After the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon hosted several debuts from major auto (van) manufacturers just a couple weeks ago, we weren't too surprised to see a couple of camper vans at last week's Frankfurt Motor Show. What we were surprised to see were those campers being joined by brand-new world premieres that weren't a part of the festivities in Düsseldorf. From the innovative, futuristic Volkswagen California XXL, to the compact-but-functional Citroën SpaceTourer Rip Curl Concept, IAA 2017 had a few very intriguing camper vans to look over, which is exactly what we did, inside and out.
Volkswagen California XXL Concept
The Crafter-based California XXL Concept was one of the A-list stars of the Düsseldorf caravan show, and we were excited to step aboard and go hands on in Frankfurt. The first thing that becomes clear – or clearer – when approaching the California XXL is that the extended bodywork on the upper half of the van coupled with the high roof makes for a bloated, top-heavy look. We appreciate that the extra space was needed for everything VW wanted to do inside but still question why VW didn't just slide a longer-wheelbase Crafter under the concept camper, given that it has them in its van stable.
That said, the roomy interior doesn't disappoint. The light colors and full-glass roof make for an open, spacious feel supported by innovative structural features like the slide-out bathroom, which works easily and smoothly. The extendable stove burners also work easily at the push of a button, just as simply retracting into the stove body to create a flat central countertop complemented by a countertop extension to the left and a hinged countertop panel at the right that can also be positioned upright to work with the pull-out bathroom as a privacy divider wall.
The interior control tablet app was either locked or just a mockup, so we only got to flip through menus and not actually control the music, lighting, etc., but it was easy to see how such an app could bring intuitive, smart home-like control to a van interior. All in all, the California XXL is as impressive in person as it is on paper, bringing some intriguing ideas to van living. Hopefully VW follows through with a production Crafter California, even if that van loses some of the less practical features of the concept.
Citroën SpaceTourer Rip Curl Concept
While VW explored a larger California, Citroën used Frankfurt to show a very attractive alternative to the traditional, beach-cruising Transporter-based California, and it did a nice job preparing a compelling, compact 4WD pop-top van. The SpaceTourer Rip Curl concept is a cozy little camper van, no matter whether you want to explore the coast, mountains or desert.
Relying on Pössl's expertise in designing purposeful, multifunctional SpaceTourer campers has clearly paid off in a van that hauls people and gear, provides a comfy night of sleep upstairs and downstairs, cooks meals, and washes gear, people and dishes. The indoor/outdoor kitchen block and dining table add versatility, and the surfboard holder in the ceiling of the pop-up roof provides a nice finishing touch. The van has all-terrain capabilities thanks to a 4x4 system from Automobiles Dangel.
The SpaceTourer Rip Curl seems too intriguing a conversion to be just a show van, and thankfully it won't be limited to indoor exhibitions – it has already gotten some time on the road and will continue to do so when it travels with the Rip Curl surf team starting next month. We don't expect Citroën or its partners to offer this particular camper van package, but the Pössl Campster offers consumers an equally smart, savvy SpaceTourer camping experience with pop-up roof and removable kitchen.
Opel Vivaro Life
We were surprised to see the Opel Vivaro Life debut in Frankfurt and not Düsseldorf, but maybe Opel figured it's less a camper van and more a people hauler with overnighting capabilities. Plus the brand's Russelsheim headquarters is located right inside the greater Frankfurt area, a fact we were reminded of every day as the train stopped at the Russelsheim, Opelwerk station on our journey to and from the show.
The Vivaro Life adds a third option to the Vivaro passenger van lineup, joining the Tourer and Combi+. The Life doesn't have the amenities or smart, multipurpose packaging of the California XXL or SpaceTourer Rip Curl, but it's meant to be more of a leisure van in line with VW's production California Beach. And it's a real product, not a concept.
With no kitchen or cabinetry getting in the way, the Vivaro Life seats seven or eight people comfortably on a combination of its front and second-row seats and rear bench. The two second-row seats swivel around to face the rear bench, which can slide forward or back. An optional folding table completes the cabin dining/lounge area, and the rear bench folds down to create the bed. LED ambient lighting and passenger area USB and 220V outlets round out the leisure van interior and help it double as a functional work space. Tinted windows and auxiliary heat are available optionally.
We didn't see pop-up roof or tailgate tent options, so the Vivaro Life will drive many more people than it will sleep, but carry a separate ground tent or two, let the most finicky campers sleep in the van, and you can sleep your whole crew in comfort.
The photos tell the whole story better than we can, and we've captured the ins and outs of each camper. See those photos, along with some of a few other leisure vans, in our full photo gallery.