After initially looking at buying a pick-up + pop-up camper rig in the USA we started considering other vehicle options but could not find one that was as good as those made by several specialist off-road conversion companies in Germany. After speaking & emailing over several months to Woelcke, Bi-Mobil, La Strada we finally opted for the CS Independent 4x4 Mercedes Sprinter van conversion from CS Reisemobile.
Our pebble grey coloured CS Independent camper van is based on the Mercedes Sprinter 3.665m (144 inches) wheelbase with 3,500kg gross vehicle weight. It is fitted with the Mercedes part-time four-wheel drive which lifts the vehicle to an overall height of 2.855m (112inches). We chose the V6 140kW/190HP engine with 5-speed Auto box which is unique to the Sprinter 4x4 van set-up.
We like that our Sprinter is EURO VI compliant, has power steering, engine immobiliser, stronger stabilisers & shock absorbers plus the latest generation safety equipment like adaptive ESP, ABS, ASR and driver/passenger airbags. Plus we specified chunky Goodrich All-Terrain 245/75 R16 tyres to be fitted instead of the Mercedes factory tyres so that we can take on the toughest roads with confidence.
The four-wheel system on our CS Independent is based on regular rear wheel drive. A lengthways automatic transfer gear is installed on the front axle to handle the power transition. When the 4x4 is activated the driving power is split between the front & back axles 35:65. The ESP has been upgraded with an electronic friction system - called 4ETS - by braking individual wheels the system delivers equal power and prevents wheel spinning. As we plan to do a lot of off-road travel we’ve also added an optional reduction gear that reduces strain on all components by 40% and provides each wheel with more power.
With this unique Mercedes 4x4 system we are confident that we can take the Sprinter almost anywhere, however, when driving on gravel or rough roads the contents of the van needs to be extremely tightly packed and this is where the CS Independent interior design & fittings really score.
As with a lot of off-the-grid style travel we’ve decided to mix different systems for our cooking (gas), interior heating (diesel), 90L fridge (electric) so that we have options should one system fail. The interior is custom built by craftsmen and this includes overhead lockers, stainless steel sink, spacious drawers, full-length cupboard and foldable work table. To reduce the power consumption we’ve fitted LED-lights throughout.
The interior layout includes a large fixed bed in the rear of the van (length 1.95m / width 1.42m) thanks to custom made side panel enlargements. Even with these the Sprinter is still only 2.02m wide and suitable for everyday driving though small towns and narrow roads. The front seating area has swivelling driver’s & passenger seats as well as a bench for two allowing for up to four people to be seated in comfort. We have also added overhead lockers above the driver’s cabin which is really useful and not available on many other camper van conversions. The wet room includes a fitted Thetford cassette toilet, standing hot/cold shower and clever movable wash basin that tucks out of the way when the shower or toilet is being used. There is a pressure water installation with Shurflo pump plus an external shower for hot weather or cleaning gear. Very clever use of a small space means the heated freshwater tank takes 100 litres and the underfloor waste water tank a further 80 litres.
The 12V on-board electric system usually comes with a gel-battery but we opted instead for two Dometic Lithium batteries as these are 40% lighter, charge very quickly and can be used down to 20% capacity. These are charged via the on-board charger (30A), the Sprinter engine dynamo or the 140W solar panels fitted on the roof. Downside for specifying 2x Lithium batteries is the substantial additional cost but we figured this was worth it as the Sprinter will be our home for several years on the road. The Sinus inverter 1,500W provides us with a multi part on the road system which will hopefully deliver a long lasting power supply when far from an external electrical power source.
The kitchen cooker plus water heating is via 2x 11kg Alugas bottles stored in a special cupboard in the generous 1,000L cargo bay located below the bed at the rear of the van. Unlike many Sprinter conversions the rear is closed off and we really liked this design feature as it keeps out dust vented through the rear doors and adds to the security in the van when sleeping. The CS Independent interior is insulated with 20mm X-Treme and we have fitted the optional high altitude heating kit (1,500-2,300m altitude). There is plenty of ventilation thanks to 3x insulated/tinted fold-out windows with blinds plus 2x tilt/slide sunroof Hartal Multi 90’s, a Mini-Heki in the wet room plus an extra 2-way Fantastic Fan which one of our US colleagues convinced us to install (ideal for hot climates and when cooking with the windows/rood hatches closed in winter). The main side sliding door plus all windows and roof hatches are equipped with mosquito nets as we have to keep out the biting bugs and noseeums!
On the off-road
We chose the CS Independent Sprinter 4x4 camper van as it ticks all the boxes with Mercedes reliability + great performance + good clearance + build strength + high mileage + lots of handy storage and ultimately strong resale value. The wheelbase fits normal parking spots in town and is easy to manage on testing 4WD trails.