Leisure vehicles are a hit right now. Alongside the timeless motorhomes, campervans have become the darlings of a public that loves vacations in the great outdoors. Enough to push some manufacturers like Renault to enter the segment with its brand new Trafic SpaceNomad, determined to bivouac in place of the reference in the field, the Volkswagen California.
They inspire escape, road trips and more generally the freedom to travel independently. Fitted vans are more popular than ever! The French love it so much that the market continues to grow. Judge for yourself: last year it sold more than 16,000 models in France. That is more than half of the sales of the category ” recreational vehicles !
Faced with this enthusiasm, Renault embarked on the adventure with the Trafic SpaceNomad, a van fitted out by the Pilote motorhome specialist based on Traffic. For the record, the SpaceNomad was first marketed last year in Switzerland, meeting with great success which prompted the Diamond brand to sell it here.
On the other side, there is no longer any need to present the Volkswagen California, a benchmark in the field and heir to the mythical Combi. Unlike the SpaceNomad, the California is completely designed and manufactured in-house by Volkswagenbased on Transporter.
Two different conceptions, then, but similar characteristics : about 5 meters long each in short chassis (5.08 m for the Renault and 4.90 for the Volkswagen) and less than 2 meters high in order to be able to access almost all car parks, benefit from the private vehicle rate at the toll and retain a minimum of maneuverability in urban areas.
Such sizes also make it possible to offer a good capacity of reception and a certain level of comfort to the occupants intending to free themselves from the usual hotels and seasonal rentals. The two converted vans offer four beds with their pop-up roofs (electrically for the California) but the SpaceNomad can accommodate 5 passengers against 4 for the California. The unfortunate fifth will only have to pitch the tent outside!
Inside, the layout is once again quite similar. The kitchenette area with sink, two gas stoves, refrigerator (49 liters for the Renault, 30 liters for the California) and cupboards for storing cutlery and provisions are on the driver’s side, opposite the sliding door. While the sliding and folding rear seat releases a wider but shorter bed in the Renault (128 x 188 cm against 120 x 200 cm for the California).
The other sleeping area, that of the mezzanine, is essentially the same on both vehicles. Already in terms of dimensions (120 x 200 cm) but also because it has a mattress and a box spring to provide maximum comfort.
Finally, the two seats at the front of each vehicle swivel to create a lounge area with the tables located inside. If the interior fittings are similar, the Volkswagen takes care of its finish, its details and benefits from a cabin designed to be as ergonomic as possible. There are many examples: sliding blackout curtains integrated into the windscreen pillars, roller shutters on the side glazing, retractable table in the rear door, folding chairs placed at the bottom of the boot, exterior blind with crank, not to mention the numerous lights and controls of the van with dedicated touch screen.
But the Renault also has some strengths such as a larger fridge, a larger water capacity (60 against 30 litres) and solar panels on the roof to be autonomous when stationary without needing to plug in. On the other hand, if a small outdoor shower is available on both, no WC is offered. Undoubtedly the biggest flaw of camper vans!
The other feature inherent in this type of vehicle is a very special driving experience. On this point, the California remains more civilized than the SpaceNomad whose kinship with Trafic does not stop at his simple surname. Its direction vibrates, its behavior is clumsy and its rear axle tends to hit well in terms of damping.
Quite the opposite of the German which is more dynamic, more comfortable and much less utilitarian. Moreover, in its top-of-the-range configuration, it benefits from all-wheel drive, latest-generation driving aids as well as the engine/gearbox assembly of the Golf GTD, namely the 4-cylinder 204 horsepower turbo diesel and 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
For his part, the Frenchman does not have all-wheel drive but his BlueDCI 2.0 engine of 170 horsepower and his double clutch box surprise by their careful approval. The reminders are certainly less vigorous but the whole thing is revealed less noisy and perfectly able to push the 2,507 kg of the machine (2,650 kg for the California).
Logically, our over-equipped Volkswagen California Ocean sells for a high price: €95,000, compared to €70,000 for the Renault Trafic SpaceNomad with all options. A gap that is reduced considerably (5,000 €) by removing some options from the California (no all-wheel drive, no large rims) and opting for the small 2.0 TDI 150 DSG engine in order to arrive at similar standard equipment.