Westfalia's smart, connected Mercedes pop-top camper van pops out as well as up
Westfalia is known the world over for its pop-up camper vans, so much so that you'll still find terms like "Westfalia-style roof" substituted for "pop-up roof," even though many other companies around the world offer them. But Westfalia's latest pop-top van features a little more "pop" than even longtime fans might be expecting. In addition to popping up, the all-new James Cook expands out the back, increasing interior space and bed size. The sub-6-m (19.8-ft) James Cook combines the everyday maneuverability of a Sprinter 144 with the living space of a longer-wheelbase van, and it packs the latest smart home-style camper tech to boot.
Westfalia may be best known around the world for its classic VW camper buses, but its James Cook van has an equally illustrious history, befitting of the explorer for whom it was named. Westfalia first introduced the van in 1977, building it atop the brand-new Mercedes T1. It was positioned as a more comfortable alternative to other campers of the time, boasting amenities like a wet bathroom, and experienced fast success, going on to become a bestseller for the conversion shop. Mercedes itself sold the van directly in several variants, much as it does today with the Westfalia-built Marco Polo.
When Mercedes finally replaced the T1 with the Sprinter in 1995, the James Cook made the leap to the new van, and it later came to the United States atop the Dodge-badged Sprinters sold by DaimlerChrysler (DaimlerChrysler owned Westfalia during that period). The James Cook transitioned to the second-generation Sprinter in 2006.
After a bankruptcy in 2010 and subsequent acquisition by France's Rapido Group, Westfalia canceled the James Cook in 2013. However, it vowed to revive it once Mercedes introduced a new-generation Sprinter. Six years later, it's making good on the promise, revealing an innovative new James Cook based on the third-gen Sprinter.
So revered is the James Cook nameplate at Westfalia that the company has been teasing the model for the better part of a year, in a way usually reserved for major new automobiles, not camper vans. We got our first look at the van and its expansion capabilities in a teaser at last year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon and had hoped it would debut at the CMT show this past January. Instead, Westfalia waited, teasing it once again in late April ahead of a reveal at last month's 2019 dealer conference in Gotha. "The legend returns," the company declared.
Westfalia hasn't released all the details about its new legend, saving some excitement for the lead-up to a larger public debut at this year's Düsseldorf Caravan Salon. It has, however, revealed several of the most impressive features, the most obvious of which is the slide-out module that emerges from the rear upper half. In 40 seconds, the module slides into open position, expanding sleeping area on the rear bed to 2.07 x 1.4 m (82 x 55 in).
Westfalia says that it developed the slide-out system itself. The new module follows the smaller expansion pop-out on the Volkswagen Crafter-based Sven Hedin the company debuted two years ago.
The Volkswagen Transporter DoubleBack gained more internet fame, but we have also previously seen a rear-expanding Sprinter camper van. German camper van component specialist Reimo built an electric rear slide-out for the second-generation Sprinter and other vans. It functioned similarly in expanding the rear bed but was located inside the rear double doors, whereas Westfalia integrates the exterior bodywork onto the back of its module.
A second impressive feature that Westfalia has confirmed for the new James Cook is a smart home-style control system. Mercedes had motorhome conversion in mind when it designed the new Sprinter, and one particularly motorhome-centric feature is MBAC (Mercedes-Benz Advanced Control) smart technology, which essentially erases the divide between vehicle and camper system control, tying together the infotainment system and camper digital command center.
Westfalia developed the James Cook system with Mercedes, providing control via the MBUX infotainment screen in the cab, a touchscreen control panel in the living area and remotely via smartphone. We'll have to wait to see what specific features are included, but, having seen Mercedes' tech in action on the Sprinter Connected Home, we can say that it's quite impressive in its ability to deliver seamless, centralized control of motorhome systems. It can control the stereo, lighting, cabin temperature, refrigerator, electric awning and more while also providing monitoring of the motorhome battery, liquid levels, and other components and systems.
Mercedes announced the MBAC as part of last year's Sprinter debut, but it didn't make it commercially available until earlier this year, so we suspect MBAC-based smart control systems will be a major centerpiece of new Sprinter motorhome design at this year's Caravan Salon. It will be interesting to see how Westfalia and others use the MBAC technology toward making the camping and travel experience more seamless and connected. For instance, assuming Westfalia's rear slide-out is electric, maybe James Cook owners will be able to pop it out via the MBUX screen immediately upon arrival at camp.
Beyond the 'smart home on wheels' tech, the interior has a classic layout with a passenger-side kitchen block inside the sliding door, a front dinette set and a step up to the raised rear bed. It looks like there's also a rounded bathroom compartment between the dinette and bed, but Westfalia doesn't provide any pictures of the inside.
Westfalia will offer the James Cook in three model variants, starting with a two-sleeper/four-seater base model with factory roof. The pop-up model pictured will offer an additional two sleeping berths in the roof, sleeping and seating four people. For those that prefer a hard roof, Westfalia will also offer a four-sleeper high-roof flagship. All three versions will include the expansion slide-out.
Westfalia showed the pop-up James Cook at its May conference and will hold the world premiere of the high-roof version in Düsseldorf this August. We'll bring you more details once Westfalia releases them.