Gallery: Impressively packaged mini-camper vans that live surprisingly large
You don't need to spend six or seven figures to enjoy a comfy motorhome meticulously furnished for quick or extended road trips. This year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon revealed that, with a little strategy and technique, even the smallest vans can serve as comfortable, well-equipped motorhomes. You won't find stretched, tower-roofed Ducatos or Sprinters here – these compact to downright tiny camper vans stretch no more than 5.3 m (17.4 ft) long, with many are under 5 m (16 ft). Despite the limited dimensions, each one is able to live much larger than its small footprint might suggest.
The iconic Volkswagen Transporter camper van is compact in its own right, and some might say just the right size for camping. But the Transporter is actually the mid-size van in Volkswagen Commercial's lineup. If you want to go smaller, you have to wedge your camping equipment into the VW Caddy, which looks more like a high-roof station wagon than a cargo van.
Volkswagen itself offers the Caddy Beach, but that's less a full camper van, more a sleeper van. A few brave aftermarket conversion shops have managed to create full-blown mini-camper vans from the Caddy, though, adding sleeping, dining and cooking amenities into the tiny rear cabin. The smallest we saw in Düsseldorf was the Caddy Tramp from Campmobil.
Starting at just €28,850 (approx. US$34,000), this cozy, 4.4-meter-long (14.4-ft motorhome charges its equipment with clever multitasking to get the most out of its snug interior. The longitudinal driver-side sofa drops down to work as the rear bed and can also be removed to make room for two rear vehicle seats.
The cover over top the stove removes to work as an outdoor worktop or indoor dining table. When used outside, it can mount at working or sitting height, serving as either an outdoor stove/prep counter or outdoor dining table. Inside, it secures to the wardrobe and works as a dining able for the sofa bench. When used indoors, the single-burner stove can sit over top half the sink, since there's no real counter space atop the kitchen block.
The Tramp really looks best for a solo camper or petite couples who get along very (very) well, but it's a pretty cool, little option if you want to go small. And if you need more interior space down the line, there's always the available hatch tent.
Something even greener
No matter what engine and transmission you equip it with, the Caddy Tramp's emissions will look pretty insignificant next to larger motorhomes – particularly road-monsters like the Volkner Performance S. But if you really want to drive your tailpipe emissions down to zero, you'll need something like the Reimo N-Vane.
Presented more as a showcase of Reimo components than as a turnkey conversion, the N-Vane starts with Nissan's e-NV200, which is nearly as short as the Caddy at just under 4.6 m (15 ft). Reimo goes with a very different interior layout than Campmobil, dedicating the entire rear cabin to the folding bed while storing the kitchen in a box below the rear of the mattress. Pop open the hatch, drop the Camping Box's cover, and slide out the sink, stove and refrigerator. It's everything you'd expect from a camper kitchen, but each component is miniaturized or simplified – the slim fridge looks better suited to cooling a couple of drinks than a long weekend's worth of food, and the sink is a collapsible bucket and water jug.
Still, the N-Vane works nicely as a fun look at how an all-electric mini-camper van could work, and it seems like it could be every bit as functional as Nissan's own electric NV camper.
Speaking of Reimo, it also did some conversion work on a VW Caddy Maxi, the longer Caddy variant that measures in at just under 4.9 m (16 ft). Its Caddy Maxi Camp manages to sleep up to four people thanks to the extra bed in the pop-up roof. Like the Tramp, it has a side bench, but this one has a flip-away mid-section that creates two individual dining seats on the sides of the removable tabletop secured to the cabinet.
The Maxi Camp starts at €33,580 (US$39,575), but the show model pictured was equipped up to €54,283 (US$64K) – a cool, little build-out, but we'd definitely want something bigger and more spacious for over €50K.
A new wardrobe for an old icon
We were originally hoping to do an entire gallery of just Caddy-size mini-campers, but we ran out of options pretty quickly – we just didn't find that many camper vans based on Caddies or comparably small vans. Mid-lineup vans around 5 m (16.4-ft) long and above are where the camper van market really starts to get lively, and many of these campers are still quite compact and rely on some strategic packaging to support two to four people on the road.
The standard-bearer of this class of camper base van is the Volkswagen Transporter, which measures between 4.9 and 5.3 m (16 and 17.4 ft) long, depending upon version selected. There were innumerable Transporter T6 vans around the show, but one stood out above all others: the FreeNature Eco from Reisemobil Manufaktur.
This 5.3-m (17.4-ft) model drew us in with its vibrant, super-surfy graphics and fully accessorized pop-top exterior, and things only got better when we looked inside. The "FreeNature Eco" package brings with it a natural wood interior that looks like a rustic lodge on wheels, complete with nicely paired upholstery.
The nicest clothes don't often come cheap, and that's as true of the FreeNature as of a fine Italian three-piece suit. This model wore an "as displayed" price of €91,394 (US$107,675), well above what you'd pay for less stylishly appointed T6 camper vans.
Take a look at our photo gallery for more angles of the above vans and to see the rest of the compact camper vans of Düsseldorf 2018.