The "van life" movement has been gaining momentum for years, but it seemed like 2017 really saw a variety of intriguing new vans (and van build-outs) to inspire would-be road-dwellers to get out there and live the life. The year also saw a few very compelling motorhome introductions for those looking to go bigger and farther - without losing much homestyle comfort. The best of the best include everything from big, angry all-landers to compact, versatile everyday commuters that weekend as rolling vacation homes.
Van life gets livelier
After its introduction last year, the Volkswagen Crafter was bound to be the subject of inspiration for van converters throughout 2017. Knaus kicked things off with a devilishly angelic VW Crafter concept and followed through later in the year with a production Crafter camper van – er, caravanning utility vehicle – that's every bit as functional as the concept.
Two things really make the Knaus Boxdrive stand out as our favorite Crafter-based production camper van of the year: the shower room that expands out onto the kitchen floor to save space and the rear bed that lifts up toward the ceiling to make room for cargo. The dual-mode bathroom sink, touchscreen command center and full VW driver-assistance suite help to further sweeten the pot on the €80K (approx. US$94,500) Boxdrive First Edition.
Expanding upon its highway-centric line-up of large motorhomes and camper vans, Winnebago this year launched something for off-road adventurers with the down-and-dirty Revel, following through on the promise of the 2016 Concept Adventure Vehicle. Based on the Mercedes Sprinter 4x4, the Revel is designed specifically for climbers, kayakers, mountain bikers and other modern-day explorers who refuse to let a little dirt and rock stop them from getting to distant walls, waters and trails. Similar to the Boxdrive, the Revel relies on a power-lift bed to haul playthings in back before settling down into sleep mode. After a rowdy day is done, you can dry your clothes and gear out in the bathroom, which turns into a wet-storage area with a few removable shelves.
The base price of US$134,799 will definitely put this one out of reach for many a ski, surf or climb bum, but those that do buy it will enjoy a robust package with standard 200-W solar system, retractable awning, hydronic heat and plenty more.
A nice break from the VW-, Fiat- and Mercedes-badged camper vans that tend to fill the ranks of new debuts, the CV1 from ModVans relies instead on a Ford Transit, selected for its combination of value, reliability and US serviceability. That's not what makes the CV1 a top pick, though, as its smart, modular design would look pretty nice inside any van.
ModVans has built its Transit camper around light, removable furniture and equipment that can transform the interior from camper van, to passenger van, to cargo hauler. Amenities include a pop-up sleeper roof, rear bathroom, full kitchen, elevated cabin bed, reconfigurable rear seats, and heating and A/C. The $85,000 base price doesn't look bad for the robust package ModVans has come up with, and the $65K introductory promo price still being advertised on ModVans' website looks even better. Buyers can customize the vehicle to their liking, tacking on options like a more powerful EcoBoost engine, aftermarket 4x4 system and 300-watt solar array.
Richens-Hedges Mercedes Sprinter tiny house
We tend to focus more on production camper vans that you could go out and buy, but every so often we run across a DIY build so nice, we can't ignore it. For this one, camper van and tiny home enthusiast Jack Richens and his girlfriend Lucy Hedges put their relationship to the test in designing a Mercedes Sprinter interior that exemplifies the idea of a cozy, small home-away-from-home.
We particularly like the walled-off sleeping bunks and small staircase replacing the usual ladder. One big problem, though: For a camper that looks this homey, it's missing a pretty important piece of home – the bathroom. But the couple isn't tied down to a single van and was already hard at work on its next camper build when we looked at this one earlier this year.
VW California XXL
We were particular about calling the Knaus Boxdrive our favorite VW Crafter-based production camper van of the year because our favorite Crafter camper van pick is the Volkswagen California XXL, a concept that doesn't appear particularly close to production-ready. While we're not holding our breath for a close-to-concept production model, the California XXL does a good job of highlighting how smart, multifunctional solutions could transform the camper van of the future.
Highlights of VW's innovation-loaded design include a space-optimizing slide-out bathroom compartment, a divider wall that doubles as a projector screen, a long transparent roof, a cooktop with retractable burners, and smart home-like control via tablet computer. Even if the California XXL doesn't make it to market, we sure hope to see its design inspire the furnishings of other camper vans, whether made by VW or someone else.
A small but impressive mobile living space, the Pössl Campster is based on the new Citröen SpaceTourer passenger MPV and packs a lot of function and versatility into its compact interior. The pop-top camper is based around a floor rail system that allows it to flex easily between many configurations, everything from a four-berth camper van with kitchen, to a sleeper van with extra large bed but no kitchen, to a spacious cargo van, to a seven-seat people hauler.
Removable camper equipment is, of course, part of that versatile package, and the integrated kitchen console can pull out and cook under the open sky. A small camper van with a small price, the Campster starts at €37,999 (approx. $45K).
Large motorhomes go larger, deeper and posher
Ever since EarthRoamer teased the XV-HD back in 2015, we knew the massive off-road "xpedition vehicle" was very likely to earn a spot on our "best of the year" list – the only question was, what year? It took a little longer than originally planned for EarthRoamer to develop and premiere a completed model, but the extra time was clearly put to good use. Not only is the 4WD Ford F-750-based all-terrain machine one of the most capable, rugged behemoths of a motorhome out there, it's also one of the most stylish, comfy mobile living spaces.
The XV-HD chassis #001's combination of hand-distressed alder wood furniture, reclaimed wood flooring and marble countertops makes for the best-looking interior of any motorhome or camping trailer we covered all year, and the three-burner induction cooktop, Bosch microwave, full entertainment system, washer/dryer and multi-unit climate control system ensure it offers nearly every convenience of home. There's also a 2.1-kW solar array and 20-kWh lithium battery bank to keep onboard electrical equipment running off the grid. Of course, at $1.5 million+ a pop, not many folks will get to enjoy the XV-HD's combination of terrain-eating ruggedness and interior luxury – but we reckon those that do will rather enjoy it.
You'd expect the EarthRoamer to be the meanest off-road expedition vehicle on any list it appears on, but that'd have to be a list without the name "Unicat." The MD77h the Germany outfit revealed this year was absolutely the gnarliest off-road motorhome we looked at in 2017, starting with the 532-hp 6x6 drive system that keeps expeditions plugging along smoothly, no matter what type of dirt, mud, sand or snow lies in the path.
The interior on the debut MD77h isn't nearly as rustically aesthetic as the XV-HD's, but it is loaded with the type of smart, multipurpose design that makes the most of its generous space. Details include a driver's cab fridge to keep cold refreshments close at hand on long journeys, a robust entertainment system with Apple TV, Bose surround sound and a TV that swivels out of the way to reveal the camper control panel, a full-size folding countertop that sits over the stove and sink for more food prep space, and a retractable rooftop satellite dish system that clears the photographer's hatch for impromptu photo ops. The MD77h is truly an awesome machine, inside and out.
Variomobil Signature 1200
Most people shopping for a large motorhome don't actually need something to survive treks across the Gobi Desert or Alaskan tundra. We're not sure they need an RV to garage a six-figure sports car in, either, but that's what they'll get with the new Variomobil Signature 1200, which includes a rear garage large enough for a Porsche 911 or Mercedes SL. That may sound entirely extraneous and counter to the idea of camping out in the wild, but who really wants to spend an entire vacation negotiating narrow, winding mountain roads in a huge, boxy motorhome, even with 523 hp of Mercedes engine might on their side?
Signature 1200 interior layouts vary, but available options include all the plush amenities you'd expect from a €774K+ (approx. $916K+) motorhome and some you wouldn't, like multiple slide-outs for increased space, a touchscreen-controlled induction cooktop, a washer/dryer, heating and air conditioning, and a full entertainment system.
And now for something completely different ...
Snowsuite Giano snow camper
Each year tends to bring a camper van or motorhome that reimagines how and where we camp. In the past it's been amphibious campers and even seaplane campers, and this year it was a snow machine camper. While not particularly useful as a road-tripper for families or retirees, the Italian-designed Snowsuite Giano could certainly be an interesting – or maybe a mobile backcountry skiing/snowboarding lodge for tour operators.
However it's used, the Giano brings guests right into the heart of the frosty mountains and lets them camp where they'd usually only ski or snowshoe. The compact body of this tracked RV expands at camp to open up large picture window views of the alpine scenery. Inside, a two-person whirlpool tub, remote-controlled lights, climate and entertainment, a mini-fridge, and a queen-size bed keep two people comfy overnight.
Our photo gallery highlights the layouts and key features of these various motorhomes, so if you want to get a closer look at any or all, head on over.
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