Top 10 motorhomes and caravans of 2015
We didn't see a camper quite as wild in 2015 as the seaplane camper we saw in 2014, but we have seen many a cool mobile living solution since we last compiled a list of our favorite RVs. New camper vans followed big events in the van market, including the launch of the Volkswagen T6 Transporter, US launch of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4, and discontinuation of full Ford E-Series vans. Beyond the Type Bs, there were also versatile expandable trailers and efficiently packaged roof- and chassis-top designs. Here are the coolest, most interesting motorhomes and camping trailers we looked at in 2015.
Conversion shops, not to mention Volkswagen itself, were quite eager to breathe new life into their lineups by quickly transforming the sixth-generation Transporter into cozy camper vans. The Dutch-designed Tonke Van is an early favorite.
While Tonke's T6 camper lacks the warm interior and exterior wood of Tonke's gypsy cart-inspired offerings, its innovative features provide serious flexibility at camp. The kitchen unit includes a built-in dining/food prep table as its front panel and can be optionally made with a swing-out for indoor/outdoor use. The van also has a removable, sliding rear bench, removable under-seat storage and removable compressor fridge, allowing for plenty of versatility in space management.
Campers love to spend the night outdoors, and many of them enjoy those outdoors in the day by staying active. That means gear, toys, accessories and more toys. We've seen a steady stream of gear-hauling campers pop up to meet the needs of these active types, the Xventure XV-2, SylvanSport Go and BCT MOAB Yak being a few examples. These trailers tend to use engineering tricks to fit both outdoor gear and sleeping quarters inside the footprint of a small trailer.
Australian outfit Patriot Campers takes a more no-nonsense tack: It stretches the trailer footprint with a 10-foot (3 m) bed slapped behind a rugged, off-road-built box trailer, bringing overnighting up front, toy hauling in back. The TH610 is plenty bigger, heavier and more expensive than other gear-hauling camping trailers, but it also comes standard with an outdoor kitchen with awning, 120 Ah battery, water tank and hot shower system, and 2,000 liters of storage. The flatbed holds five dirt bikes, two ATVs or one side-by-side, ensuring that all campers have a throttle in hand come morning. The trailer can even haul a boat with the optional winch-based boat loader.
At a hair under AUD$60K (US$44,000), the Patriot TH610 certainly isn't an option for everyone, but those that do choose it are pretty much guaranteed to have fun in the outdoors.
What do you do when Ford decides to discontinue a best-selling, decades-old van platform that's long served as a pillar of your conversion business? You could focus solely on other van platforms, including the Transporter that Ford replaced the E-Series with (Sportsmobile does that, too), but Sportsmobile decided to design its own van on top of the E-Series cutaway chassis, which Ford is still selling. And while it was at it, it made the van just a tad better for its camper van needs.
The interior of the fiberglass body that Sportsmobile designed for its new Classic camper van is 4 in (10 cm) wider than the discontinued stock E-Series van, providing a bit more room and allowing for a width-wise bed configuration. As usual, Sportsmobile has fortified this Ford with a 4x4 system and upgraded suspension, readying it for travel and camping on or off road.
Happier Camper HC1
Living in a small box behind your car can make you claustrophobic and uncomfortable in a hurry. Compounding the problem, it's difficult to know exactly what layout will work best for you until you've spent some time (and money) out camping.
Los Angeles-based Happier Camper helps out by offering flexibility that few other camping trailers can match. The "Adaptiv" interior of its compact, retro-inspired HC1 fiberglass caravan lets you switch and swap modules into all kinds of different configurations, so if the floor plan you come home with doesn't prove comfortable, you can rearrange the bench, kitchenette, table, cushions and other modules into something better and snap them into place like Legos. You can also clear the interior out completely, creating a cargo hauler. The large rear hatch, available load ramp and 1,100-lb (500 kg) dry weight only improve upon the trailer's user-friendly demeanor.
Quantis Marq Concept
It was the contrast of white, smooth fiberglass and military-green Land Rover Defender 130 that attracted our eyes to the German-designed Quantis Marq camper concept, but it's the highly efficient use of interior space that makes it one of the year's most intriguing.
The Marq is a relatively compact 4x4 chassis-top camper that you'd expect to be little more than a bed or two, dinette set and maybe a kitchen. Instead, it offers a stepped construction with two single beds, one double bed, an indoor kitchen and even a bathroom. Even more impressive, each bed has clear access to the bathroom, so you don't have to trip on your fellow camper during an early morning nature call. The layout of the equipment keeps weight balanced over the rear axle for better drive performance. In the end, you have a camper for four planted directly on one of the world's most capable go-anywhere 4x4s, a recipe for a good weekend if every we've seen one.
We chose not to write this list in any particular order because it seemed silly to compare campers of such different sizes and purposes. Any given design here might be highly useful for one outdoor type but completely useless to another, and the designs aren't made to compete head-to-head. Gun to the head, though, we'd say that the French-penned Beauer 3X has to be our favorite of the bunch.
This ingenious small trailer rolls down the highway as a tiny droplet behind your car, but at camp it stretches out to 3 times its width with a push-button electrical telescoping action. The folding furniture is packaged neatly together in transport mode and automatically opens up and drops down during deployment, giving campers a complete living/dining area, kitchen, bedroom and bathroom – quite an impressive space when compared to the average small trailer!
Expandable campers have been hot lately, because what's better than having a compact, maneuverable vehicle on the road and spacious abode at camp? Trailers like the aforementioned Beauer 3x and Gidget teardrop show two different means of using expandable design to a trailer's advantage.
The German-designed Bett Mobil shows expandable construction is also useful in a camper van. By sliding the bed area out of the back of the cabin instead of folding it down inside the cabin, Bett Mobil's package completely separates the sleeping area from the living/dining space and kitchen. So when you wake up, you don't have to fold the bed away to cook breakfast or sit at the table. What we like even more about the Bett Mobil design is its modular nature, allowing you to create a camper van out of the Volkswagen Multivan, then remove the motorhome modules when the camping trip is over to get your normal, everyday van back.
iKamper Hardtop One
Some of the trailers we've covered this year and in the past rely on roof-top tents for sleeping accommodations, but the iKamper Hardtop One is the first standalone roof-top tent to earn a place on one of our annual best camper lists since we began compiling them in 2013. Roof-top tents provide a light, simple, affordable alternative to camping trailers and motorhome conversions, but they tend to look quite the same from one make and model to the next, without a lot of unique innovation separating them.
South Korea's iKamper makes a simple but very useful improvement upon the average roof tent by combining two styles – the hard-shell pop-top and fold-out tent – into one. With that move comes the merging of advantages; the Hardtop One offers a tough, compact, aerodynamic shell during driving, sets up quickly with integrated gas struts and provides more sleeping space than any hard-shell competitor we compared it to. The 49 sq ft (4.55 sq m) of floor space can sleep three adults or a family of four.
A small, lightweight pop-up tent camper with a convenient twist, the ScarabRV is a nice option for trailer camping by compact car or motorcycle. Its 300 pounds (136 kilograms) are concentrated low to the ground, a fact that the driver should be happy about when towing, especially if he or she has experience towing heavier, broader trailers.
Unlike other pop-ups, which require manual actions like unlatching, cranking, pulling and folding at camp, the inflatable ScarabRV leaps to life in about a minute at the push of a remote control. You don't even have to leave the comfort of the car while the tent sets itself up, a nice advantage anytime it's cold or rainy. The inflation system can also be used to pump up equipment like air mattresses and inflatable kayaks.
Essentially an inflatable tent on wheels, the ScarabRV lacks the integrated kitchen equipment, wash area and other amenities of more complete camping trailers, but it looks like it should excel as a light, easy-to-use pop-up trailer.
Transforming the interior of an average van into a space that can support human life for days on end is an impressive feat, but doing so in a small car is a near miracle – or so we would have thought before seeing just how common tiny campers are at this year's Japan Camping Car Show.
We could point to any number of tiny campers we saw at the show in highlighting the innovation of Japan's RV industry, but we're kind of partial to the Relax Cabin, a mini-motorhome conversion for the ... Toyota Prius! That's right, the world's favorite small hybrid can wander the countryside and sleep a family of four. The mullet-like design isn't the prettiest, but the Relax Cabin does look more comfortable and reliable than the Habitent. Plus, it's a Prius camper, it doesn't need to be physically attractive to be a beautiful thing.
We stuck to a classic 10-item format so as to avoid moving anywhere close to declaring nearly every camper we covered this year as a "top design of 2015," but we could have easily found arguments for making it 15 or 20. Here are a few other designs that were in the running:
Readers pointed out potential issues with aerodynamics and space usage, but there's something very cool about what's essentially a rustic ski cabin on wheels.
Gidget Teardrop Trailer
We spent our "expandable small trailer" capital on the Beauer 3X, but the Gidget trailer is another very cool, expandable design.
Fiat Ducato 4x4 Expedition concept
Europe's super-popular camper van platform goes 4x4 camping? Sign us up.
It's always interesting when major automakers design camper concepts, especially when they're as cute as Honda's N-Truck and N-Camp, which fit together like pieces of a very simple 3D puzzle.