The Gear Loop is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

(The Gear Loop) - Camper van mania is in full swing. You only have to peruse the forecourts of used camper dealerships to realise that the price of these things has rocketed in recent years. 

Thanks in part to a chip shortage holding up supply of new vans and an unwavering desire to adventure "off-grid" by the general public, the trend for holidaying in a home-on-wheels shows no signs of abating.

-

The Volkswagen Caddy California joins its iconic range of Cali-badged models, which includes the larger California (based on the Transporter platform) and the utterly massive Grand California, which is based on the German marque’s enormous Crafter.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 4

Here, free-wheelin’ livin’ has been blasted with a shrink ray and packaged down into the diminutive Caddy platform. There’s the option of a standard wheelbase version (SWB) that really scrimps on the boot space (you’ll see why later), and a Maxi, which is 353mm longer and offers a little more storage.

We were lucky enough to grab the keys to the slightly larger Maxi version, complete with a 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine, to embark on a rather disappointing (in terms of waves) and bizarrely foggy surf trip to the South West.

Our quick take

Although not kitted out for multiple days off-grid, the Volkswagen Caddy California makes for a fantastic getaway vehicle for couples or those with a very young, and very small family. It’s so easy to drive and really comfortable for folk travelling in the back. If you can’t afford the larger California models, or simply want a useable family vehicle that doubles up as a comfortable place to sleep, this is a very tempting proposition.

Volkswagen Caddy California review: Honey, I shrunk the Cali

Volkswagen Caddy California

4.0 stars
For
  • A neat compact camping experience
  • Ingenious sleeping quarters
  • Easy to drive
Against
  • Petrol engine is a bit weedy
  • There’s not much storage
  • Cabin quality isn’t fantastic

In the Loop

Everything you need to know about the MY22 Volkswagen Caddy California in short:

  • Price as tested OTR: £35,227
  • Engine: 1.5-litre TSI petrol 
  • Performance: 114PS
  • Top speed: 113mph
  • 0-62mph: 12.4 seconds
  • Fuel economy: 40.4mpg
  • Infotainment: 8.25inch touch-screen, App Connect 
  • Camping kit: Folding bed, pull-out kitchenette, single burner

Design and features

Snoop around the latest Caddy California and its adventurous intentions aren’t immediately obvious. In full "family van" mode, it’s a fairly standard two-seat configuration up front and a three-seater bench behind. There’s an enormous panoramic glass roof that lets lots of natural light in, but the rest if the spec will be all too familiar to modern VW owners.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 1

There’s an 8.25inch touch-screen that pairs with a smartphone, although you’ll have to activate Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at dealer level, while front and rear parking sensors were optioned on this model.

To be honest, we felt the interior, especially at the front, was relatively vanilla and the plastics used for much of the dash and interior weren’t on the same par as some of the others products in the VW portfolio.

However, the real action happens in the boot, where VW has fitted a pull out mini kitchen that includes a one-burner gas stove, as well as several draws for keeping cutlery and the like.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 6

There are blinds throughout, plus handy leather storage bags in the rear that cover the windows and act as additional stowage. Better still, a double bed folds out above the rear seats. It boasts a disc-sprung mattress for added comfort, too.

With bed in place, there’s not a great deal of room to move, but the optional panoramic roof on this test car certainly made it feel more airy inside. VW also provides several 12V outlets and a 230V inverter for a typical three-pin plug, so users can run some domestic items. That said, there’s no leisure battery here, so all of your charging will have to be done on the move.

VW also provides a little table and a couple of chairs that neatly stow into a hanging basket beneath the bed set-up. 

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 11

With the rear tailgate lifted, there’s at least some protection from the elements when cooking and generally living out in the open. 

Carry on camping

Driving to a chosen destination is comfortable and as refined as you’d expect from a VW vehicle. There’s barely any additional road noise and the cabin is extremely comfortable. There’s even fold down tray tables for those in the rear.

Granted, the 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine feel gutless, as there’s only 114PS attempting to haul almost 2.5-tonnes up the road, but we found it impressively efficient on fuel if driven considerately.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 20

But no one is going to buy a Caddy California for its blistering pace and handling, instead it’s on the shopping list for its diminutive size and ease of driving. Honestly, aside from the increase in overall length, driving a Caddy California is barely any different to driving a Golf. And that ’s a huge selling point.

With all of the camping gubbins laid out, it’s an impressive set-up for two people (or very small families) to enjoy. As we mentioned, the tailgate provides some protection from the weather, but VW also sells and additional annex tent that makes things even more cosy and opens up plenty of sleeping room for more people. That said, any large family tent will do if you're not bothered about the integration.

The single gas burner is enough to rustle up basic meals, while the drawers and stowage compartments are perfect for safely transporting cutlery and whatnot. 

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 12

The Caddy California lacks a fridge or any sort of leisure battery, so you’ll either want to install one or splash out on a decent cool box for a long weekend. There’s just about enough space in the boot for a large cooler, if you don’t have too much kit to transport.

Sleep easy

It’s clear that sleep is the number one priority for the Caddy California. This isn’t really a full-blown camper van that you’d want to take off-grid for numerous days, seeing as it doesn’t have any sort of leisure battery facility, nor does it have a water tanks and a sink.

However, VW thinks of everything when it comes to getting some comfortable shut-eye, from the blinds that cover every conceivable aperture, to the clever mesh blinds that slide into slightly ajar front windows for additional ventilation without the risk of bug bites.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 15

Dimmable bed lights and cleverly located charging ports make it possible to sneak in a spot of reading or binge-watching before bed, and there’s ample width on the comfy mattress to sleep two adults.

We found it to be a perfectly suitable set-up for escaping at the weekend with couple of surfboards in tow. Parking up (legally) and sleeping after a long drive proved really comfortable and we were right on top of the surf for sunrise the next day.

The facility to brew up a cup of fresh coffee was greatly appreciated, as was the ability to create basic pasta dishes - or simply boil the kettle for a Pot Noodle.

The Gear LoopVolkswagen Caddy California review photo 13

VW’s chairs also proved immensely comfortable and with the table in place, it was possible to hang around with a friend for two and enjoy some cool beverages as the sun dipped behind the horizon. You can't get better than that.

To recap

For those who don’t fancy piloting a full-sized van on the annual getaway (and don’t require bags of space), the Caddy California is a clever solution that’s surprisingly easy to live with. Granted, you’ll have to do your cooking outside, but the packaging here is beyond ingenious. It’s a surprisingly comfortable way to spend a weekend under the stars.

Writing by Leon Poultney.