In the April 24, 2017 edition of The New Yorker, journalist Rachel Monroe writes a feature article titled “#VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement.” The piece focuses on a couple who’ve ditched the traditional lifestyle to live out of their van and highlight some of their adventures. It also focuses on how full time RVing in a Class B has become a trend.
For those that are new to the RV world, the Class B motorhome is something of a mystery. Parents react with confusion when they see their children give up their apartments or houses for this way of life. Peers think their friends are having money troubles, and are forced to do this out of financial need.
We are going to discuss the many facets of the Class B motorhome. Those that are interested in purchasing a camper van will see examples of the many layouts that come in this class. We’ll even touch on the possibilities available for those D.I.Y.ers.
What is a Class B
Simply put, a Class B motorhome is built within or on a cargo van chassis. They’re the smallest of the three classes of motorcoaches. They measure between 15- 22 feet in length and have weights that reach up to 10,000 pounds (dry weight).
Many people enjoy them because of the effortless drivability. They’re the most fuel-efficient (getting anywhere between 14-19 MPG) and fit in most parking lot spaces. Many have all of the amenities of a Class A motorhome, just in more strategic sizes.
These motorhomes are more than van conversions. If you were to go to your local auto dealership and look at a van conversion you would see upgraded features that focus on the comfort of the passengers traveling inside. Campervans take it a step further by including kitchens, bathrooms, and other amenities that fulfill RV living accommodations.
Custom Class B Motorhomes
For ultimate luxury, there are companies like Embassy RV that build your dream camper van to your unique preferences. You can choose the chassis, floorplan, materials, and other features. Many of these RVs cost more than Class A motorhomes.
Other people have created unique camper vans through their own ingenuity. Those that have successfully attempted this have created their own Class B under $20,000. Check out our article on stealth camper vans to learn more about them.
Camper Vans Are Not New
The Class B camper van isn’t a new invention. Their story begins in Europe after the second world war. It was a German company that wanted to develop efficient passenger and utility vehicles for their “folks.” Third-party vendors started ordering the Kombi utility model stripped-down to build in various RV features.
For Volkswagon (which translates into the “people’s wagon” or “folks wagon”) enthusiasts, the first version of the Type 2 Kombi utility van was nicknamed the “Splitty” due to the windshield being two paneled. As its RV camper van potential grew, VW jumped in by building their own Splitty camper van in-house. Between the third-party vendors and VW itself, the Kombi Camper Van was a hit all across Europe.
Once VW updated the Splitty to the one-piece bay window (a.k.a. The “Bay”/”Early Bay”/”Late Bay”) models in 1967 through the late 1970s, VW added more room and amenities. Instead of basic essentials, they dressed up their camper vans with more features. The legacy continued until the 1990s, when VW stopped production of their Kombis due to lagging sales.
In North America, The United States and Canada wouldn’t see their own version of a Class B until 1974. Jac Hanemaayer brought a van-based motorhome to life in his garage. His RVs gained enough popularity to start Roadtrek in 1980.
For much of the 1980s, 1990s, and part of the 2000s, the two most often seen Class B motorhomes on the American roads were Roadtreks and Pleasure Way vans. They were built on the Ford Econoline, Dodge, or Chevy/GMC G series. Despite their size, they kept up with the latest RV technologies and had the latest in luxury features.
Both companies are still in operation today. Roadtrek was acquired by European parent Groupe Rapido in 2019 and works together with them to lead the industry. Pleasure Way is still independent and offers the latest products in Class B technologies. Even with more competition out there, these original leaders are still setting the benchmark.
If you’re thinking that Class B motorhomes are the most budget-friendly RVs, you’ll want to look at their price tags. Many of them have six-figure prices, or are close to that price point. There are less expensive models out there that don’t have full amenities but appeal to those audiences looking for a more basic camping experience.
You can expect to see the following common features in a full amenity Class B Coach:
- Fold-down rear bench that flattens into a two-sleeper bed
- Full kitchen with sink, stove, microwave, and refrigerator
- Bathroom with a commode, sink, and shower (wet bath or full)
- Freshwater, grey, and black holding tanks
- Powered or manual awning over the side sliding door
- Shore hookups for city water, electric, and sewer
- Coach furnace and air conditioner
- RV stereo system, mounted LED TV, satelite prewire, TV antenna, and other media inputs
- Laminate flooring, insulated side walls, and deluxe interior
- Solar panel installed (standard or optional) and/or a pre-wire port
- Average sleeping space between 2-4 people
Van Chassis Commonly Used
In the United States and Canada, there are four different van chassis that are used:
- Dodge Ram Promaster
- Chevy/GMC Van
- Ford Transit
- Mercedes Sprinter
The Chevy/GMC is the least commonly used. This model has a wider classic American van body. The other three have the European body design. Many RV makers like the European design since it gives more headroom and length.
Mercedes in America
Ever since the Mercedes Sprinter hit the American markets, its influence has stretched across all automotive manufacturers. The slimmer design with the taller roof can be seen in vans that aren’t used for RVs. There are some that live the RV lifestyle that have complained about their experiences when their Sprinters broke down on the road.
American made vehicle parts like Ford, Chevy, GMC, and Dodge are easy and more affordable to purchase. From the biggest city to the smallest town you can find the part you need. Mercedes vehicles can only be worked on by licensed service locations. Whether you need an oil change or a new axle, your Sprinter cannot be taken to just any shop.
If your camping adventures will keep you around civilization, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. If you do plan on making your own road away from everything, you are buying a quality built vehicle that has great ratings. To minimize your risk, before you head out, have your campervan checked out before you start your journey.
Best Examples of Class B Camper Vans
Airstream Tommy Bahama Interstate Grand Tour
- Chassis: Mercedes Sprinter 3500 Extended Box
- Length: 24 feet
- Engine: 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel
- Horsepower & Torque: 188 hp/ 325 lbs/ft
- Seats with safety belts: Up to 7 people
- Sleeps: Up to 2 people
- Price: Starts at $195,722
The current lines of Airstream Class B touring coaches started production in 2004. Back in the 1990s, they had one built off of a Dodge chassis that lasted only a few years. For 2020, they currently have five different models.
The one that really stands out is their Tommy Bahama edition. It’s based off of their Interstate series and comes with features and decore that are unique to this special edition. One of which is a bar that holds your favorite spirits for those evening get-togethers.
Airstream finishes off the Mercedes Sprinter 3500 chassis with fiberglass exterior pieces to give the luxury camper van better aerodynamic and aesthetic qualities. The power awning will give you a shaded outdoor living space. You don’t necessarily need them, but you can have power stabilizer jacks added.
To enjoy this beach house on wheels themed coach, it comes with two oversized outdoor lounge chairs, a cooler, candles, glassware, barware, bedding, towels, and other exclusively themed accessories to complete the tropical look. Just pull up Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits on your phone, pair it to the coach’s Bluetooth ready stereo, and you have the perfect evening.
In true Airstream form, you can expect top quality and name brand interior features. Ultraleather seating, Corian countertops, and other high-end amenities. It also comes with a tankless water heater for on-demand hot water.
American Coach American Patriot MD4 Dinette
- Chassis: Mercedes
- Length: 19.6 feet
- Engine: 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel
- Horsepower & Torque: 188hp @ 325 lbs/ft
- Seats with safety belts: Up to 9 people
- Sleeps: Up to 2 people
- Price: MSRP $142,495
True to form, this American Coach Class B is the ultimate definition of luxury. You can expect the top leathers, woods, countertops, and other materials to be of qualities that you would see in some of the best mobile mansions. It also comes Wifi and solar prepped.
What’s unique about this camper van is the rear bed. Instead of having to make up the bed every night, it lowers from the interior roof and sits on top of the rear dinette. The only thing you need to do is remove the dining table.
If you need extra power, or you don’t go solar, it comes with a standard 2.5-kilowatt generator that runs off of the main gas tank. When you boondock for the night, you’ll have everything you need to have a cozy evening. Even though you’ll have privacy shades, the rear and side windows are tinted for that extra level of discretion.
Coachmen Cross Trek 20XG
- Chassis: Ford Transit 350
- Length: 24.1 feet
- Engine: V6 gas
- Horsepower & Torque: 275 hp @ 260 lbs/ft
- Seats with safety belts: Up to 4 people
- Sleeps: Up to 3 People
- Price: MSRP $92,172
The Coachmen Cross Trek 20XB is a great example of a B plus motorhome. It’s bigger than a traditional camper van, but not quite a Class C. It can be best explained through an analogy.
Class B plus RVs look like small Class Cs without the loft bed over the driver’s section. They’re not Class Cs because of the chassis they’re on. The advantage of these coaches is the wider interiors and the combination of B and C amenities.
The biggest selling feature about the Cross Trek 20XB is its huge rear pass-through storage bay. It’s big enough where three or four sitting adults could fit inside. The inside master bed is raised up to a standing person’s chest level to make room for this bay.
The bay has a rugged floor with D-rings to strap down almost anything you can think of. There are also open cabinet spaces and net pouches to organize your gear. They have LED lighting in there so you can see everything.
The motorcoach doesn’t have a generator. Instead, it has a long-lasting 330 amp hour battery set that runs everything. Solar panels, shore power, and the V6 engine charges them. They can even power your air conditioner when you’re dry camping.
The interior won’t feel claustrophobic. It has a full bathroom with a shower on one side, and a water closet on the other. The full kitchen includes a five cubic foot refrigerator that runs off LP or the battery. Coachmen includes a portable Bluetooth speaker that can be paired to your phone or the installed Smart TV through the Wifi prep system.
Pleasure Way Tofino
- Chassis: Dodge Ram Promaster 1500
- Length: 17.9 feet
- Engine: 3.6L V6 Pentastar Gas
- Horsepower & Torque: 280 hp/ 260 lbs/ft
- Seats with safety belts: Up to 5 people
- Sleeps: Up to 4 people
- Price: MSRP $72,550
Since 1986, Pleasure Way has been an American Standard for Class B camper vans. Merv Rumpel started building his RVs on the back lot of his RV dealership. Within the first two years, this Canadian manufacturer was shipping his new product across North America on flatbed trucks.
The current Tofino model has a unique pop-top roof loft bed. Throughout their history, Pleasure Way has had other models with this pop-up roof. It provides added headroom and can hold up to 300 pounds for two additional sleepers.
The Tofino will appeal to those looking for that back-to-basics camping experience. It lacks a bathroom facility, and has a small kitchenette. With the features it has, your camping adventure will be a comfortable one.
Both the rear and side doors have full-size screens that allow for ventilation and give you that open-air experience. The 2.3 cubic foot refrigerator and hardwood cabinetry gives you plenty of storage. You’ll also find plenty of USB charging ports throughout the coach and loft to keep your mobile devices going to document your vacation.
- Chassis: Mercedes Sprinter
- Length: 19.7 feet
- Engine: 30.L V6 Turbo Diesel
- Horsepower & Torque:188 hp @ 325 lbs/ft
- Seats with safety belts: Up to 4 people
- Sleeps: Up to 3 people
- Price: Starting at $163,292
Finding an affordable off-road motorhome is almost impossible. These types of motorhomes do exist, but their price tags soar near the million-dollar mark. Winnebago changed that with their Revel off-road Class B motorhome.
This all-season ready 4×4 has a suspension, tires, and power plant that’s ready to take on almost any terrain. With its 140 cubic foot rear storage and roof rack, you can bring many of your outdoor toys with you. When the day is done, hit the button that lowers the full-size bed in the rear cargo area.
The campervan has a wet bath, full kitchen, and storage tanks to make your off-grid adventures possible. It comes solar prewired, or you can have panels attached to the roof. If you need a break from the outdoor temperatures, the coach comes with both a furnace and a rooftop air conditioner.
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Product data was last updated on 2020-07-30 at 12:59.
- Van chassis commonly used: Depositphotos