surprises that I’m biased towards the Cali ..!

  3. I find myself having thoughts about upgrading my T5 conversion, my family and I have just returned from a week away in ours and that always gets me thinking about what I would change. I like the idea of a VW factory fitted campervan and am keen to explore the options of extra seats but I’m also looking forward to seeing the main converters start releasing their T6 versions and see what features they change.

    You’ve not mentioned the converters Hillside Leisure in Derby, which although I could be biased as they are a client of mine, I still believe they offer a very high quality conversion and are worthy of a look if you are considering the options.

    Thanks for this timely and informative post!

    • I think it’s important to make a distinction between the many reputable converters who have been around for a long time and the smaller companies/backstreet converters who may not still be in business this time next year. Without name-checking all of the more reputable companies (which includes Hillside Leisure) – these are just my personal views after all – the main message has to be to shop around. I wonder if the converters will make many changes with the T6? Other than the engine options there aren’t a great many noticeable changes ….

      • Agreed. I guess most will take their existing designs and slot them into the T6, but It would be nice if they took this opportunity to go a step further and push out some new features.

  4. Hello, and thanks for the informative and well written blog. My wife and I might be in the same sort of position as you found yourself – we spent a number of years roughing it in tents, backpacking and so on, and now find ourselves wondering very seriously about a van. In our case, it boils down to a new factory-built VW camper, or a new Wellhouse Transit.

    We did consider a motorhome, but think a van would be more suitable. A couple of questions, if I may…

    Have you looked at the Wellhouse Transit, and how do you think this compares with the VW Ocean? The Wellhouse build quality is impressive, and they have a very useful rail system to allow the three rear seats/ downstairs bed to push forward until they’re directly behind the driver’s seats. This gives great storage in the back, for bicycles, baggage and much else while in transit for example. I don’t think bikes would go very well in the main centre compartment of the VW, where they’d be liable to damage the interior.

    One thing I really don’t like is the potty-toilet which is housed beneath the cooker, and a lot of useful space is dedicated to the inclusion of the thing. It sacrifices cupboard space and/or a bigger fridge/cooker as a result. On the other hand, they have a cunning method whereby the handbrake can be engaged while down, so allowing the seats to swivel without risk of running away. It’s also quite a bit cheaper.

    We’re not millionaires by a long way, so a couple of thousand here and there does make a difference. Are we simply paying more for the name of a VW camper, instead of a Wellhouse Transit, or does the VW really offer that much better a deal?

    There’s also the fact that VWs are European build, by the Germans no less, while Ford Transits are built in Turkey.

    Thanks again for a very well put together blog. It’s a pleasant surprise to read the work of a literate blogger occasionally 🙂

    —-
    [Note: Reposted this comment, it didn’t seem to appear after the previous attempt]

    • Thanks very much for your kind words about my blog. You’re right that we were in a similar position to yourselves five years ago, trying to figure out what option was best for us. I can only offer my personal views I’m afraid but my advice would be to go see the Terrier and the Ocean (or current Cali SE in the absence of the Ocean in showrooms) to see which you prefer, and compare the cost of the various options you’d want. Only you can make the decision !

      First off, I have to confess I haven’t see the Wellhouse Terrier and only have their website to go on plus your information. Compared with the VW, it does seem well specced (although you’d need to do a like-for-like comparison on the options) and it gives you three rear seats as standard which is a bonus for larger families. However, (and I’m biased of course), the interior does seem quite a bit more ‘clunky’ than the VW’s (thicker/heavier, squarer materials, carpeted walls), it has curtains rather than blinds and the single table seems rather small for meals/games. Many conversions have these same characteristics. I also wonder if the 125PS engine would be underpowered ?

      Note that you wouldn’t put bikes in the living area of the VW – the rear bench also slides forward and so (at a push, perhaps by removing quick-release front wheels) you could also put them in the back. Even better, almost everyone uses a tailgate or towbar-mounted bike rack.

      Some of the areas for comparison come down to personal choice. I’m not keen on porta-pottis near my kitchen so we don’t have one (and don’t miss it). Yes, the handbrake on the VW is a ‘design fault’ in my opinion, but a large stone or chock behind a rear wheel avoids the van rolling when you’re swivelling the front seats. Do you want a top-loading fridge (VW) or a front loading one (Ford) ? Do you mind the sliding door being on the driver’s side (VW) or really want it on the passenger side (Ford) ? These are all things to consider.

      Also worth considering is re-sale value. I think there is a premium attached to a VW name, and sales of secondhand Californias bear this out. Are you likely to want to sell over the next 5-10 years ? Is this an important issue to you ? I’m not sure Fords have the same cache so may not hold their value as well…

      Reliability might be something else to consider. I can’t comment on Fords but it’s worth mentioning that Californias do seem to have developed several fairly common (and expensive) faults that are causing angst among some existing owners (eg roof corrosion (albeit repairs are covered by VW’s goodwill), EGR valve failure, central control panel failure). It’s easy to generalise about reliability issues (remember those who complain loudest get most attention) but it’s worth going into this major purchase with your eyes open. That said, personally speaking, I would buy another Cali tomorrow even with the niggles and faults mine has developed.

      Thanks for your questions – and sorry I can’t be more definitive ! – but I wish you well in arriving at a decision.

  5. Dear Wild2012,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m looking for a multipurpose family car for short camping holidays, long driving distances with the family (4px) and also for short expeditions in the WEs. I was told that the VW bus model Multivan is the most comfortable fro the entire series. However, it lacks the second roof-bed that is essential for a family with 2 kids (and maybe more in the future). So, the California model seems to suit my needs, but I’m wasn’t able to understand if the California is made on the same basis as the Multivan model or on the Transporter model, in terms of driving comfort experience.

    Another question: it is correct that the converters do only work with the basic VW Transporter model?

    Thank you in advance for your comments.

    BR,
    Carlos

    • Hi Carlos,

      I’m no expert … but my interpretation of things is that the Beach and California are both built on the Multivan base. But just to confuse things a little, the Multivan is sold as the Caravelle here in the UK (you don’t say which country you’re in). The California would definitely meet your needs … and a lot more.

      As for the base that converters use, I think I’ll let one of the converters answer that question since I honestly don’t know. The Transporter would I guess be a little cheaper than the Caravelle base but would seem to lack the floor rail system allowing the rear seat to move.

      This article seems to provide a good overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Transporter_(T5)

  6. quote:”Yes, the handbrake on the VW is a ‘design fault’ in my opinion, but a large stone or chock behind a rear wheel avoids the van rolling when you’re swivelling the front seats.”
    Why not put the car in first gear ? I do it all the time when parking my car.
    Roger

  7. Hello, I’m a bit late coming into this conversation but that’s because this site is new to me. I have read with interest the comments regarding converters vs factory. The one thing that worries me is, the converters cutting into the roof. I imagine the factory would galvanize the body shell after the cut was made. Do the converters compromise that sealing process when cutting? and also, there’s no mention of the structural strength being being addressed. I suppose I could put those questions to the converters but I would prefer to have an unbiased opinion.
    I hope these questions are relevant.
    Thanks. Larry.

    • Hi Larry, thanks for getting in touch. I personally don’t know the answer to this question so hopefully someone else – a converter? – can enlighten us ?

      • Wow! Many thanks for such a prompt response.

    • Hello Laurence,

      Sorry for the late reply – it’s taken a while to get round to for various reasons (including getting the van!):

      The answer I got from Wellhouse was that the frame they fit is actually stronger than the original setup. It has gone through crash testing, and the SCA roof is advised by Ford of Europe and Ford Germany. Basically, it’s stronger with this purpose built fitting that without.

      Since it’s all done and sealed with a completely new van, there is no danger of rot setting in.

      Anyway, our new Wellhouse Transit seems fine – we’re very happy with it.

      I hate to sound like a commercial for them, though. But your questions were good, it’s quite assuring for us too.

      • Hello Glenn, many thanks for your comments. Interestingly, we’ve gone for a Wellhouse terrier and are currently clocking up the miles on our way to Croatia. I don’t know why I didn’t pose the question directly. Probably something to do with prefering peoples experiences to sales talk.
        We’re very pleased with our Wellhouse experience so don’t worry about sounding like an advert and thanks again for your reply.
        Happy travels,

        Larry n Lorraine.

      • Hello Laurence – so you got one too!

        Ours is heading towards 4000 miles now, another trip to the continent is scheduled for the end of May. No real complaints about it so far, just a couple of minor niggles which Wellhouse say they’ll sort out – they are very responsive.

        The van is doing over 40mpg, which isn’t bad for a new engine – it should improve as it loosens up. It looks great, and seems to have an very well thought out design. Despite being at least 20% cheaper than the T6, I don’t think we’re missing out. Our model is “fully loaded”, and is quite a bit less than the T6 base model.

        Transits have also been voted “Van of the year” every year for the last decade – the base vehicle is totally solid.

        Good luck with yours, and happy travels – ours is a deep blue, btw. Say hello if you come across us!

      • Hello again Glenn, we went for their 2 year old with 4000 on the clock, going over the £40k mark
        was psycologically too painful for us. Ours is Stratosphere blue and like you, we are getting 40mpg. Yep! We’re very pleased with it. We downsized from a 6.5 metre beds over a garage van as we wanted just one vehicle that would do everything and it does just that.
        Good luck, it’s a small world. We could well meet up sometime.
        Larry.

  8. Hi, I’ve just been reading your review of the T5 Cali as well as this one. Both of which I’ve found really informative. As a potential purchaser, I was just wondering if the issues you mentioned in the T5 review are still evident in the T6? In particular, the problem with roof fabric catching in the mechanism when closing the roof? Thanks, Mike

    • Thanks, this is a good question. I think that the roof canvas in the new T6 has extra stiffening in it in order to try to avoid the possibility of a sudden gust of wind blowing the canvas out into the metal mechanism when it’s being lowered. There are vertical ‘bands’ of stiffer material in the T5 canvas too but I think I’m right in saying that these are a bit stiffer in the new model. Personally I would still want to buy the roof bungee as an extra insurance policy’ against the canvas getting caught though.

      As for other common issues with the T5 Cali it seems that it’s too early to know whether VW have changed the roof design so as to prevent the well- documented bi-metallic corrosion issue. They had said that they’d changed things on the T5 back in 2014 but there are cases of 2014 Calis now with roof corrosion… so I’m not overly optimistic they actually understand how to solve it in the T6 either. This may be overly pessimistic but we’ll have to wait and see.

      I don’t know whether other issues that sometimes cause problems in the T5 have been solved eg failing EGR valves. Some of the more cosmetic design issues were ironed out in the T5 production run over the years (eg LED lights snapping off their bendy stalks).

      I don’t know if this worries or scares you (!) but it’s probably best to go into a major purchase with your eyes open !

    • we’ve been using our T6 ocean for 6months now and never felt the need for a bungee. The canvas on the T6 is not like tent canvas at all, it is synthetic water repellent and stiff material. From what i read on forums a bungee isn’t 100% preventing the problem either. If it is very windy while you lower the roof yo always have to pay attention.

      • Thanks for the information about the T6 canvas, and it’s good to know it has stiffer material. So hopefully that issue has now been addressed by VW.

  9. Thanks for your reply. I’ve just started my research at the moment to be honest. Having spent many years camping under canvas with the family, I spotted a few converted Transporters at a festival recently I thought they’d be perfect for us (now that we’re a little older than when we started camping). Having delved further into what’s available, I think a Cali might be a better option for us than a converted transporter as the difference in price is negligible really. I’ve spent a while since pondering options and it looks like the bungee is a simple solution to the roof problem.

    I’ve just got to convince myself that I can justify the cost of a Cali but I really like the sound of just driving off at the weekends for a couple of nights without having to worry about packing camping equipment and pitching on arrival. I’m sure the Cali would be used most weekends and we might even sell a car and use it for the commute to work too.

    Your blogs have been really useful in helping with the decision. Many thanks.

    • Hi Mike, Your story is very familiar to me and many other Cali owners who camped in tents for years. You can read my thought process before buying a Cali here https://wildaboutscotland.com/2012/12/23/i-want-a-modern-reliable-camper-van/.

      There are many ways to justify the cost. Yes, you can sell a car and use the Cali as a daily driver (as I did/do). You can look at the very low depreciation costs and reassure yourself that it’s a good “investment” (!). You can appreciate the flexibility of just being able to take off at a moment’s notice. But perhaps the biggest thing for us is the thought that we want to enjoy life while we have the opportunity. We would have big regrets if we put off having a camper van until we were older/retired. Having just lost a close colleague at the age of 50 to a sudden heart attack I can say that buying a camper van was absolutely the right decision: you only live once.

      PS While I personally prefer a Cali over the many conversions available, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what kind of camper van you have – it’s getting out and using it that really matters.

  10. Funnily enough, my wife and I decided to get our camper for very much the same sort of reasons.

    My old man passed away a little over three years ago. Then my Aikido sensei died from an incredibly rare illness. My very dear old died a year ago (having just turned 50), and earlier this year my closest work colleague died of a rare form of cancer.

    I just think that did it for me. That’s it. I’m quitting work at the end of October, we’ve got our camper (a new Wellhouse Transit, as it happens), and we’re taking off for some European travels.

    As you say, we’re only here the once.

    • Yes, that sounds like we’re on a similar wavelength- except in not able to quit work just yet. I hope you enjoy your European travels with freedom to enjoy life at last !

  11. To be honest, I think (unconsiously) this might be what’s driving my thoughts on this too. I’m edging towards retirement (but a few years away yet) and some fairly recent events, including a slightly younger colleague at work passing away, has made me re-evaluate what’s important in life and getting out and about and enjoying life is right at the top of my list now. It’s just how best to achieve that within our budget and longer term plans that’s the challenge. The good resale values on the California might be a deciding factor though.

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