Leaving California: NordVan creates a cozy, gas-free VW camper van for two
While the masses were crowding around the all-new Volkswagen Grand California at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, there was another Crafter-based camper van sitting rather quietly, well outside the spotlight. And some might argue this Crafter camper's even cooler and more functional than Volkswagen's own. The NordVan carries two adventurers away from the grid and lets them live in comfort with a heated cabin, compact bathroom, dual-refrigerator kitchen and gas-free design that operates solely on diesel fuel and electricity.
Load up your gear, fill up with diesel at the corner station and escape on the open-road getaway of your choice, enjoying time playing and staying under the tree canopy or towering cliffs. That's the type of trip NordVan's Crafter gets us thinking about as we look it over.
The van stands at a small booth, a straggler or two poking their heads in. The scene is night-and-day as compared to the hordes of people jostling to shove an eyeball into the open doors of the two Grand Californias sitting in VW's sprawling, light-flooded exhibit. Blink as you're walking the aisle and you may miss NordVan's booth entirely, and certainly the Crafter tucked up against the divider.
The 19.7-foot (6-m) NordVan Crafter itself is nearly as inconspicuous from the outside, lacking the towering high-roof options that give the Grand Californias away from across the show floor. Only the side awning hanging lazily over the sliding entry and the kitchen extending into view in the open doorway tip one off that it's a camper van. Well, that and the fact that it's on the floor of the Caravan Salon.
No pushing through the crowd just to stand in a queue of fellow gawkers here - we step right aboard the NordVan Crafter and take a look. While the outside is fairly low-key, the interior is all camper van, dashboard to rear doors. Much different from Volkswagen's light, white and bright interior, NordVan wraps adventurers in a darker, more neutral space - gray-shaded furniture, two-tone gray seat upholstery, silver trim, etc. The dual skylights, light brown flooring and lighter furniture tops brighten things up so it doesn't feel like the inside of a cave. All in all, a very nice-looking design.
The first piece of hardware that really catches our eye is the noticeably small dining table, no rear bench behind it. The NordVan accommodates two and only two, so it has only the swivel driver cab seats for dining/lounging.
The next thing that grabs our attention is the smooth, glossy Webasto cooktop, a diesel ceramic cooker that hints at one of the van's main selling points - it's gas-free, equipment running entirely on electricity and the diesel fuel that also keeps the 174-hp engine humming. So there's no need for LPG tanks to keep things fired up.
Another part of the kitchen design that stands out, the compressor refrigerator is located off the main kitchen block, below the lifted rear bed. What we didn't realize until reading the spec sheet after the show is that there are actually two refrigerators - that one and a smaller compressor drinks drawer on the end of the kitchen block, accessible from inside and out.
A dual-refrigerator set-up seems like a nice way of adding extra cold storage and separating drinks from food - something some campers prefer to do using separate ice chests. The layout also keeps cold beverages close at hand when you're outside sitting under the awning.
A step-up over the main fridge from the aisle puts you atop the raised 55 x 78-in (140 x 200-cm) double bed. The bed area includes cabinetry and lighting over top and some rear storage space below, just inside the van's double doors.
One thing that would make this camper even cooler is a flip-away bed, as vans like the Grand California and Hymer Sprinter Grand Canyon S use to carry bikes and other large equipment. But we guess that would require moving the primary refrigerator somewhere besides the middle of the under-bed and might end up necessitating the loss of the drinks fridge.
As usual, it's all about compromises and strategizing when trying to fit a bunch of furniture and equipment inside a compact vehicle interior. On the business end of this particular compromise, you might have to mount a rack or tow a trailer if you want to bring along large gear like bikes or surfboards.
Like Volkswagen, NordVan has managed to squeeze a central, driver-side wet bath into its Crafter camper, using some space-saving strategies to make the most of the compact space. Instead of a VW-style flip-away sink, its sink slides into a storage nook in the wall cabinet to clear access to the toilet. There's even a roll-top cover that comes down over top to secure it away.
The faucet stands separately from the sink on a pedestal. You can store the sink basin away while still using the pull-out faucet as a shower. The tiled floor houses the drain.
The NordVan Crafter on show also included diesel heat and hot water, LED interior lighting, an electric entry step, pre-installed solar integration, and 230V, 12V and USB outlets. The basis Crafter had air conditioning, parking assistance, ABS, ESP and more. The complete camper van was priced at €94,500 (approx. US$108,750) as equipped.
All in all, NordVan's package is a nice conversion and offers some interesting pros/cons as compared to the Grand California (or Knaus Boxdrive, for that matter). The pricing seems high, but that's with the Grand California's €55,000 ($63,300) base price rolling around in our head - we'd have to see a more detailed features/options breakdown to make an apples-to-apples comparison, and we haven't seen the full brochure and pricing list released by VW just yet.
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