Off- Road Review: VW T5 California Beach
For many years, the VW Kombi was South Africa’s favourite family-touring vehicle. Many of us will fondly remember the Syncro model, a 4WD minibus with lockers front and rear, and low-range gearing. It was a phenomenally capable 4×4 which featured excellent packing space, user-friendly proportions and a massive roofline which was ideally suited for a long roofrack. These days, the Kombi’s spirit lives on in the VW T5; and as far as 4WD models go, the über-capable Syncro was replaced by the Caravelle 4Motion – but, unlike its predecessor, the 4Motion doesn’t feature low-range.
To clarify their definitions: the Kombi is a people carrier (VW’s version of a taxi), while the Caravelle is a luxury family car that boasts seating for seven and lots of cabin room. And, both vehicles are T5 models. However, the Kombi is not available in 4Motion, and if you want 4WD you have to purchase the Caravelle 4Motion SWB. Or, if you don’t mind simplicity, you could opt for the T5 Transporter Crew Bus – a commercial vehicle sporting panel windows and the option of 4Motion in SWB or LWB guise. (The LWB is 3 400 mm long while the SWB is 3 000 mm long). At R445 300, the Transporter 4Motion SWB offers terrific value for money and would seem like the perfect canvas on which to construct your own fully-kitted camper.
But there’s another option few people know about: a T5 that goes by the name of California Beach. VW launched this special-import T5 in September ’12, but they’ve sold very few in SA. Which is rather weird, when you consider that the California is R44k cheaper than the stock-standard Caravelle 4Motion!
Of course, the Caravelle 4Motion sports various luxury features that you won’t find in the California: things like Xenon headlights, leather seats and colour-coded side mirrors; but in every other respect they’re the same vehicle – bar the California’s popup roof.
That’s right, the California is the only vehicle we know of that features a factory-fitted popup roof. Unlike a traditional rooftop tent, this unit is built into the California’s roof structure, where the roof itself detaches from the body and reveals a 2-sleeper bed with a comfortable foam mattress.
The actual pitching of the tent is dead simple: you start by sliding the access hatch open (this looks a lot like a sunroof screen), unlatch two safety catches, and gently press the roof upwards – the gas struts do the rest. Voila! You’re done! But here’s the downside: access to the tent is through a narrow hatchway that’s positioned above the two front seats. So, if you’re a groot okie you may stumble over the seats and battle to squeeze through the narrow hatchway. Similarly, senior folk may find it tricky getting in and out of the tent.