Volkswagen Multivan PHEV camper van shatters the California RV mold
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Volkswagen Multivan PHEV camper van shatters the California RV mold

Jul 23, 2023

The Volkswagen California camper van family is growing yet again. VW is previewing its first plug-in hybrid camper van, a pop-top California based on the already-versatile T7 Multivan. Not only does the Multivan concept camper promise 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric driving for cleaner, emission-less campground and city navigation, it brings a first-ever dual-door layout to the California family, complete with a new kitchen concept that supports indoor and outdoor cooking. Oh yeah, and it even has space for the toilet for which California campers have long been begging.

Volkswagen calls its camper preview simply the California Concept (not Multivan California concept), identifying the current-gen California 6.1 as its predecessor. So it looks like the Multivan California will replace the T6.1 version in the new split-van lineup, as opposed to serving as a second base van/floor plan option. Volkswagen says the concept is a near-production design and plans to get it to market in 2024.

The new California Concept definitely looks and feels like the cutting edge of VW camper van design. It wears a mesmerizingly sharp two-tone paint job with an ocean-deep blue down low and a near-glow-in-the-dark white above. The pop-up sleeper roof is wrapped in a 270-degree mesh window array that at night delivers a glowing warmth that offsets the bright-white chill just below. The black roof color completes a tri-color look sure to make the concept stand out, even if parked at a global VW camper van rally.

The California Concept is based on the long-wheelbase 204-in (517-cm) Multivan, stretching longer than the current-gen 193-in (490-cm) California 6.1. That newer van platform gives the camper extra room, along with something a California camper van has never had before: dual sliding rear doors.

Volkswagen, and Westfalia before it, have always used a pretty basic formula for the Transporter-based California camper packages, anchored by a central kitchen cozied up against the solid wall behind the driver's seat. Without that wall, Volkswagen experiments with an all-new style of layout that continues the kitchen-area innovations it started with other recent camper van releases, such as the California Beach 6.1 and Caddy California.

The new kitchen still finds home behind the driver's seat, but it's pushed farther back to clear ingress and egress through the sliding door. A countertop extension slides out to make use of the empty space for meal prep, sliding quickly away to again clear the doorway. The kitchen block itself is loaded with a dual-burner induction cooktop, sink, refrigerator and drawers, all of which can be accessed from indoors or out. So for the first time, California campers can cook outside on their van's standard kitchen equipment. Volkswagen even includes a slimline grill that stows neatly away under the kitchen drawers.

Third-party Volkswagen midsize-van-based campers, like those from Tonke and Spacecamper, have long offered indoor/outdoor cooking capabilities, but the Multivan California Concept teases the first to be available directly from Volkswagen. To further support the concept, Volkswagen installs the main awning over top the driver side, instead of the passenger side where it has always been previously, providing both shade and weather protection for outdoor cooks. It doesn't leave the passenger side totally exposed, either, adding what it calls a sun sail on that side for a dual-awning setup that expands the footprint of base camp.

While the California has always evoked images of the great American and global road trip, this latest concept really screams "Outdoor Living!" louder than any of its predecessor. It's an RV that's sure to encourage campers to spend every moment – from wakeup call to turndown – enjoying the fresh air and scenery of the outdoor spaces around them, whether adventuring deep into the wilderness or just sipping a drink in the shade next to the van.

When it finally does come time to retire inside the camper, the Multivan California offers two beds to sleep four people. The individual rail-mounted captain's chairs at the rear fold flat to create the lower bed, and the two-door layout promises a little extra convenience in giving each sleeper a dedicated exit on their side of the van.

The upstairs double bed in the pop-up roof area features a spring mattress platform for a supportive, comfortable night of sleep. The power pop-up roof is activated via a multifunctional touchscreen command tablet on the C-pillar cupboard. This tablet also brings together control and data for all other camper equipment, including interior light switching, refrigerator temperature control, climate control, and water and battery monitoring. Of course, the system also includes an app for remote use.

The tablet also doubles as an entertainment screen, affixed to a swivel arm for viewing TV, movies and other content from the comfort of the seats or downstairs bed. Helping to keep that tablet, the induction cooktop, the fridge and other onboard amenities and electrical outlets running is a lithium leisure battery that promises virtual off-grid levels of power.

As is tradition, the Multivan California Concept includes swivel front seats and a dining table that affixes to the kitchen block. The two rail-mounted rear seats are fully adjustable and removable, allowing the van to haul large gear like bicycles and surfboards. Volkswagen also promises extra storage space around and under the seats, teasing that there will be plenty of room for a dry composting toilet, an accessory it will perhaps offer directly.

The all-new California Concept makes its world premiere at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, which opens to industry and media on Friday and to the public on Saturday. Volkswagen says the camper van will become a reality in 2024, offered with all available T7 Multivan powertrains. That includes the plug-in eHybrid drive, which as of now, offers up to 31 miles (50 km) of all-electric range, fully backed via the 1.4-liter ICE half of the equation.

Source: Volkswagen