A Mercedes three-pointed star on your motorhome is a more desirable asset now than it ever has been and WildAx has responded with an unusual conversion that is well equipped and surprisingly well priced. Its bedroom is the star feature but there’s plenty to tempt buyers who are either downsizing or simply seeking a luxurious 3.5-tonne motorhome.
Base vehicle: Mercedes Sprinter Price from: £68,995 Berths: 2 Travel seats: 2 Length: 6.97m Gross weight: 3,500kg
There’s no doubting the appeal of a three-pointed star on your motorhome but, in the past, much of that desirability has been associated with prestige, rather than an all-round better base vehicle.
Last year, however, a new Sprinter arrived, bringing with it added reasons to opt for this more expensive chassis – and the motorhome industry is fast waking up to the advantages of the Merc, with the choice of models expected to increase over the next season.
WildAx is amongst the first firms to offer a campervan on the latest Sprinter, having launched this flagship Elara earlier this year.
Elara is a moon of Jupiter and it’s almost fair to say that the latest Mercedes feels like it’s from another planet if you’re used to a Sevel (Fiat/Peugeot/Citroën) van. That starts with the slightly alien controls: a gearstick that looks more like an indicator stalk and a parking brake that’s just a switch.
Of course, you soon adapt, flicking the gearbox into drive and enjoying the smooth shifts through its seven ratios. You can even come over all Lewis Hamilton and use the paddles behind the steering wheel to shift up and down.
In reality, though, the Sprinter just makes swift progress easy and relaxing. It might not quite have the driver appeal of a VW Crafter but it’s very close and buyers are equally likely to be wooed by the tech in the Benz.
That starts with the MBUX 7in hi-res touchscreen mounted in a central fascia pod. There’s a DAB radio here, but also a rear view camera as soon as you select reverse, plus a sat-nav, trip computer and Bluetooth.
Then, there’s all the safety kit. Adaptive ESP is no surprise on a new van, nor Crosswind Assist, but there’s also Attention Assist, which will check that you’re not getting drowsy. The blindspot monitoring not only flashes a red triangle in the side mirrors if a vehicle is alongside, but sounds a warning if you then switch on the indicators.
All the while you should be sitting comfortably, because the steering column and seats each have a vast range of adjustment. You’ll be surprised by the lack of armrests, though, in such a high-spec vehicle.
WildAx uses the rear-wheel drive Sprinter in L3 H2 form. You need to remember that this motorhome is unusually long for a van conversion (almost 7m), which can catch you out sometimes when manoeuvring. Fortunately, all-round visibility is good. And, despite its size, this is – crucially – still a 3,500kg vehicle, so it’s likely to appeal to those downsizing from heavier ’vans. Payload, as tested, is 330kg.
The vehicle tested is not loaded with options, though. You’ll pay £1,900 for the 7G-Tronic Plus gearbox – and WildAx is not expecting any orders for a manual Merc – but everything else on this base vehicle, including the alloy wheels and metallic paint, is included in the £68,995 base price. In fact, the only disappointment was the rattles from the living area.
The design brief for the Elara was for a vehicle that was fully winterised and suitable for wild camping.
The former is answered with Grade III insulation and Truma Combi 4 gas/electric heating, complete with iNet box for operation from a smartphone. Just as importantly, the fresh water tank is inboard, while the underslung waste tank is insulated.
Catering for off-grid camping, the fresh tank is unusually generous for a van conversion, at 120 litres, while sharing space with it under the bed are two 100Ah leisure batteries. Gas comes from a 40-litre underfloor tank and a solar panel is one of the very few factory options.
Another extra cost item is the leather upholstery – choose any colour you like. Here, the contrasting cream piping picks up the décor of the cupboard doors and, while there’s no option to change those, you can have this Kronberg furniture or the alternative Grey Ash.
Whatever trim you choose, you may find the cab seats a touch high once they’re swivelled. As the cab floor slopes up towards the dashboard, it’s not an issue when you’re driving.
There are no rear travel seats in this two-berth model, but the small settee on the offside was my favourite place to relax. With its curved backrest it makes the most of the fact that it doesn’t have to cater for passengers.
The Elara offers a choice of tables. There’s a small, circular coffee table (400mm diameter) but, when you’re having a full meal, a larger (700mm by 450mm) top slots onto the same cranked leg.
Artificial lighting is plentiful throughout the campervan, even including floor lighting under the kitchen unit and mood lights around the top of the high-level cupboards, although there are no directional reading lights either in the cab/lounge or the bedroom. That might be an issue when you want a more calming mood at the end of a long day.
Two large rooflights ensure there’s plenty of daylight, as well as ventilation, but these are both the push-up type.
It’s hard to fault the spec of the kitchen. WildAx has fitted the latest Thetford induction hob with two gas rings alongside. When you’re hooked up, the induction cooker is so much faster than the old-style mains hot plates still seen in many coachbuilts, plus you’ll then have the option of using the high-level 800W microwave.
If you haven’t got access to 230V, then the Duplex combined oven/grill is an old favourite that doesn’t take up too much room but works effectively. And when dinner is over, it’s good to find that the stainless-steel sink comes with a washing-up bowl and a removable draining board. The novelty, however, is the tap with a tip that turns green when cold water is flowing and red when it’s hot!
When you’re preparing a meal, you’ll be grateful for the hinged cover over the hob (to be fitted with a heat shield in production) and the flip-up worktop extension by the door. A chopping board is provided, too, and two mains sockets sit above the cooker. There are more 230V outlets in the lounge and bedroom, plus USBs and 12V sockets.
You shouldn’t want for storage, either, as the galley has three large drawers (unusually, not soft-closing) and there are two high-level kitchen cupboards, too. The fridge is, again, very generously sized for a van conversion, at 141 litres, and comes with a bottle drawer below as well as automatic energy selection. More drinks can be stored in the trio of recesses at the forward end of the galley, just inside the sliding door.
WildAx MD, Duncan Wildman, is obviously proud of the multitude of curvy cabinetwork in the Elara, all of it made in-house. The lack of straight lines is never more obvious than in the shape of the washroom, where WildAx has also invested in developing a glass-fibre shower tray and washbasin especially for this new model.
Behind the tambour door (which stays open for travel, with a clip to be added to keep it that way), the washroom is a good size for a panel van-based motorhome. Better yet, the shower’s jet is powerful and there’s no curtain here to get stuck to, while soapy water drains away well, thanks to twin, diagonal outlets.
There’s a small mirrored cabinet for storage, a long rail and a ring for towels, and hooks that I found ideal for the inevitable wet coats. A roof vent and opening window cater for ventilation, while the toilet is Thetford’s ceramic bowl version.
Much as there’s already been plenty of praise to heap onto the Elara, we’ve saved the best till last: the bedroom. This, in combination with the Merc chassis, is the real USP.
It looks like an island bed; though, of course, that’s not possible in the narrower confines of a van conversion. There are recesses with top-loading cubbyholes down the sides of the bed, rather than walkways, but it does have the feeling of a proper bedroom.
That’s even more the case when you climb onto a mattress that’s not only pretty generous in length and width but boasts a thickness of over 200mm. Sleeping here is like being at home, but with the bonus of a different view every morning, and you can shuffle off the end of the bed if you need to without disturbing your partner.
There are slim, shirt-length wardrobes in three of the bedroom’s four corners, with a 20in Avtex telly residing in the fourth (it can swivel to face the lounge, too). With four opening windows, as well as the big rooflight, there’s plenty of potential for fresh air but only the blinds on the back doors rise from the bottom, allowing a sneak of daylight in the morning without a loss of privacy.
All the blinds are the pleated type, while the windows are the far more attractive flush-fitting style which blend in well with the bodywork. Cab blinds are not generally available yet for the new Sprinter but WildAx has committed to retrofit them to all Elaras once they are. In the meantime, it is supplying insulated screens for the cab windows.
Another development on the horizon is a single bed version of the Elara, which will differ only in the bedroom area. Expect the first example to be finished by September.
Despite the eight high-level lockers surrounding the bedroom, there’s still plenty of room to sit up in bed in the morning to watch TV and enjoy that first cuppa. You might find the bedroom lighting a bit harsh when you first come around, though.
There’s more storage under the bed, too, some of it accessed by lifting the whole bed on gas struts, the remainder (ideal for outdoor furniture, etc) reached through the rear barn doors. The latter space measures approximately 1.57m by 0.56m with a maximum height of 0.44m.
The space under the settee is mostly occupied by the Combi boiler, leaving just a small, toasty warm, compartment. Finally, there are two more top lockers above here, as well as a large, open overcab shelf. All in all, the Elara has a generous amount of stowage for a van conversion, benefiting here from the extra length of the base vehicle.
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