With one of the greatest histories of any vehicle, the VW Camper, (or Kombi, T2, T5, California, “van” or “bus”, or any other term of endearment owners choose), is one of a handful of models that has a true claim to the title “iconic”.
It started life as the VW Type 2 (hence T2), as it arrived after the Type 1, which was that other iconic VW, the Beetle.
While the T2 remained the lovebus of generations of hippies and lovers of the Sixties, counter-culture, Woodstock vibe, the T5 Transporter, which launched in 2003, took on a substantially different air, with a more corporate design, for smart local businesses, and middle-class weekend surfers. the current facelift, the T6, is, in camper van mode, the California, which proves beyond doubt is surfing aspirations. At £50,000 a pop, it also shows how far it has traveled from the transportation of broke hippies, to the weekend second-car of wealthy active families.
This is a good-looking campervan, especially in vibrant blue, with a svelte front end and softened corners. Inside, it’s a tardis-like work of genius to fit in the mod-cons every owner expects these days, especially for the money, and when Mercedes has its Marco Polo version breathing down VW’s neck.
Up front, the driving position is very, very comfy, with an upturned steering wheel and automatic gear-lever positioned high in the centre console. Dash surfaces are predictably plasticky, but not in a cheap way. A little knob up by the rear-view mirror raises and collapses the extending roof for a double-mattress space which is illuminated by mesh windows and smart, soft electric lighting.
In the back, the rear bench seat slides forwards so the children are within reach, or right back to enable the little side table to be raised. One side is flanked by a sink and gas stove, with smart glass lids creating a smooth surface over them. There are plenty of cupboards and storage bins, and the rear bench folds flat to enable another double mattress to slide over the top, creating a decent bed for two six-foot adults. Blinds cover all windows to block out the light.
Of the 200bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine? Perfectly acceptable – 0-62mph in 11.1 seconds etc – but it’ll be the performance of the stove, the battery, the way the water supply hooks up and the surfaces wipe clean that really interest owners of this vehicle. We took it to the Isle of Wight for the weekend and let four children clamber all over it. On that basis, it performed remarkably well, mud thankfully washing off the pale fabric seats, roof-raising and lowering more than was strictly necessary, without a glitch. Also, it might be long, but it’s pleasingly narrow and, with that very short front overhang, is easily maneuverable into tight parking spaces.
You’re either a diehard, lifelong fan or just don’t get the appeal. Not being a hippy, a surfer or with a particular need for a van, I confess I didn’t get it… until I got in this one for the weekend with a seven-year-old and four-year-old, who thought it was the coolest thing ever. Suddenly, weeks in the Lake District beckon, sleeping, walking, camping and cooking over an open stove. The “upstairs” space is brilliant for two children, and this is the easy way to face the Great Outdoors. Frankly, it’s just as appealing a thought to leave the kids outside the house in it for a night and treat it like an extension.