Peace Vans puts a compact, flexible Mercedes camper van on American roads
Mercedes-Benz just refreshed the Marco Polo camper van, and once again we saw a slick, affordable camper van that Americans can only dream about. But those dreamers can actually wake up and find a versatile, little Mercedes camper van on American soil thanks to Seattle's Peace Vans, which offers full and light camper vans based on the Mercedes Metris. Its compact camper vans journey forward with pop-top roofs, multi-position sliding rear benches and room for four.
Peace Vans isn't a brand-new player in the camper van game, having several years of experience as a Volkswagen camper restoration and repair shop. While Peace was building its business restoring old VW vans, it also recognized the need for a new VW-style pop-up camper van. It explains that the American small camper van market was humming along okay for a decade or so after Volkswagen discontinued US van sales in 2003, but started to look grim once the older VW T3 and T4 camper vans began to age.
"Alas, here we find ourselves late into 2017 and there is still nothing in the market like our beloved Vanagons and Eurovans," the company recalls on its website. "We look across the ocean and drool at the options in Europe and wonder, 'Please can we have one?'"
Indeed, it's a question we've pondered here quite often, as we cover hordes of smart, multipurpose European camper vans with affordable price tags and everyday usage possibilities before turning back to the tumbleweeds rolling lazily across the North American camper van segment. We have seen a gradual shift in recent years, with the buzz of #vanlife and emergence of small camper vans and conversion kits, but it's a slow road with much mileage remaining between the American and European markets.
In 2016, Peace Vans set out to become one among the new breed of American van converters building the market up. After driving several available van models, including the Ford Transit and Nissan NV, it settled on the Mercedes Metris due to what it saw as a superior ride, clean styling and robust dealer support.
It didn't hurt that a well-known German camper van component maker was readying a Metris-specific kit during that same time period. Reimo, a company behind several of the mini-campervans we saw at the 2018 Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, had already started work on a Metris camper kit after getting wind that Mercedes would be launching a US-market Vito van in 2015.
Peace Vans' launched the Reimo-based campers in late 2017 and now installs three different levels of conversion, mimicking the type of full and light camper van styles popular in Europe. The fully equipped flagship camper van includes sleeping, cooking and storage amenities, while the four-person and two-person sleeper vans include only the bedding.
The full Peace Metro camper van is based on the cargo version of the Metris, to which Peace adds a crash-tested three-seat bench. That convertible bench is mounted via floor rails and slides into four different positions to adjust the interior between comfy camp lounge and cargo-hauling five-seater. At night, the bench folds down into a double bed, and a second double bed in the pop-up roof creates enough sleeping space for a family of four.
The camper van also includes a kitchen block with dual-burner propane stove, sink and 49-L fridge. It can carry up to 20 L of fresh water and offers storage space throughout the kitchen, full-height rear cupboard and under-bench area. The van also has an auxiliary battery that can be charged up via solar power.
The full camper conversion starts at US$36,995, before you factor in the price of the van. Peace Vans can source vans from a local Mercedes dealer and estimates the price of a conversion-ready Metris cargo van at $33,000 to $45,000, putting the complete camper price roughly between $70,000 and $80,000. That's not quite the "affordable" price we would have hoped for, but it's not so far off last week's $66,525 price conversion for the German-market Mercedes Marco Polo, which is based on the V-Class van, the fancier consumer version of the Vito, the Metris van's European sibling.
For those who want to go cheaper, Peace Vans also offers the Weekender and the Pop-Top. Based on the Metris passenger van, the $22,495 Weekender package is quite similar to the Marco Polo Horizon or Activity, offering a light sleeper van with the three-seat convertible bench, pop-up roof and dining table, but no kitchen or storage cabinetry.
The $10,995 Pop-Top package is the simplest of the bunch and is just what it sounds like: a pop-up roof, topping the Metris passenger or cargo van with a two-person sleeping area. Those who put the Pop-Top on a Metris cargo van can convert the interior to camper form themselves.