If you care about these things, you’d have been Googling for months, gobbling up bits of rumour and eagerly waiting to see it for real. But are the VW T6 campervans an improvement on the T5?
Published in September 2015. For more up-to-date info on campervans, have a look at our guide to the best compact campers and why some of the Campfire Team have opted for a VW California Beach in their Ditchin’ the kitchen article.
The T5 has been a staple of campervan conversions (and the base for VW’s own California SE and California Beach factory-built campervans). So, VW enthusiasts were pretty excited about the new model. For those who’d recently bought T5-based campervans or Californias, it was a toss-up between “I should have waited” regret and “I’ve saved myself a packet” satisfaction.
Let’s hope the converters won’t continue to stick the same old standards from the T5 onto the T6. They could, because nothing’s changed in terms of dimension. How great it would be, though, to see an alternative to the grey carpeted walls (and there are one or two exceptions out there) or to the glitzy ‘80s glamour that passes for cutting edge design – all blue LEDs and cocktail cabinet styling. In the race to get out there first, however, many converters simply put existing configurations to work (at the time of writing, Jerba, for example, seemed to be sticking with their range).
On show have been conversions from Concept Multi-Car Ltd and Nomad Campervans with their Ranger T6 conversion that promised “the comfort of saloon car seating with the functionality of a campervan”.
Wingamm introduced a T6 coachbuilt conversion – the T6 Micro that looks like a fat piece of soap but may suit campervan/motorhome crossover fans. Westfalia, the original VW campervan converter, had a T6-based Club Joker City. It comes with a pop-up roof rather than the high-top. There’s a cassette toilet in the rear and the possibility of including a shower. It has a warm water boiler and heating. We thought the T5 variant was interesting but a bit cramped.
There are also conversions from AutoHaus, Danbury Motorcaravans, Hillside Leisure, Birchover and Vanworx,and we’ll be having a look at those over the coming months.
And the new California T6 Ocean?
Well, except to the expert perhaps, it looks almost exactly the same as the T5. Volkswagen say they made 6,000 improvements, but most of these are to things like suspension and engine. The T6 is now Euro 6 compliant. The front cab is said to feel more refined with a ‘premium’ trim option in the Ocean (former SE) and the Ocean has a couple of extra rails and a cup-holder in the otherwise unchanged kitchenette.
We didn’t like the rather shiny, plastic-ness of the new dash, which seemed to be more in line with the ‘cocktail cabinet’ look of conversions than VW understated sturdiness.
The Ocean starts at around £48,000 and the Beach at around £38,000. They come with bluetooth, DAB digital radio, climate control (three-zone in the Ocean), alloy wheels, LED taillights and an auxiliary heater.
AutoExpress loved the drive, but seem less impressed with the value of the campervan side of things. They said: “Without reinventing the campervan, the VW California T6’s raft of slight improvements over the T5 make it a significantly better proposition overall. While the basic architecture remains, the ‘premium’ cabin option makes things feel much more upmarket, which added to improved economy and refinement, makes this generally seem a much more polished product than ever. However, the high asking price remains prohibitive, especially the Ocean version: £50k is an awful lot when you could have nine-tenths of the experience for half the price with a used T5 California.”
As owners of a T5 Calfornia Beach bought in early 2015, two of the Campfire team had this to say: “We certainly still love the Beach – the lack of kitchen and the space you get instead makes it so versatile (and cheaper too). We could have waited for the T6, but it didn’t change enough for us to ever regret buying the T5 when we did.”