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Volkswagen California Beach 6.1 TDI340 4Motion review


Volkswagen’s factory-converted campervan is more equipped for adventure than ever, but does this justify the near six-figure starting price?

Good points

  • Great drivability
  • Impressive interior displays
  • Good fuel economy
  • Great packaging
  • Easy to use pop-top roof
  • Affordable servicing

Needs work

  • Test van was over $130k on the road
  • Expensive option list
  • Modest dynamic capabilities
  • Workmanlike performance
  • Iconic two-tone paint pricey

For over seventy years Volkswagen has offered a campervan-converted version of its transporter van. Alongside the likes of the Golf and the Beetle, the pop-top Kombi van is an icon that’s recognised by many.

In the early days, the camper conversions were done by a company called Westfalia, but that changed in 2003, when the California was launched, and it became an in-house operation.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 rear 3/4 uk

Since then, Volkswagen has kept production of the California going through the Transporter generations, and just recently, the Transporter 6.1 received the same treatment.

The California Beach sits between the Caddy California and the Crafter Kampervan in Volkswagen’s local campervan line-up. Unlike the larger Crafter Kampervan, which is converted locally by Jayco, the California Beach is built in Germany, and arrives in Australia in adventure-ready form.

But with a starting price of over $90,000 before on-road costs, Volkswagen’s factory-converted campervan has come a long way from its humble air-cooled beginnings. So is it still a worthy proposition in modern times?

What are the California Beach TDI340 4Motion’s features and options for the price?

In Australia, the California Beach range is offered in three forms, with the TDI340 representing the entry-point to the range. Offered at $90,990 before on-road costs, this TDI340 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine that makes 110kW and 340Nm.

Power is sent exclusively to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 thumbnail 2

Next in the range is the version we have on review here: the TDI340 4Motion, which starts at $94,990 before on-road costs.

As the name suggests, it makes use of the same diesel engine, with exactly the same power and torque outputs, but adds Volkswagen’s all-wheel-drive system. It also makes use of the same seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

At the top of the range is the TDI450 4Motion, which will set Australian buyers back $100,990 before on-road costs are added.

Again, it uses the same 2.0-litre turbo diesel engine, but outputs are upped to 146kW and 450Nm in this case, paired to an identical all-paw, dual-clutch driveline as the mid-grade version.

Outside of the three powertrain choices, the options list is pretty extensive, though this is something to be expected given the amount of kit the Beach gets. Metallic or pearlescent paint incurs a $1780 charge, and the California’s iconic two-tone look will set buyers back an extra $4050.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 front 3/4 VW

At one end of the list, you’ve got the extra kit that makes the Beach better to drive, such as LED headlights ($2050), Discover Pro navigation ($1050), digital instrumentation ($960), adaptive chassis control ($2050), parking assist ($460), a locking rear differential ($1480), and hill start assist ($240).

Then there are the options that will enhance the camping experience of the Beach. Here you’ve access to an awning (no extra cost with two-tone paint), a pop-top roof ($3050), electric sliding doors ($1640), and underbody cladding ($1940).

As you’d expect, all these options start to add up quickly. In the case of the Beach TDI340 4motion tested here, the list price of $94,990 was a distant memory by the time it hit the tarmac. Ours commands $131,135 as a somewhat eye-watering driveaway figure for this Volkswagen Transporter that you can sleep in.

How does the California Beach TDI340 4Motion drive?

There’s nothing ground-breaking about how the California Beach drives. Take away the fancy two-tone paint, the pop-top roof, the awning, and you’ve got a regular Volkswagen Transporter.

But that’s by no means a bad thing, as I am particularly fond of how Volkswagen does a van.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 front 3/4 uk

With 110kW and 340Nm on tap from the 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine, the Beach is no speed demon, but it doesn’t need to be.

In saying that, this isn’t your regular campervan that will be holding a convoy of traffic up over the summer holidays, it certainly has enough poke to pass traffic, even up hills.

Volkswagen doesn’t claim an acceleration figure for the Beach, but I’d imagine performance would be around the ten-second mark, similar to most dual-cab utes.

The ride is quite impressive and this was undoubtedly helped by the adaptive chassis control, aka adaptive damping, optioned on the vehicle we tested.

Drive modes in the Beach include normal, comfort, eco, and sport, but most drivers will find themselves between eco and comfort, where the best ride is to be had.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 thumbnail

Opting for sport seems to liven up the transmission, something I’d only see useful for attempting to make those aforementioned overtaking maneuvers.

The Beach’s handling is so-so in that it’s competent if unremarkable. But then again, this is to be expected from a campervan. Volkswagen’s impressive electric power steering system does wonders for negating weight and bringing a sense of lightness at the helm, which is mostly noticeable driving at low speeds.

Above all else, the refinement of driving a Volkswagen brand is probably the biggest drawcard. Road noise is almost non-existent, the engine never feels out of its depth, and it feels solid on the road.

What is the California Beach TDI340 4Motion’s interior and tech like?

Though not a lot can be said about how the Beach drives, when it comes to the interior, it’s hard to know where to start.

An eight-inch infotainment screen sits in the centre of the dash, and supports wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Opting for digital cockpit swaps out the analog gauges for a digital cluster that sits behind the multifunction steering wheel.

Volkswagen California Beach 2020 interior

In usual Volkswagen fashion, this is all very intuitive to use, and I’m happy to report that the steering wheel of the Beach has avoided the haptic touch treatment as found in VW’s Golf and habitually draws criticism.

The California Beach can be had in either a five- or a seven-seat configuration, meaning that a third row of seating can be added.

No matter the seating configuration, the rear rows on the van can be folded flat, allowing for a bed to be laid out. This was surprisingly easy to achieve during the test, and I didn’t have to ask Google for any help.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 bed

If the pop-top roof is optioned – and it really ought to be for sheer fitness for purpose – a second bed can be found up near the ceiling, and thanks to the electric mechanism of this roof, it’s actually the easier of the two sleeping areas to set up.

Another feature that really impressed me were the curtains that can be pulled down in the back of the van.

The same feature isn’t offered for the front windows, where magnetic curtains are included and can be used to block out light from entering the driver’s window, passenger window, as well as the windscreen, or to create suitable privacy. If the van’s a-rockin’…

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 blinds

Above the driver and passenger seats sits a touchscreen display that serves as a central control point when the van is in camping mode. This is where the pop-top roof can be activated, but is also where the controls are for the auxiliary heater, the battery, and how level the van is sitting. It also features an in-built alarm clock.

Another display panel can be found further towards the back of the van and can be used to adjust the climate control in the rear of the cabin space. Its handy location means that it can be accessed from the bed.

Clever packaging is one thing that the Beach does exceptionally well with, and the tailgate is a perfect example. Once opened, a pair of outdoor folding chairs can be accessed, and pair perfectly with the pull-out awning for an al fresco dining experience.

On the topic of packaging, it’s also worth noting that there’s an impressive amount of storage space beneath the rear squab, something that’s very useful with the bed in position.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 control panel

Is the California Beach TDI340 4Motion a safe car?

As standard, the California Beach comes with Volkswagen’s full safety suite with all the active systems that you’d expect from a modern vehicle. This includes things like adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, and blind spot monitoring just to name a few. As is the case with all Volkswagen safety systems, these aren’t intrusive, and offer passive assistance.

In terms of a safety rating, the Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 hasn’t been tested by ANCAP, so isn’t rated.

What are the California Beach TDI340 4Motion’s ownership costs?

Volkswagen claims a combined fuel economy figure of 7.5L/100km for the Beach TDI340 4Motion, which is reasonable given its sheer size. During testing, 7.9L/100km is the figure that we landed on, which isn’t quite at VW’s claim, but still impressive for a campervan.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 setup side

On the service front, Volkswagen is currently offering a five-year capped-price plan for the cost of a three-year plan. This means that California Beach owners will shell out just $1850 for five years of servicing.

It’s also worth noting that the van is covered by Volkswagen Australia’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.

The honest verdict on the California Beach TDI340 4Motion

As a whole, Volkswagen’s California Beach is a wonderful package for a long week or short weekend away as a couple or with a small family. Considering the comprehensive fit-out of the van, it’s clear that some serious development has gone into making sure everything fits, and works as it should.

This is clear from the big stuff such as the fold-out bed, and tailgate packaging, through to the small stuff like the air-conditioning controls above the bed.

Dynamic capabilities apart, it’s also almost impossible to fault on the road, as Volkswagen vans are some of the best on the road, and have been for some time now.

Volkswagen California Beach 2022 front 3/4 2

For most, the main issue with the California Beach will be the extensive option list that can add significant weight to the bottom line. Sure, some of the driving luxuries such as dynamic chassis control and a digital cockpit can be bypassed, but most of the additional costs will come from the camping features such as the pop-top roof and the awning.

If you’re looking for a turn-key campervan experience that is covered under Volkswagen’s usual factory warranty, and is reasonably cheap to run, then this California Beach is a worthy consideration.

Overall rating
Overall rating
Running costs
Overall rating
Running costs
Approximate on‑road price Including registration and government charges

Key specs (as tested)

1968 cc
Diesel Turbo
110kW at 3750rpm
340Nm at 1500rpm
Power to weight ratio
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
80 litres
7.5L/100km (claimed)
Average Range
1066km (claimed)
All Wheel Drive
4904 mm
1904 mm
1990 mm
Unoccupied weight
2457 kg

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