What choice of well-equipped 4WD campervan?


Pet Human <pethuman@...>
 

I have been looking for a while at getting a campervan or small
motorhome. Not just a summer weekend vehicle, but something capable of
being used away from campsites and in wet weather, whilst still being
reasonably manoeuvrable.

I don't need a huge white box: there's only me and my dog, and one
woman+hound doesn't need acres of space. I do want a well-insulated
vehicle with a decent heater, and preferably with double-glazed side
windows to reduce condensation, enough water storage to last a few days
with careful use, and a bit of storage. I need a double bed where my
small dog can stretch out beside his human hot water bottle, and while I
don't mind a fold-out bed, I do want something where I can use the loo
at night without having to dismantle the bed. I'd like a shower, but
that may not be achievable in a compact vehicle, so I could make do with
a sink with a hot water tap.

The problem I find is that this sort of spec sits in between two fairly
well-defined genres: the weekend campervan (usually with very little
tankage and a fold-out double bed which takes most of the floorspace)
and the coachbuilt motorhome, which is usually a much larger vehicle.
Crucially, nearly all coachbuilts are significantly wider than than the
vans on which they are based, making them a bit of a handful in tight
spaces.

The compromise genre which I thought would provide the answer was the
panel van conversion. There's wide choice of sizes, from the deliciously
compact Romahome Dimension up to long wheelbase hightops like the
Timberland models. They are usefully narrower than the coachbuilts, can
be disguised as an ordinary van, and

However, nearly all of these panel van conversions share a problem
common to the coachbuilts, in that they are front-wheel drive. Great on
the road, great for providing a low floor inside, but pretty useless in
slippery conditions. I have tried one, and it struggled on wet grass; a
friend camping in France in October watched several of them getting
stuck when they tried to move off flat grass pitches ... and since I
don't intend to make much use of campsites, that's no good for me.

I think that rear-wheel drive might do better in marginal conditions,
since a camper tends to carry a lot of weight at the back, often
overhanging the rear axle, but 4-wheel-drive would be better. However,
I can find no 4WD panel van conversions currently in production, and the
only RWD van I have found is the Mercedes Sprinter-based La Strada
Regent (very nice, but very expensive, even secondhand). Ford does make
an AWD Transit van in various sizes, but I can't find anyone building a
campervan on it.

So far, all the 4WD options seem to be secondhand and Japanese. In some
ways, that's good, because I like the reliability of Japanese vehicles,
but the choice is limited. At the lower end of the scale we have the
Mazda Bongo and Toyota Granvia, which are great vans but a bit small.
Stepping up a notch, all that seems to be available is the Toyota Hiace.
Thoroughly reliable, but most of those available seem to have rather
poor interior designs: even those that are big enough to hold a shower
etc still seem to be converted minibuses with single-glazed windows, and
the cab-forward design means no walkthrough from the front seats.

My needs may be unusual, but I'm sure that they are not unique. Are the
really no other alternatives, or have I missed something? At the
moment, I think that a hi-roof Toyota Hiace will be my best bet, but I'd
welcome any other suggestions.

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