Colorado shop cures wanderlust by turning minivans into cozy mini-campervans
We've been watching the rollout of a few innovative mini-campervans, but what we haven't seen much of are US campers based on actual minivans — minivan-campers, if you will. Colorado's Oasis Campervans looks to specialize in just that niche, focusing its first efforts on the Toyota Sienna with plans to expand to additional models like the Honda Odyssey and Kia Sedona. Its efficient two-sleeper conversion gives the Sienna outdoor cooking and indoor sleeping, lounging and dining capabilities, removing easily to bring the minivan back to everyday-driver form.
Oasis founder Aaron Friedland explains that he originally began converting Toyota Siennas in 2014 with a company he named Chameleon Campervans. After selling two conversions, he moved out of the country for three years, but picked up the conversion business upon moving back to Colorado last summer. He renamed the company Oasis and started rolling out cool, little minivan campers.
With the Sienna as its base, Oasis creates camping vehicles meant to be more nimble, car-like and fuel-efficient than the average commercial van-based camper. And while the "mini" part of the equation would have you believe the Sienna is smaller than the typical van, it actually measures 200.6 in (509-cm) long, well longer than the 193-in (490-cm) standard-wheelbase Volkswagen T6, the mid-size VW van that could be described as the global gold standard in camper van conversion.
The Sienna also has more length and cargo capacity behind its front seats (150 cu in) than the 187-in (475-cm) Ram Promaster City or 190-in (483-cm) Ford Transit Connect LWB, small American vans that feature in mini-campervan conversions like the Cascade Camper and Ursa Minor pop-top.
So while converting the Sienna surely has unique challenges of its own, looking at those numbers, we're a bit surprised Toyota's minivan hasn't gotten a little more attention from converters than it has. Throw in the fact that it's available with all-wheel drive, unlike any US-market van besides the larger Mercedes Sprinter, and it seems like an even more natural camper van base vehicle.
Then again, American recreation vehicle tastes have traditionally leaned very much toward the big, bigger and absolutely huge — fuel economy and car-like handling be damned — so we guess it's not surprising that the Sienna is only getting more attention now that interest in camper vans and other compact mobile living solutions is soaring.
Back to Oasis. Based in Larkspur, a small Colorado town roughly halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, the company's stylish Sienna conversion kit fills out the rear van cabin with a convertible lounge/bed that includes a chair with seat back and some bench top for sitting. Add the optional swivel table and you get indoor dining and work space. The lounge converts to a full-width two-person bed after some quick rearranging of support panels and mattress cushions. Roll-back window shades snap into place to create a darker sleeping chamber.
The kitchen is housed just inside the tailgate, featuring a main block with worktop, stainless steel sink fed by a 15-L water tank and hand pump, sink drain bucket, garbage bin, and a storage cabinet and drawers. One of the interior bed support panels doubles as a counter extension for holding the portable camping stove of the owner's choosing during cookouts. Some Oasis alternative kitchen layouts include cooler/fridge storage, but otherwise, the cooler can be carried up ahead inside the main van.
With cooking and sleeping taken care of, Oasis focuses on maximizing storage space. The foundation of the bed and benches doubles as a series of storage boxes, compartments and drawers. The driver-side storage trunk is designed as a kitchen pantry, while passenger-side bins, drawers and compartments hold other gear and supplies. Compartments on the outside of the passenger-side storage area keep key gear easy to access through the sliding door.
The Oasis conversion isn't as naturally multifunctional as floor rail/mounting track-based kits like the VanDoIt or TerraCamper, but Oasis says the van can easily switch back over to people-mover form in roughly 45 minutes. Only 20 bolts hold the Oasis hardware in, making removal fairly straightforward. Once the camper kit is out, the owners can reinstall the factory seats and have their soccer practice-ready minivan back in service.
Oasis' conversion hardware looks nicer than average thanks to the stained, clear-coated hardwood facing featured throughout. The structure can be built out of a variety of materials, including marine plywood.
The Oasis package appears to create a cozy, space-efficient mini-camper space for duos and singles, and it also does so at an affordable price, starting at US$8,500 for the kit described. Throw in the $32,210 2019 Sienna L base price (after delivery fee), and you're driving away in a brand-new camper van for under $41,000. All-wheel drive is not offered on the base-level L, so you'll have to pay a $37,570+ van price for an LE AWD or higher trim. Of course, you could always go used and send the overall price tumbling down — Oasis works with all generations of Sienna.
Customers bring their own minivans to Oasis for conversion, but the company can also help locate a van through local Colorado dealers. Estimated build time is between two and four weeks. So far, Oasis has only worked on Siennas, but it's also willing to convert other minivans, like the Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona and Dodge Grand Caravan.
Oasis does work with buyers on custom builds and can add options or remove standard equipment to get its customers just the right kit for just the right price. While it has thought briefly about a four-sleeper pop-up roof configuration, it has no current plans to develop a roof kit. It is, however, working on a solar power option. Eventually, it hopes to have several build levels at different price points.