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Beginners - Our experiences from a weeks trial



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Couple of weeks back we hired a Cali for a week to try one out. We are seasoned campers (in a tent) and have been considering (and saving up) with a view to buying a used Cali.

Theres only two of us, so no kids to worry about and we regularly camp weekends and weeks predominantly in the uk.

so firstly, why change and why a Cali? Simple really, a colleague purchased a Cali about 5 years ago and we had a good look round it at the time and were really impressed. A close friend has a bay window camper and when we camp together there are some apparent benefits from the camper over the tent, and lastly, we have plans to start exploring a bit further afield and the prospective benefits the Cali offers could make this much more viable.

We like the VW scene but wouldn't say we are hard core VW fans, but plenty of close inspections of various vw campers have led us to this point. We like the older vw's but our plans for exploring further afield suggest a more modern, more speedy (well 70mph at least) and more economical form of transport is in order. Plus whilst I enjoy some weekend spannering, I don't want to spend all my time and money keeping something running or in fact worrying when it may next breakdown! (I'm sorry if you do own an older vw camper, but we regularly play "count the broken down vw camper" when travelling during summer months!

Weve also looked at vw conversions and I've considered doing a T5 conversion myself, as had been said many times on this forum they just don't seem to compare and cost almost as much.

So we keep coming back to the Cali.

So we hired from Oli at BMVS in Bognor Regis, to give it a try before spending out a considerable part of our hard earned savings. I specifically hired the 180PS DSG model as if/when I buy that's the spec I have in mind.

BMVS have 5 Cali to choose from so this was the place to go for us, even though it was a bit of a trip from our home in Bristol.

So we ended up with an almost brand new 180PS DSG Cali in white, 1200 miles on the clock with awning, privacy glass, front and rear parking sensors, tow hitch, seat covers and cruise control, pretty much the spec we would want, apart from maybe the multi function steering wheel.

First impressions, perfect :thumb

I've driven a few T5's and previously the lower output manual Cali (130PS). The 180 and DSG were very smooth and with more than enough power. High driving position and very comfortable meant the Cali was great for long distance cruising.

We toured from Bognor Regis to looe, looe to Fowey, Fowey to Falmouth, Falmouth to west bay Dorset and then back to Bognor over the course of a week. The Cali was a pleasure to drive for both me and my wife who is always a bit nervous about driving larger vehicles and automatics!

We averaged about 33mpg over the week and did a total of 620 miles. We got just over 500 miles out of a tank before refilling, costing £90, we had to top up the tank before dropping off at a cost of £35, so fuel costs were £125 for us for the week. It's worth noting that's it trip to looe from Bognor at the beginning of the week and then Falmouth to Dorset,Dorset to Bognor at the end of the week was on main A roads, cruising at 70-75mph and using the cruise control. The rest of the week was on very tiny single track roads around Cornwall. So the mpg was pretty impressive considering.

We found the Cali to be the perfect size for all the Cornish single track roads, even though our first couple of days was pretty daunting for us both, especially getting in and out of some of the tiny beach ca r parks at then end of the single track roads - you often wonder if you will come across a dead end and be trapped forever :crazy

We spent our first 3 nights at an idyllic campsite, and even though electric hookup was available we didn't use it and didn't drive the van anywhere during the 3 days. The on board power was more than adequate for that period, running the fridge, lighting, heating and the portable DVD player in the evenings. We used the hookup later in the week just to try it out, but we're pleased by the length of time it would probably last without hookup. Although my wife did use the onboard socket for her hair dryer lat in the week, which apparently is another camping luxury!

Our week away was actually pretty cold at night, plus my wife wanted to take the duvet to sleep in rather than sleeping bags :doh So we elected to try the downstairs bed first. Really comfy (a Brandrup topper was in the van) enough space and very cosy. Due to the cold, we actually had the roof up, and the roof access hatch closed to keep the cold down draughts out of the cabin at night. As it happened, we never did get round to sleeping in the upstairs bed, we used it to store all our stuff when we went to bed at night!

We did note that all the built in blinds take a lot of care and we could see that they could be easily damaged or broken if not careful, I suspect this could be a expensive mistake to make.

I also noted that the internal blind on the sliding door is actuall infront of the door, so if you have to get out in the night you have to lift the blind, seemed slightly odd that the blind couldnt somehow be accommodated in the door so you can leave the blind up and open the door.

We also found that the blind behind the hob and sink needed care to ensure it had 'clipped' in place at both ends otherwise it pops back up when you least expect it!

The front blinds fold/twist up and we stored these in the drivers door pocket for easy access.

As previous comments on this forum, I expect that the insulated internal or external screens would make a much more noticeable improvement, as would one of the many varieties of cover for the roof.

The heating worked well and we used it often. Sleeping downstairs the fuel pump 'clicking' is noticeable at night, but the heater was so efficient that we generally only had it running in the evening intermittently. Not sure if it would be as noticeable if we had slept up stairs.

We packed a lot of clothing and took a lot of food for our week away, we weren't entirely sure what the weather may do and I didn't want to go anywhere near a supermarket :lol: our first few days it was very noticeable that we have to move a lot of gear and bags around in order to use the van. That said, we didn't fully utilise all the storage space, so so more careful packing and hiding of items would probably have made a big difference to this. Similarly, the use of a small tent outside the van or a drive away awning would allow all the internal gear to be 'stored' when you occupy the van. Because we wanted to be flexible and weren't sure when we would drive and when not (i.e. when based at a campsite) we didn't use an awning.

On the plus side though, if you do have an awning or small storage tent, it marks your pitch for the occasions you do drive off the campsite to go somewhere - something I hadn't even considered!

We used the outside awning a few times and this worked great, although I was cautious of the wind and didn't use it in locations where I though it may be a problem. The are pegs for the awning legs so you can peg it down if needed.

It's much easier to spin the passenger seat than the drivers! You need to make sure that the passenger seat is pushed forward far enough so it doesn't hit the sink cabinet behind when it's turned. The drivers seat needs more careful attention as the seat back adjuster always seems to clip the door pillar as you twist it round. With both seats twisted round there is handy storage space behind them in the footwells is you need it overnight.

Levelling blocks are essential. We used these a lot and again once we got the hang of them it was a easy job to get the Cali level in most locations.

Seat covers are a MUST HAVE accessory! I can't imagine how dirty the upholstery could get over the life of a Cali. We were very careful and didn't have any really bad weather, but I can imagine it would get pretty dirty pretty quickly.

The privacy glass is also a MUST HAVE option. The Cali gets plenty of admiring glances and looks, so its nice to be able to sit inside with a brew and not feel as though everyone can see you. We hadnt realised how important this option was until trying out the van.

Our van was provided with one of the telescopic ladders, but we never needed it to get in and out of the roof. we managed just fine climbing up off the front seats. If I owned a van though, we would definitely need one for access for cleaning and washing.

We generally had good weather most of our week, but only had a couple of BBQ's outside. Most of the rest of the week we cooked inside on the 2 burner hob. We always did washing up at the campsites and didn't put any dirty water into the holding tank, apart from rinsing our cups etc.

We had a Cobb BBQ as I wanted to try one out, but we only ended up using it twice and not enough to really find out if it's any good. Needs more time I think before I'm convinced on that one.

Our Cali came with a separate portable single burner gas stove which we used a few times for cooking outside the van - the couple of occassions we had a fry up :clap I have a double burner multi fuel Coleman stove we use for camping and would take this with us in future to use for cooking outside the van as it's bigger and the two burners give more flexibility for cooking.

The water tank lasted us all week and was still showing 1 bar left on the display when we got back, we did drink a lot of tea in the van though ;)

Lastly, we both commented that it was great to arrive at a campsite late in the evening and not have to spend an hour unpacking the car and pitching the tent; I'm not sure how we are going to cope going back to normal camping :?

So all in all, everything worked out really well and we really enjoyed our week. The Cali was a complete success and we are spurred on to try and pick one up over next winter, all being well.

I've posted some pics on the photo section of the forum, and if I think of anything to add I'll edit this further.

Hope this proves useful for any other beginners considering a Cali, the weeks trial was very worthwhile for us. :thanks
This is as reasoned a review on the Cali as you can get.

So glad that like us you found it to your liking. Without a doubt the latest Cali is a good as a true campervan gets in SWB form. We previously had a T5 conversion for just 10 months before realising that the Cali was the best!

We (Paul, Linda & Tess :eek: ) always sleep upstairs using a high quality down sleeping bag & Vanorak & have been very comfortable at night down to -8C, without the need for heating :oops:

Yes organisation & learning to travel relatively light is the key to happy Cali travelling & good mpg.

Waking up to this is what its all about :thumb

What a great review - Thanks.

We've only used our Cali once and we'd bought a £25-£30 pop up tent to store less valuable and not in use items out of the van and it proved such a great boon and as you say, marks your spot.
Thank you for the report. Just ordered a SE and planning my first venture out when it arrives, so all accessible practical information such as this report is welcome.

Thanks, Chris
Excellent write up and agree with pretty much all your observations - a Cali is a brilliant vehicle but definitely needs a bit of practise to get the best out of it!

We use a small tent (Quecha 2 seconds III) for our dog, big baby seat (WHY are they so bulky?!), various bags, baby carrier rucksack and a box of outdoor kit - very handy and it pops up in no time.

Agree about the sliding door blind too - does seem a bit daft and we also treat the blinds with extreme care. They do appear fragile. Other than that, ideal.

Only comment is that I think a lot of Cali owners are from the "Princess and the Pea" with your ponsy mattress toppers. We find the standard mattresses fine ;) :lol:
KernowLad said:
Only comment is that I think a lot of Cali owners are from the "Princess and the Pea" with your ponsy mattress toppers. We find the standard mattresses fine ;) :lol:


The princess wants that pea under her mattress removed at any expense
Glad you enjoyed your time away in OL11SAR. And great write up :thumb
Well done. I think your experiences are similar to ours. I also use a Brandrup mattress, a 5cm one and it makes sleeping even more comfortable.

Thank you.
What a great review - really does reflect most of our experiences on our first (4 week) trip away in ours to France and Spain - wish we'd seen it before we went. As previously posted we did have some reliability issues with the camping gear in ours - lights fusing, reading light snapping off ( despite kid glove treatment after reading comments on the Forum) and fridge temporarily (for 4 days) stopping. But once these were solved we turned into absolute fans - so pleased with our decision to invest and looking forward to years of adventures. We prefer roof top sleeping - a tent 6 foot up - magic. But that mattress!! After 3 weeks we were getting used to it - but we are certainly "princesses"!!! Where do you get thoser toppers.....??

Just a last comment - we were so impressed with the van as a vehicle - powerful way beyond it's 2 litrs - very comfortable and weirdly economical - weirdly because after miles of 3rd gear up and down French passes it was still doing well over 33 mpg but loping along at a steady 65-70 in 6th - it only inproved by 2or 3 mpg - strange! But given its bulk - still pretty amazing.

What a great review! Ours is only a few weeks old and we've had 8 nights in her so far; it would have been much more if the weather had been better. We've slept up and down and much prefer up, but we do have the two-item mattress toppers for the roof. After using the ladder for the first couple of times we're adept at getting up and down without. By going 'upstairs' we leave a sitting room, dressing room, kitchen and dog bedroom (plus porta-potty room!) intact, good for one of us to get up, dress, walk the dog and get a brew on. If we're using the lower bed it's all much more difficult, climbing over kit, dog etc, and it's nothing like as comfortable - and we get lots of condensation, despite open windows. We are experienced tent campers, by the way.

We have ramps, but haven't used them. When wild-camping one night we parked at twilight, slept well and found we had quite a lean in the morning - just didn't notice.

We tend to get through water much quicker, it ran out after only 3 days on our longest trip, but we did brew up and cook quite a bit. Once we foolishly drained off all the fresh water not long after topping it up, confusing the drain taps. Won't do that again!

Rose was rather reluctant to drive but after a day or two got behind the wheel and soon felt at home. The Cali is nippy and the height makes us feel even more confident. I love driving it, even on narrow roads, although the satnav took us down one in Cumbria that went for miles with no passing place - fortunately deserted. We had to stop and put two baby crows into the hedge!

Have tried out the electricity at home, but not when camping. We're still not sure what that inverter is for, after all the comments here about breaking it and the fuse going think we'll leave it alone!

In just over a week we're off to Europe for 10 weeks. We're glad we gave things a good try-out, once you establish a routine where you don't get under one another's feet it all becomes much easier. We think it's great for two (plus dog) but if there were 4 of you it would be a different matter.

Our only irritation - if we brake hard, the sliding window above the fridge shuts with a bang. We'll use a wedge or bit of blu-tack when touring, oh, and the fact the roof light hasn't worked since we got the Cali new.
Regarding the matteress topper...we brought a £30 2.5inch memory foam topper from either pound land or pound stretcher and found it great to sleep on in the roof bed. It's a few inches too wide but it's no problem. We also found when we were touring Scotland the past two weeks that if you fold your topper along with the sleeping bag into three length ways then roll it, tying it up with a valcro strap then using the seatbelt to secure it to the bench seat saved so much time instead of trying to repeatedly squeeze them all into their bags every couple of days :thumb

We've also discovered these fantastic food pouches that you can keep in the cupboard and cook in 10 minutes. They're called 'Look What We Found' very reasonably priced £1.99-£2.99 and a great choice of meals and soups :clap

The only issue we had with our Cali from new is that the fridge didn't work but was soon replaced.
Oh and also we moved the two screws back in the floor runners so we now can push the seat back to within a foot of the back we have loads of floor space :grin: which is needed as we have three cavalier king charles's :D

Tara & Andy Nash
Max, Milly & Toby
GeoffB said:
Our only irritation - if we brake hard, the sliding window above the fridge shuts with a bang. We'll use a wedge or bit of blu-tack when touring, oh, and the fact the roof light hasn't worked since we got the Cali new.

That window should lock firmly into an open position. There should be holes in the frame at the bottom which the mechanism locks into..
I think Geoff means the blackout window that slides behind the wardrobe.
Stu said:
I think Geoff means the blackout window that slides behind the wardrobe.

The one we call the "tea tray" :lol:
Thanks that is the most interesting post that I have read. As I've mentioned on other posts I am a very "mature" woman who plans on meandering alone around Europe as a last fling before settling down in some tiny apartment. I know little about cars in general and even less about VW Cali but know that I want one so I've been trying to understand all the terms in the forum like DSG (think it means automatic) multi function steering wheel, tracker, vanarak, media interface etc etc not to mention words like torck. I don't know anyone with knowledge or interest in campers and there are no models around this rural part of Ireland so am depending on this forum for info. Can any of you experienced people tell me if I should be looking for a new Cali or one that is a bit older? Are recent models much improved on older ones? The forum is giving me a good idea of extra specs to purchase. I get a bit scared when reading about blinds that are difficult, problems with electricity and lights (def want to be able to read at night) and what does that discussion on rims mean when it says that 22' are enough to shake teeth out? Is it better to request a higher or lower size? Stupid questions for all you experienced users. Is there anyone out there with patience to email so that others don't get bored? I don't want to only speak to a salesman. Sorry for long post.
Hi Aileen, I'm glad the post was useful.

I'm sure others here will comment further and/or correct me where necessary but as I'm sure you have already realised there are many options available and varying prices for used vans, although the Cali does hold its resale value very well. This forum is a wealth of information and experiences and everyone here is very helpful.

There are a number of posts on this forum about fuel economy and thats a good place to start if this is a concern or something you want to be more infromed on.The Cali is available with 2 x engine variants, both diesel and if its a pre 2010 model will have either a 130 or 174 BHP engine. The newer 'facelift' models are 2010 onwards, have an updated and slightly different front body styling but mainly have an updated engine, but again 2 x variants in a 140 or 180BHP version. Both engine sizes are 2.0litre diesel but just different power outputs.The 2010 onwards Cali has a more economical engine than the earlier models.

Both engine variants can be available as manual or automatic (if you see the reference DSG this is an automatic gearbox)

Prices can vary considerably for a Cali depending on age, mileage and specification. The lowest price used Cali I've seen this year was a 2007 model 174BHP with 50,000 miles for £26,000.

They seem to be more typically priced between £36,000 and £44,000 for good low miles, post 2010 models, from both private sellers and dealers (dealer prices obviously at the top end of that price bracket). New prices are higher again but very dependant upon specification.

Keep an eye on the 'For Sale' section here, the 'Auto Trader' website, and the VW commercial used vans website (link via the facebook Cali forum I think). Ebay does have used Cali's from time to time.

Wheels and wheel sizes (reference to 22" rims") are personal preference. If you are planning on touring Europe with the Cali then standard issue wheels would probably suit you best; most Calis offered for sale have standard VW wheels on them anyway.

Another thought is that purchasing from a dealer may give you added piece of mind and back up if you are touring alone and hit any faults or problems. You wouldnt have this back up if you purchased privately, but again pricing of vehicles will reflect this.

If you are buying new, deals are available and vary between VW dealers. The approach seems to be to email a variety of dealers in the UK with your preferred spec requirements and see who has the best to offer.

If you are unsure, I would thoroughly recommend hiring from Oli at BMVS in Bognor Regis as he has a selection of vehicles and specs and it gives you the opportunity to try before you buy.

Have a pour through the Cali brochures (can be downloaded from the VW main website) to get an idea of the options availble.

Hope this helps
Again thank you so very much for taking all that time to give a lot of info. It is so nice to know rather than imagine that DSG does mean automatic and especially to know what the "facelift" included. Like you I am also leaning towards the 180 HP.
I am thinking of buying in Germany just because they are not sold in Ireland and I do have an address to use in Germany so that I can insure and get license plates. Also I felt that it would be best to get a dealer warranty, as you said it would be good to have someone to turn to since I would be alone and not very practical re cars. I do plan to use it in Europe so it would be expensive and lengthy to reach dealers in the UK. Of course this also means that I would not be able to take advantage of cheaper cars from private sellers.
Anyway thanks a million. I hope that you find your T5 at a good price soon. I'll be watching your posts. Yes this forum is invaluable since it has so much info from many experienced owners.
Aileeen - you can actually buy in Ireland from new. I did so if you want any info let me know Neil
Thank you Neil, I phoned VW Ireland and a most helpful man said that he would get back to me and he did send me the brochures but I have not heard from him again although I phoned many times and left messages. If you have any info especially in regard to cost of Cali in Ireland I would be interested. The man I spoke to felt that the price in Ireland was the same as buying in Germany (I am going there next month) although most cars here do have an extra tax. He was to get more information and let me know but that was weeks ago. Thanks
We've just taken OL11SAR back to BMVS today having run around in it for 3 days. We're currently on holiday at Fareham in the caravan so I thought I would treat myself to an early birthday present and at the same time try to work on the missus a bit. She was wavering but won't entertain a dealer test drive at all, one because they're too short and two because there is almost always a salesman in with you and I know they have a job to do but sometimes they do put you off. End result is that after sharing the driving for a couple of days she seemed much more comfortable driving a van than I did at first and secondly she completely loved it compared to the Beach we'd previously been looking at which got a thumbs down for being a bit too minimalistic. Great service from Justin at BMVS and I have recommended them to friends on the campsite and thanks to Oli for replying to my PM even though he was on holiday. As for the van itself we both loved it, she didn't want me to take it back and now it's gone we are both staring at the vacant pitch next to ours (luckily we managed to bag it for 3 days) and sighing a lot missing it already. It sure made sitting on the promenade at Lee on Solent in a gale a lot more bearable than being cooped up in our Audi. When we get back home we will start looking in earnest, just not sure whether we want a 140 or a 180, but it will definitely have to be the DSG 'box as it is quite simply awesome and every bit as good as people have said it is.
Oli is selling some of his vans so maybe you can buy the one you had :thumb

We took ours to the car park a Lee on Solent a few weeks back. Parked up, got the table and chairs out and put the kettle on!! Brilliant. :laugh2

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