Reinvigorated VW California camper van puts more tech and comfort at nomads' fingertips
Last year's Volkswagen Grand California debut added some serious buzz to the annual Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. Volkswagen won't likely have such an impactful presence at this year's show, but it will have another new camper van to reveal, the California 6.1. The streamlined update of VW's most iconic camper van is more than just a simple nip and tuck, adding comfort and convenience on the road and at camp with features like a touchscreen command center and reclining bench.
After Volkswagen first teased the updated California last month, we figured the revised camper van would pair the T6.1 van's visual and equipment updates with a new camper command screen and updated interior trim. We weren't wrong, but Volkswagen has also leveraged a few small-but-notable updates to markedly improve the at-camp experience inside its latest California.
The feature that California buyers will notice soon after poking a head in the sliding door is the updated command center on the driver cab headliner. Volkswagen has replaced the small monochrome display with a larger color touchscreen while at the same time unifying control of a variety of camper functions within the updated system.
Like other modern smart-camper systems, including Mercedes' MBAC and Hymer's Smart Home system, the new Volkswagen hardware offers control and/or monitoring of a variety of key camper systems and components. For the California 6.1, these include the refrigerator, lighting, heating and electro-hydraulic pop-up roof. A leveling menu shows the bumper-to-bumper and side-to-side angles at which the California is parked, helping campers fine-tune a more level base camp.
One glaring omission from the new system: there's no mention of an accompanying smartphone app. Smartphone apps are as standard as touchscreens when it comes to the rising generation of smart home-style RV control systems, so we're surprised to see Volkswagen's California update debut without one. But maybe VW is saving that detail for the official Caravan Salon world premiere or still developing it for future release.
A new feature included as part of the lighting menu of the command touchscreen is a "sunrise" setting that pairs with an alarm to gradually brighten select LED lights to mimic the morning sun climbing over the horizon. Depending on where and how the van is parked, the artificial sunrise effect might very well be more of a natural wakeup than the unpleasant glare and heat of the actual sun rushing through the windows.
Another small addition that promises to prove handy at camp, the folding rear bench/bed gets a recline function. Users can set the reclined seat back at various heights for more comfortable relaxing inside the cabin.
The pop-up roof bed, meanwhile, benefits from a sprung base for extra comfort and darker canvas around the sides for better light blocking.
Other camper-specific changes include an extra pair of USB ports on the kitchen, push-button openings and aluminum handles around the kitchen, and modernized Bright Oak and Graphite Grey trim for the cabinetry and Palladium Grey trim for the seats. Details like the dual-burner stove, refrigerator and sink, removable dining table, swivel cab seats, and stowable outdoor table and chairs all appear roughly the same as on the current T6 California.
Beyond its new camper features, the updated California also enjoys the standard and optional upgrades of the new base T6.1 van. You can read more about the entire suite in our original T6.1 article, but highlights include the new digital cockpit, eSIM online services, available 8- and 9.2-in touchscreen Discover navigation/multimedia systems, electro-mechanical power steering, driver assistance systems like lane assist and trailer assist, and massaged styling at the front-end.
The California 6.1 package isn't quite the headline-maker that the Grand California and 2017 California XXL concept that preceded it were, but it does promise to make the timeless California camper van an even more enjoyable getaway.
The California 6.1 will hit the market this fall (Northern Hemisphere) in the flagship Ocean trim highlighted in photos, as well as mid-level Coast and entry-level Beach trims. We'll look for additional details about each trim, pricing and all the options they'll undoubtedly throw on to make the vans dazzle on the expo floor when all three 6.1 trims premiere in Düsseldorf at the end of the month.
Source: Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles