A rugged 4x4 campervan, the Grand Canyon S 4x4 is well finished and well specified, but being compact brings compromises in the living accommodation, though Hymer has overcome the problem of bed length admirably. There is no doubt this 4x4 version is expensive, but it’s worth it if you really want to get off the beaten track – just get the right tyres, too.
Price from £56,210 (RWB model) Base vehicle: Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Berths: 2/4 Length: 5.93m Gross weight: 3,500kg
Hymer and Mercedes – two iconic Teutonic names partnered like horse and carriage/love and marriage, according to that old song. Though a lot of Hymers are still built on the Fiat Ducato, the company’s newest and most prestigious models bear the three-pointed star.
Think Hymer and A-class models spring to mind, though for at least half a dozen years a selection of high-specification panel van conversions have borne the Hymercar moniker.
For 2020 that name disappears and now there’s the entry-level Free range, followed by the Hymer Camper Vans comprising five Fiats and two Mercedes models.
Here we test the Merc-based Grand Canyon S (that’s ‘S’ for Sprinter) – and it’s the 4x4 version.
Mercedes’ four-wheel drive is the well-proven Oberaigner system, based on the rear-wheel drive Sprinter. A dashboard switch engages the front wheels, turning the vehicle into a 4x4. At the same time, gear ratios are reduced by 42%, removing the need for a low-ratio box or crawler gears. There’s no diff lock, as an Electronic Traction System brakes individual wheels as and when required.
The base van is also 120mm higher than normal on the front axle, and 80mm at the rear, giving the 4x4 Sprinter an unmistakable, pugnacious stance. Four-wheel drive costs a hefty £10,580 extra but, if you regularly explore off-piste, it will be worth it.
The macho stance of the Sprinter 4x4 is accentuated by its relatively modest length and width (just under 6m, by a slim 2.06m wide), compared with a height approaching 3m.
Equally, in plain white, with few decals, unembellished steel wheels and a large black front bumper and grille, it clearly means business.
The Grand Canyon S has the usual Continental configuration of a nearside dinette comprising the two swivelling cab seats facing a pair of rear forward-facing travel seats, around a wall-mounted table.
Behind the offside sliding door is a compact kitchen, with the washroom opposite and, to the rear, is a transverse double bed.
The Sprinter is quite narrow for crossways sleeping, so Hymer has raised the bed to window height, and added discreet, streamlined pods at each side (unmodified Sprinters are 4cm narrower), which contribute hugely to sleeping comfort.
For another £3,520 there’s a rising roof option with double bed, making the Grand Canyon into a real four-berth, four-seater – though bear in mind this adds another 120kg to the vehicle’s weight. If your licence allows, therefore, it might well be worth buying an uprated 3,880kg or 4,100kg version, as the payload would then cope easily with the extra weight of the 4x4 system (a hefty 146kg) and rising roof, although even plated at 3,500kg, the payload is still reasonable, at around 450kg (including a number of options but allowing for just 20 litres of water).
An interesting point is that the new increased VED rates for the latest Euro 6d motorhomes registered after 1 September 2019, don’t apply to the rear-wheel drive (or 4x4) Sprinter.
Very noticeable, whether entering the Grand Canyon S 4x4 through the back, side or cab doors is its height. There’s an electric step at the sliding door (shame it doesn’t auto-retract), but the cab is a real stretch up – nearly 2ft to the internal step, so low-set grab handles would be useful.
The cab, though austere-looking, is comfortable and practical (when you’ve worked out the controls).
The gearbox (a seven-speed, torque converter automatic) has paddles for manual changing situated on the back of the leather-bound steering wheel, which also carries radio, information and cruise control buttons.
There’s no key, just a starter button, and the ‘handbrake’ is another button on the fascia. This is undoubtedly useful when swivelling the cab seats, as there is no lever to get in the way.
The cab is dominated by an (optional) MBUX 10.25in touchscreen, controlling the multimedia and a very clear reversing camera (useful, with no interior mirror). Leather seats (a £1,580 option) are multi-adjustable, firm and very comfortable, with twin armrests apiece, and the driving position and visibility are excellent.
Driving the Grand Canyon S, we felt on top of the world, looking down on everything other than HGVs! One might expect the handling to be top-heavy and unwieldy, but not so. The steering is direct and quite meaty, and the suspension is superb, coping easily with potholes and rough surfaces, with none of the wallowing experienced in earlier Sprinters.
Gearchanging in automatic is quite smooth and, using the paddles manually was fun, though seven speeds felt a bit much to cope with.
The 163bhp engine feels powerful (143bhp is standard, 190bhp also offered), though a little ponderous on take-off, as if the ’van is heavier than it actually is. It’s quite noisy, too, with a constant drone from the rear axle reminding us of airport buses! But the interior fittings were utterly quiet.
Where to try the four-wheel drive? Much of the area was soggy or flooded due to heavy rain and we found no inviting rough tracks. An uphill roadside verge would have to do, but upon attempting to set off again the Sprinter promptly dug itself in. Switching to 4x4, the ETC juddered away ineffectually with no forward progress possible, so, somewhat ignominiously, we were reduced to reversing off downhill.
The lesson? Always fit the correct tyres. The test ’van was shod with standard summer rubber and, however sophisticated the 4x4 system, without appropriate tyres you’re going nowhere. Speaking of which, there’s no spare wheel and, if going on an expedition, we’d recommend one.
After outdoor fun and games, it’s time to investigate indoors. Ensconced on the swivelled cab seats, the cab is rather drab, with the charcoal headlining matching the fascia, leather seats and floor covering. Oddly, given that Hymer’s Mercedes-based coachbuilts inside Travelworld’s showroom had them, there are no cab reading lights. There is also no overcab storage locker, which makes for a much easier walk-through to and from the cab.
Décor in the habitation area is pleasant, with walls and ceiling in cream, smooth off-white for table and kitchen worktops and light, warm woodwork harmonising with pale wood plank-effect vinyl flooring. Overall, a smart, modern design.
There are high-level LED strips throughout, plus three ceiling clusters in the central area but, again, no reading lights in the lounge or bedroom. For daytime illumination there’s a rooflight over the lounge, one in the washroom and one over the bed.
Returning to the lounge, the rear travel seats are well-shaped and have adjustable headrests.
We found the table splits opinion – it’s wall-hung, with a diagonal supporting strut to keep it firm without interfering with passengers’ legs. The tabletop folds out to double its size, but we thought it still modest in area and too far from the driver’s seat but our Road Test Editor loves it because it folds away so neatly.
There’s no TV point, and just one mains socket and one for 12V.
Externally, the Grand Canyon S is (in 4x4 guise) such an imposing beast it’s easy to forget it’s a sub-six-metre, narrow ’van and interior arrangements have to reflect this.
The kitchen has no oven or grill and the linear unit, whilst beautifully crafted, is quite bijou, with a very small sink combined with the two-burner hob under glass lids.
Minimal worktop has been greatly improved by the provision of a small worktop, which clips firmly into slots at the front end of the kitchen unit or above the sink.
Removable hooks share these slots, so, for once, there’s somewhere for tea towels, etc. There are three large soft-closing drawers, one with a large slide-out cutlery tray and two overhead cupboards, plus another below the fridge (a 90-litre compressor type with freezer compartment). If exploring the wildernesses, a second (optional) 95Ah battery would be a sensible addition.
The washroom is necessarily quite compact. The toilet – Thetford’s latest bench model – looks as svelte as any. Over it, is Hymer’s elegant version of the tip-up/drop-down washbasin. Though very neat-looking, it isn’t a basin for holding water whilst you wash; it’s more of a sluice, down which your aqua disappears into the 85-litre waste tank.
The tap (which sensibly swivels) doubles as the showerhead, so the basin must be lowered whilst showering and there’s no wall-mounted showerhead bracket – so, hold it or put it into the basin.
A shower curtain protects the woodwork, but we’d have hoped for a swing-wall, or similar, of which examples abound in the wider Erwin Hymer Group. A curtain seems a little old-fashioned for a ’van of this calibre and price. However, the shower-tray has two drain holes and, here, an optional duckboard. Storage is reasonable, in a mirror-doored cupboard, plus a couple of small shelves, and there’s another mirror on the door, four towel/robe hooks, a toilet roll holder and a drop-down towel rail under the skylight.
Behind kitchen and washroom, with a curtain for privacy, is the bed. As mentioned, this is adequately long because of the side pods; if you don’t specify the optional window in the nearside pod, you’d even have a further couple of inches. It’s wide, too, being 1.90m by 1.30m.
Froli springs underpin the thick, three-section, cold-foam mattress, the middle section of which straps-up vertically to the nearside overhead cupboards, allowing access to generous storage in the central aisle – or just a through walkway.
The small Heki and high-level LED strips are adequate. There are no reading lights but there are two useful USB sockets.
The bed is quite high off the floor, so there’s a folding plastic step.
Below the bed, at floor level on the nearside, and not that easy to access even with the bed raised, are a modest wardrobe and two cupboards. On the offside, under the foot of the mattress, are two top-accessed shallow cubbies.
Above the bed, the run of cupboards starting above the kitchen continues around the rear, and there’s vast space below the bed in the aisle.
In the test campervan, at the very rear, a folding outdoor table was strapped to the offside, and two camp chairs stood in the aisle behind the gas locker on the nearside, all being optional extras.
While many desirable features are optional, there are some welcome standard ones, too, including the sliding door’s mosquito blind and Remis blinds for the cab, while the base vehicle is highly specified with safety features like Crosswind Assist, ESP, etc. A 4kW Truma Combi situated under the travel seat bench, provides heating and hot water, although this test model had the optional 6kw dual-fuel version.