Flexible Backroad camper van beats Mercedes Weekender launch and price

May 14th, 2020 by

Those waiting for Mercedes to launch its all-new Weekender pop-up camper van need not wait for a four-sleeper Metris pop-top if they don’t want to. Washington’s Caravan Outfitter isn’t a major automaker recognized the world over, but its Backroad camper van is every bit as efficient and versatile as Mercedes’ own camper. And the Backroad is available right now … for a few thousand dollars less than Mercedes’ planned base price.

Caravan Outfitter’s Nissan NV200 Free Bird camper van ranks among the cheapest brand-new camper vans you can buy in the United States. As a 186-inch-long (470-cm) two-person mini-camper, though, the van isn’t suitable for every profile of camper van traveler. So Caravan Outfitter reached for the German-engineered Mercedes Metris and developed the Backroad as a larger family-sized alternative more similar to the classic Westfalia pop-tops that still ramble through the road trip daydreams of the American collective consciousness.

The Metris Passenger Van that Caravan Outfitter starts with measures just over 202 in (513 cm) long, providing the extra room needed for extra passengers and a comfy camper layout. Another advantage: German RV equipment specialist Reimo already offers a pop-up roof and other conversion hardware for the Metris and its sibling from the Old Continent, the Vito/V-Class (and even e-Vito). In fact, Reimo also supplies parts for the Mercedes Weekender and camper vans sold directly by Weekender partner manufacturer Peace Vans.

The Backroad conversion takes advantage of Reimo’s folding three-seat bench, which drops down into a double bed. The bench mounts to floor rails and slides to three different locked positions. The bench base houses a storage drawer.

Up above, the sleeper roof includes a bed for two more people, making the van a nice option for a family of four. The Backroad seats five on the road, and without an interior kitchen block or wardrobe eating up space, doubles as a functional everyday family car with plenty of cargo space. With the roof dropped down, it measures 77 in (196 cm) tall, able to easily fit through a 7-foot (213-cm) garage door.

The table that stores in the under-bench drawer sets up on a swivel base in the seating area, creating a dining space. Caravan Outfitter does not offer swivel cab seats, but the van seats three on the rear bench, and the optional cushion-top Yeti Tundra 45 cooler creates a fourth seat in the central cabin.

In terms of a kitchen, Caravan Outfitter opts for a simple rear kitchen to stay true to the dual-purpose nature of the Backroad design. The optional kitchen can install and remove as needed and includes a drop-down counter, removable butane single-burner atop a slide, 29-L fridge and two storage drawers. Drivers who need to bring long, slim cargo can remove the kitchen drawer and under-bench drawer to create pass-through storage.

The kitchen noticeably lacks a sink and water system, but Caravan Outfitter plans to offer a swing-out indoor/outdoor sink as an option. Completely separate from the kitchen, that model mounts to the floor rails just inside the sliding door.

The Backroad also comes with a standard 90-Ah leisure battery stored under the driver’s seat to power onboard LED interior lighting, USB ports and the available kitchen fridge drawer. Sliding RV-style side windows provide ventilation inside. The base Metris includes two sliding doors, comfort front seats with lumbar support, comfort suspension, and a blind spot assistance system. It’s powered by a 208-hp 2.0-liter turbo four mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission.

Caravan Outfitter prices the Backroad at US$67,511 to start and offers financing through its affiliate Campbell Auto Group. Add the optional $3,400 kitchen, and you have a full camper van with sleeping and cooking amenities for $70,911. Other options include a 130-W solar roof panel, portable toilet compartment with bench seat, and Fiamma awning.

For comparison, Mercedes estimates the Weekender’s base price in the “low $70K range.” That price is for the sleeper van (with swivel cab seats) and doesn’t include the optional rear slide-out kitchen with dual-burner propane stove, sink and storage. We don’t yet have Weekender option pricing, so it’s not clear how much the kitchen will add to the price. We’ll compare the two vans more closely, along with other available US-market Metris camper vans, when Mercedes releases additional details.

Caravan Outfitter’s seven-minute video provides a detailed Backroad walkthrough.

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Posted in Camping