In this blog post review we’ll detail the size, facilities and cost of the VW Caddy California to weigh up whether it makes a good option as a campervan.
We will answer the crucial questions: is the VW Caddy California any good? Is there anything unique about it? Are there other better VW Caddy Campervans on the market?
VW Caddy California Review
The Caddy California is the first micro camper to be released by Volkswagen. Launched in May 2021, this mini motor is part of the growing market for small campervans, sometimes known as micro campers.
As microcamper and VW Caddy experts, we were eager to take a closer look at this new entry to the Caddy and micro campervan market.
We’ll also make an honest comparison between the Caddy California and the Caddy campervans that we build at Love Campers, so you can decide which option might be right for you.
(Stick with us till the end… we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!)
The Caddy California specs at a glance
The Caddy California replaces the previous Caddy Beach. It has been on sale in the UK since May 2021 and prices start from £29,965. It has been developed on a VW Caddy or a VW Caddy Maxi base, in a range of engine choices and with either an automatic or manual gearbox.
- It has five belted seats and sleeping capacity for two which can be increased to four (with two sleeping in an adjacent tent) when you add on the optional extra of the driveaway awning.
- The Caddy California also has a pull out gas hob and storage area for cooking outside the rear of the van.
- There are blinds on the windows and interior lighting.
- There are various optional extras: such as a roof rack, a panoramic glass roof, a detachable tent / awning, and a limited electric system – more on that below.
A detailed look at the facilities in the Caddy California
The bed is arguably the most important feature of any campervan. The VW Caddy Cali bed is an interesting design that operates independently of the rear seats, opening out above the rear seats and stretches to nearly two metres in length (1980mm x 1070mm to be exact). The bed can be fully removed so the van doubles up as a regular five seater people carrier.
Volkswagen has fitted what is described as a mini-kitchen into the VW Cali boot, which includes a gas hob, cutlery tray and a storage box for food and cooking utensils. The fact that it pulls out from the boot means that you can enjoy cooking in the fresh air, (although you have no choice but to, and that might not be so welcome in all of the great British weather!)
We were surprised that the extent of the kitchen is an external gas hob and some storage, as we know that with a Love Campers Caddy camper the kitchen facilities include an internal gas hob, a sink with a tap and a pump, cupboards, drawers, and a compressor drawer fridge. One of the attractions of having a hob set-up inside your small campervan is the ability to make yourself a cup of coffee before getting out of bed, or cook some dinner in the comfort of the van when its raining outside. For obvious reasons, this wouldn’t work in the Caddy California.
There’s no denying however that if you are planning to use your campervan as an adjunct to tent camping, this could be a hassle-saving element.
(Check out the table at the bottom of this post to compare further.)
Extra features of the VW Caddy California
As with any good camper, all of the California’s rear windows have been fitted with blinds to block out sunlight, so you can be sure to get a good night’s sleep. And there are dimmable LED spotlights over the bed for bedtime reading.
A further benefit is that it comes with foldable camping chairs and a table which can be stowed in bags under the bed. There’s also plenty of scope for add-ons such as roof racks and detachable awnings.
A truly stunning feature of the Caddy California is the huge panoramic glass roof for a spacious feeling by day, and star-gazing by night.
Extra features (at a cost)
For an extra £960 you can opt for something called the ‘California Plus Pack’. This includes extra facilities, including a front centre arm-rest with holders for two drinks, a 230V inverter and three-pin UK domestic plug socket, dark tinted rear glass, two USB points, power latching on all doors and LED rear combination lights.
The plus-pack doesn’t include a leisure battery, and whilst there are some kinds of car batteries that are designed to power both the vehicle and the campervan features, it would be important to know more about how the electric system works and how VW ensures that the car battery will always retain enough power for its primary function of powering the vehicle, and how long it would be possible to camp for before draining the available power.
At Love Campers we make sure that all our campers can be run completely off-grid if necessary. We fit a leisure battery (which can be an incredibly powerful lithium battery if necessary), a 230v external hook-up and a Battery2Battery charger in our vans, as well as an optional solar panel and inverter, meaning that there potentially three different sources for charging the campervan electric system. The campervan electric system is kept separate from the vehicle electrics and the solar panel means that it is possible to fully function off-grid, without connecting to an external power source, indefinitely.
The VW Caddy Cali campervan comes with an optional extra of an attachable awning tent. The tent system features lightweight air poles and increases the available sleeping room for two more people. It can either be attached to the Caddy or completely freestanding as the photos below demonstrate. Whilst we are great fans of driveway awnings, we don’t think this is a unique offering as there are numerous driveaway awnings on the market that can work with a VW Caddy.
Entry-level models of the VW Caddy California start at £29,975 which is a total bargain in the world of Volkswagen campers.
The engine range starts from £29,965 for the 112bhp 1.5 TSI petrol, with a manual gearbox.
For £34,699 you’ll get a 120bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine gets a seven-speed DSG automatic gearbox.
The slightly larger Caddy California Maxi model will cost you £31,285 for the petrol and £36,019 for the diesel.
* Read on to find out how this price compares to a fully fitted-out Love Campers Caddy campervan!
Our verdict – pros and cons of the VW Caddy California
The Caddy California is the cheapest and smallest VW campervan on the market which makes it an awesome option for impromptu mini-breaks, however it lacks the comfort and functionality of a fully converted VW Caddy.
If you’re happy to use it with the tent whenever you’re parked up you’ll be able to create a camping space that incorporates an indoor bed for two. We’d argue that it’s not particularly practical for a longer family vacation but great for getting outdoors into nature quickly.
With its minimal electrical system and outdoor only cooking, the VW Caddy Camper is more an adjunct to or half step up from tent camping than a true campervan. If customers are prepared for this then it might not be too disappointing. However, we feel the functionality is unnecessarily limited. Hopefully, the VW Caddy California is the first version of a micro camper that VW will improve upon over the years, and we look forward to seeing the next generation.
We’d argue that having to have the tent erected in order to have full four-bed functionality of the campervan means that the advantages of having a smaller van are undermined. You lose both the special experience of sleeping under canvas and the flexibility of both tent camping and full campervanning, and gain the same amount of set-up and set-down faff as traditional tent camping.
It also means that the Caddy California isn’t really going to work outside of the warmer summer months. And while the California’s mini-kitchenette does seem well built, we feel its important to offer an alternative to alfresco cooking in the unpredictable British weather. We also think the omission of a sink and water tank is a bit of a shame as it’s something that really comes in handy with our own VW Caddy conversions.
In conclusion we’d have to say that if you’re looking for a well built vehicle that you can use as an adjunct to traditional camping, the Caddy California may meet your needs…
But if you’d like something that offers you a lot more functionality for a similar price tag, then read on!
Price & Feature comparison to a Love Campers Caddy
The Caddy California will cost you upwards of £29,965 for a short wheelbase model, with the price increasing significantly for a Caddy Maxi. Many of the handy features come at an additional cost, including the optional tent.
A VW Caddy Maxi conversion and base van, in either the Zanzibar or Mandalay design will have a starting cost of around the same price, depending on the spec of the base van you are looking for.
This would be taking into account the cost of the base vehicle, when a sourced second-hand (but good quality) Caddy Maxi costs between around £15,000 and £20,000.
We usually recommend spending between £15,000-£25,000 on a Caddy bringing the cost somewhere between £27,700 – £37,950.
Photos of our VW Caddy Conversions
A finished Love Campers campervan will feature the following:
- Four berth and either four or five belted seats for travel
- Elevating roof with optional roof bed
- Full 12v electrical system and external 230v hook-up, leisure battery, B2B charger, multifunctional lighting, usb ports, three pin plug socket
- Optional solar panel and inverter for off-grid functionality
- Mini kitchen with gas hob, sink with pump and tap, internal water storage, compressor drawer fridge
- Two metre length rocknroll or folding slat bed incorporating original VW rear seats
- Insulation in organic thermafleece
- Flooring in commercial grade Forbo eco lino
- Cupboards for storage
Optional extras include:
- Gas airblow heating for year-round use – £1200 + vat
- Solar panels – £700 + vat
- Extra windows – cost varies depending on windows
- Portaloo – £70 + vat
CALIFORNIA CADDY vs LOVE CAMPERS FULLY CONVERTED CADDY
|Caddy California||Love Campers Converted Caddy|
|Berth||2 (4 with tent)||4 (with roof bed)|
|Belted seats||5||4 or 5|
|Kitchen facilities||Hob, cutlery drawer, shelf||Hob, sink, drawer, fridge, cupboards|
|Pop top roof||No (but optional glass roof)||Yes, with optional bed & scenic unzippable views|
|Living area||No||Yes. Sofa area and 2 x internal removable table|
|Lighting||Yes, spotlights||Yes, spotlights & flexi lighting|
|Storage||Side pockets, glove compartment, boot bag, space under bed||Wooden hand built furniture, three + cupboards & drawers|