VW revolutionizes simplest California camper van with foldaway kitchen
Volkswagen already gave a pretty good look at the California 6.1, which follows the T6.1 van to VW's updated lineup. But it saved a surprise for the official start of the 2019 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. The simplest, most affordable California trim, the Beach, is getting a space-optimizing fold-up kitchen. That's big news because before today the Beach was the barebones, kitchen-free sleeper van of the California family. Now it sleeps and feeds a family of four.
Over the years, other manufacturers have been coming after the California Beach with simple, affordable sleeper vans of their own. Mercedes has the Marco Polo Activity, and this year Pössl is introducing a cheaper, kitchen-less version of its super-versatile Campster van called the Vanster.
So being the camper van trailblazer that it is, Volkswagen sets the Beach 6.1 apart by breaking the sleeper van mold, maintaining the space and simplicity while adding the ability to boil water for coffee and fry bacon in the morning. Volkswagen calls it a mini-kitchen, and instead of being a space-absorbing block like most camper van kitchens in most camper vans, it's a small foldout hidden away inside the wall behind the driver seat. Pull the kitchen up and out to cook, then fold it away when it's time to drive.
The kitchen itself is unsurprisingly simpler than a regular camper kitchen, packing but a single-burner stove and worktop, no second burner, sink, fridge or water storage. The stove's lid folds up and serves as a backsplash to protect the van interior. With no water tank on board, all that's stored below is a 1.8-kg gas cylinder concealed away neatly. A lightweight removable table creates a dining space with the rear bench and swivel front seats.
The hideaway kitchen won't be quite as easy to prepare a meal on as the larger kitchens in the California Coast and Ocean models, but it has a very big advantage: it allows the van to fit an available three-seat rear bench while the Ocean and Coast are limited to two-seat benches. In fact, Volkswagen says that the kitchen disappears away so neatly that the side wall sticks out no farther with it than without it.
Beach buyers can also add an available single seat or two in back and create a camper van that can transport up to six or seven people. Thanks to the floor rails, seating arrangement is flexible, and owners can adjust as they desire. The Beach then works as well as an everyday MPV as it does a compact camper. In fact, with no bulky kitchen sticking out, it essentially is an everyday MPV with the ability to cook a meal or host a siesta anywhere it happens to be.
The Beach 6.1 also gets VW's new camper control module as standard, just like higher-spec California models. The all-new color touchscreen system replaces the monochrome displays of older Californias, providing a more familiar and intuitive interface. From its home in the roof console, the command display controls settings like camper temperature and lighting. It also pops open the available hydraulic-lift roof, offered as an option for the first time on the Beach as an upgrade from the manual roof.
As always, the California Beach 6.1 sleeps four people on its combination of fold-down cabin bed and pop-up roof mattress. Standard equipment also includes swivel driver cab seats, camper lighting, the folding table, outdoor chairs that store in the tailgate, fabric blackout screens and a 230 V socket.
Volkswagen further splits the Beach into two separate models. The Beach with mini-kitchen is called the Beach Camper, while the Beach Tour trades the mini-kitchen out for a sliding door on the driver side, becoming a freer, more flexible sleeper van. The Beach Camper will start at €48,796 (approx. US$53,850).