The Mercedes is definitely the chassis of choice for an A-class of this calibre and the M96’s popular island bed layout is executed in thorough and contemporary style here, with plenty of features to admire. The spec, as tested, wants for nothing and on a Heavy Chassis has the payload to match your expectations of a £100k motorhome. Only the rear travel seats fail to match the quality elsewhere.
Price from: £87,800 Base vehicle: Mercedes Sprinter Berths: 4 Travel seats: 4 Length: 7.54m Width: 2.35m Height: 2.95m Gross weight: 4,500kg
Mercedes and Rapido previously had a reasonably long association, but it was one that ended at the close of the 2014 season when the French brand focused entirely on Fiat-based motorhomes. It’s not as long-lasting a relationship as the one between Wokingham Motorhomes and Rapido, though, which predates the latter building motorhomes at all.
Under a previous name, from 1976, this dealer was the importer of Rapido’s folding caravans – the genesis of a brand now governed by second and third generations of the Rousseau family (as signified by the ‘three men’ logo now repeated dozens of times on the exterior graphics of this model).
Today, Rapido is a multi-national group with factories in the UK, Germany, Italy and North America and its own brand vehicles sit in the luxury sector, with A-classes dominating the range. And, of course, this M Series – the long-awaited return to Merc power – is the flagship, with a fully loaded example like this test vehicle breaking through the £100k barrier.
It might, then, have seemed appropriate to see this M96 floodlit in a swanky showroom, but you’ll not find anything like that at Wokingham. Instead, down a long, wooded track, you’ll discover a lot more trees, a remote cottage, some rabbits, perhaps… oh, and a selection of Rapidos, Dreamers and Itineos along with the friendliest of welcomes. This isn’t quite like other dealerships, a point that became even clearer as I sat down for a soup and toasted sandwich lunch with the entire team!
Things have moved on a little since the first Rapido motorhomes were imported by Wokingham in 1983 and the M Series would have seemed like a spaceship back then, with its powerful 180bhp turbo-diesel engine and state-of-the-art MBUX dashboard display with sat-nav.
Gone are the days, too, when a Merc-badged motorhome meant rear-wheel drive, though it does still usually signify an automatic gearbox. Here, it’s the latest front-wheel drive Sprinter and an Al-Ko chassis (not just easier to build on but allowing a lower overall height, even with a double floor). The transmission is a nine-speed auto’ with torque converter – it’s superbly smooth and you’ll soon get used to operating it via a lever that looks like it should work the wipers.
There are three of those to clean the ’screen better than some rivals, especially as they’re correctly handed for right-hand drive and have the washer jets on the wiper arms. That’s important on an A-class, just like the twin-lens bus-type mirrors, the remote central locking for cab and habitation doors, and the flat floor from the cab right through the living area.
The Merc fascia is well integrated into the cab design, too, but the large, flat expanse of black plastic makes it quite hard to judge where the front corners are when manoeuvring. You won’t worry about what’s behind as a crystal-clear image pops up as soon as you select reverse.
Neither will you fault the performance of this energetic engine (upgraded to 180bhp from a standard 143bhp), nor the excellent stability (a world away from the once wallowy handling of Sprinters) but, although the M96 is available as a 3,500kg vehicle, it will suit very few owners in that format.
The payload is quickly eroded by the RHD Pack (worth £4,520 and included as standard on UK models), which adds carpets, a heater upgrade, second leisure battery, an oven, rear steadies and an exterior shower.
Then there’s the M Pack (£7,270-worth of kit for £4,490), which goes further, with everything from the 10.25in MBUX display with GPS to keyless starting, from the electronic handbrake to the cab door – a load of stuff which you really wouldn’t want to be without.
Remember that the enhanced engine and auto gearbox will rob you of a further 40kg and you’ll soon see the wisdom of opting for the Heavy Chassis at £1,580 extra. Even with a healthy selection of additional options, that gave the test vehicle a very respectable payload of almost a tonne, even with a full water tank.
You can put up to 300kg of that in the rear garage, thanks to the chassis being fully extended underneath. Inside this heated space, you’ll find fixed tie-down hooks, an exterior shower point, servicing access for the 130-litre inboard fresh water tank and a switch to increase the locker’s headroom from 0.89m up to a maximum of 1.19m, the bed rising electrically above but leaving no draughty gaps into the bedroom.
There’s more storage in the double floor, which can be accessed both by hatches on either side of the motorhome and trapdoors hidden under the carpets. This illuminated space is 190mm high and, in the centre of the vehicle, stretches across its whole width.
On the nearside you’ll also find the new NovaBox – a hatch providing convenient access to the RCD, fuses and battery charger. Body construction has a similar-sounding title – NovaTech – which translates to a 100% polyester roof, walls and underfloor protection, plus Styrofoam insulation. For even better winterisation, the test model also had optional double-glazed cab windows.
The standard heating system for the M Series is Truma’s 6kW Combi, upgraded to the EH gas/230V system as part of the RHD Pack. However, the second most pricey option fitted to this M96 (after the M Pack) was the Alde Comfort Plus Arctic central heating system with separate bedroom temperature control.
As the nearest thing to domestic heating in a motorhome, it’s an option we’d recommend – even at £3,210 – because here it has been developed to meet the exacting requirements of the Scandinavian market. It even includes heating inside the leg of the dining table to better distribute warmth in the lounge area!
This is a seating area with the en vogue parallel settee format and Aguti captain’s chairs that can swivel right round for feet-up relaxation. The sofas themselves are not overly long but their height and comfort have been well-judged and an armrest on the offside seat is a nice touch (especially as it also doubles as a headrest when the seats are reconfigured for travel).
The Toronto TEP (faux leather) upholstery is well finished with stylish double stitching and its chocolate colour seems more practical than the usual cream or beige.
With the panoramic curved windscreen ahead, large side windows and wind-up Heki sunroof, there’s plenty of daylight to enhance the feeling of space, while artificial illumination includes a generous array of LED strips, Art Deco-style reading lights and pin-sized spotlights in the base of the cab bed.
If it’s privacy you’re after, the cab blinds have a neat trick of lowering all the way down and then opening at the top to let in light without prying eyes.
Telly addicts will welcome the TV position in the entrance at a sensible height, while the table is the usual Rapido fold-in-half design, which is big enough for full-on family dining when extended but unobtrusive the rest of the time.
Not only does the M series have its own exterior look, while retaining a Rapido family vibe, but the same is true on the inside where exclusive Duna furniture has clean, modern lines and the glossy top lockers have push-to-open catches.
The lounge leads directly into the culinary quarters with this style of layout, leaving plenty of floorspace, while above are LED spotlamps set into backlit Perspex trim panels. With more backlighting for the gloss black kitchen roll holder and spice rack and a very contemporary cooker hood (incorporating a digital clock), the M96 certainly makes an aesthetic impression. Even the three-ring hob is a new design from Can.
It’s not just about the bling, though. The four soft-closing drawers have central locking and the oven/grill (standard in the UK) is fitted where it should be – not above the fridge! That is opposite and as big as you’d hope – all 149 litres of capacity with automatic energy selection. Above that is a large cupboard that’s ideal for cereal packets and so on.
You can simply divide the M96 into two rooms by closing off the toilet room door, making the rear of the motorhome entirely private. In the back, then, you have an island bed bedroom and a full en suite (the other model in the range, the M66, offers single beds instead).
The double bed is a good size and the mattress slides back, tipping up at the head end, to provide a comfortable space to relax, with reading lights and a speaker linked to the cab radio.
Alongside the bed are neat pigeonhole compartments for your night-time drink, etc, and each recess has a 12V socket and USBs.
When you’re ready for lights out, the bed goes flat, leaving just enough space to shuffle around the curved foot of the mattress if the sliding doors to the en suite are closed (plenty of room if they’re left open). And, as long as the bed is in its lowest position, there’s still room to sit up under the bedroom cabinets.
His and her wardrobes each have a removable shelf, as well as a hanging rail, while their shape allows a wider bed – a generous 1.57m. There’s a huge drawer under the foot of the bed, too, but perhaps my favourite feature is the separate bedroom heating control.
The novelty in the shower is a less useful one – the ability to change the colour of the lighting from blue to green, red, yellow, pink… More practical is the drying rail, along with a central drain that should cope with a less than level pitch. Headroom is an impressive 1.93m, while the intrusion of the wheelarch doesn’t really matter.
Across the way, the toilet is a tad high and it’s a pity there’s no towel rail over the Alde radiator, but I like the new square basin with push-to-close plug. There’s no shortage of storage here and, as in the shower cubicle, the toilet has a roof vent, but the best feature is the elasticated straps to hold your toiletries in position – no more tumbling shower gel when you first open the cupboard after a drive.
The M96 also works as a four-berth because it has the usual A-class drop-down double bed in the cab ceiling. It’s manually operated (but no effort is required) and has a light at each end, a roof vent and a magazine pocket. It’s a great second bedroom that leaves the lounge settees and table still available for use, unlike in a low-profile motorhome.
For travel, it’s also possible to convert the sofas into individual face-forward travel seats. Rapido has improved the conversion process this year, so it’s now simple to do and requires no extra parts to be carried in the garage. The separate seats will suit many better than being wedged together on a half-dinette but the offside seat has only very limited legroom and both have just a wooden box as the structure of the seat base.
On a more positive note, it’s good to see twin leisure batteries under the nearside seat (and a lithium upgrade is also available).
This review was orignally published in the July 2020 issue of MMM magazine. To buy a digital issue, and to browse our online magazine store, click here.