By Tony Barthel
Back when people used to buy specific brands of products and stick with those, my family was a Volkswagen family. Coming from Germany, my dad appreciated the simplicity and durability of VWs. We also loved road trips, so it made sense that we considered a VW-based camper.
This 1970s VW pop-top campers were iconic with their pop tops and almost complete RV experience inside a compact four-cylinder van. I remember my dad test driving one and him seeming so far away up there sitting over the front wheels while I was waaaaaay back in the back. He stepped on the brakes and swore something in German. He proclaimed that the thing had horrible brakes, so we didn’t get one.
Maybe that’s what started my love of motorhomes. The idea of taking all your stuff with you and traveling without the fight for motels was idyllic to me, as a youngster. Heck, it still is today as a not-so-youngster.
Mercedes-Benz Metris Getaway
I was surprised when I saw that Mercedes-Benz picked up the torch and is planning to offer the first factory-sourced pop-top camper van in almost 35 years. Why has it been this long?
Working with a company called Peace Vans in Seattle, Mercedes announced that their Metris van would be available later this year with a variety of different configurations. These will include from fully equipped campers, much like those old VW Westfalia campers, to something that’s much more like a passenger van that can double as a camper complete with a pop-top.
First of all, it is important to know that if you’re in the business of building cargo-carrying vans like Mercedes, Ford or Ram, you’re probably building like they’re going out of style. Delivery companies, repair companies and everybody else who might be using vans is buying them as fast they can.
The biggest buyer, Amazon, has placed orders for cargo vans such that it has really impacted the RV industry, who uses those same cargo vans for conversion into RVs. Somehow Peace Vans figured out that if they use passenger vans, which are almost the same thing except more finished and with more seating, they could still get a supply of them. Smart.
Another principal difference between the cargo and passenger vans is that the passenger vans come with a sliding door on both sides, whereas the cargo models generally only come with one on the curb side.
Becoming a camper
Like those old VWs of yore, part of the conversion to a Peace Van includes cutting holes in the roof and fitting the iconic pop-top. This works much the same as the one on the old VWs in that it opens at the front and is hinged at the back.
Popping the top on the van reveals a bed that fits into the pop-top. That bed sits on something like the Froli sleep system, so it’s a 2” foam pad with support from what could best be described as a springy plastic base system. That’s where two of the four sleeping positions are – up in the pop-top.
I used to dream of sleeping up there when I was a little lad.
The interior of the Metris Getaway
Downstairs there are two captain’s chairs that the driver and co-pilot would sit in while shuttling down the road facing forward and peering out the windshield. When the van is parked both those seats can be swiveled around and face rearward.
Facing those seats would be a bench seat about 2/3 of the way down the van body which still has three seat belts, including the ability to affix a car seat for younger travelers. That seat folds down to become the second sleeping area.
In the Mercedes-Benz Metris Getaway van, you’re not getting a lot of camper. But there are upgrades and options that start to tip the balance between camper and passenger van more toward the RV side of the equation.
A table fits under the rear package shelf, which would have been above the air-cooled four-cylinder engine in an old VW but now serves as a cargo area. There are also drawers under the bench seat in which two tables spend their travel time.
When it’s time to convert to camping, the tables come out from under that seat and can be assembled so that you can sit on the bench seat and use them.
More camper, please
While the basic Metris Getaway van doesn’t offer a lot of camper-ness, the back of the van is still open so you could put whatever camp kitchen goodies you want back there. For example, adding a 12-volt cooler would be a good start. You could also get a full folding camp kitchen.
This means the van is really a serviceable van during the week and you could throw the camping stuff in the back when it’s time to go out looking for adventure.
This might also make you the most popular parents at the kids’ soccer game if you can suddenly start frying up chicken fingers or break out the juice boxes.
What’s not to like about the Mercedes-Benz Metris Getaway?
Those, like me, who are nostalgic for the old VW camper might really smile seeing one of these. But there were a number of things I saw that just made me hold off before sending in my order form.
First of all, the Metris itself. If you put any credence into what Doug DeMuro says in his video vehicle reviews, the Metris is a rather miserable vehicle that really misses the mark in so many ways. Back when Chevy had the Astro van, that was similarly miserable to drive. Although Astro vans seem to be close to indestructible and I suspect the Metris is as well.
There are many good minivans out there
But there are so, so many good minivans out there such as the Chrysler Pacifica, Honda Odyssey and even the new Kia Carnival. I can see that Mercedes-Benz probably has the better commercial vehicle program but, still, I have yet to hear anything good about the Metris compared to the less-expensive and vastly better-designed front-drive minivans.
A few more things I saw included a manual awning on a van that’ll set you back more than $80,000. Seriously? And then you have to mess with legs and other nonsense? Hard pass.
Also, with so much battery technology available today, especially in a $80,000 vehicle, you’d think they’d slap a couple of lithium batteries in the back and possibly include an induction cooktop or something. Nope.
Aside from being based on the Metris, I was pretty excited when I first saw this van. After all, that nostalgia for the old VW vans of yore was so strong in me that I actually bought a 1964 Corvair Camper Van. That was comparable to the old VWs but had half-again more pistons, better power and brakes that actually worked.
But like lots of things that were cool in the past, technology and progress have made us look at those pieces of our past and realize that we can do better today. Is it cool to be able to have a vehicle that’s somewhat garage-able and also features some of the stuff to make a camper? Yes.
It’s expensive to upfit a Metris van
It seems, though, that the way you get one of these is to go get a Metris and then have the conversion done. So that means you have to figure out how to pay for the $27,995 cost of upfitting a lousy Metris van, which sells for $46,000.
Considering all the other Class B vans out there that are about the same price and offer significantly more features, I’m not sold, myself. Sure, the three-pointed star has some mystique for some – but there are so many ways I think this could be better executed.
Including starting with anything other than a Metris.
These RV reviews are written based on information provided by the manufacturers along with our writer’s own research. We receive no money or other financial benefits from these reviews. They are intended only as a brief overview of the vehicle, not a comprehensive critique, which would require a thorough inspection and/or test drive.
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