First Look: The Revel
There just comes a point in almost every outdoor adventurer's life that a downpour through the tent has gotten the sleeping bag soggy, the weight of an early fall snow means dusting off eight inches of powder to get to the gear you stored outside, or the rear of the Outback was a little too cramped for a comfortable night's sleep.
Roll in the Winnebago Revel. It's the first manufactured Mercedes Sprinter 4x4 in North America. Since Mercedes introduced their off-road van a little over a year ago, outdoor adventurers had two choices. They could take a do-it-yourself approach to creating a living space or send the van to an up-fitting business for expensive modification.
The Revel is a true manufactured RV which brings Winnebago's sixty years of experience inside the limited confines of a van and produces an extremely space-efficient and flexible living space. It's the product of several years of intense investigation and scores of interviews with climbers, bikers, paddlers, and backcountry enthusiasts to determine the best balance of features.
Of course the story begins at ground level with tougher sidewall BFGoodrich tires and increased ride heights of 4.3" on the front axle and 3.1" on the rear. All of this is driven by Mercedes' proven 3.0 V6 Turbodiesel engine that delivers the low torque required for picking your way up a rock strewn two-track. And with beefed up stabilizers, electronically engaged drive system, low-gear assist, and advanced braking system, the Revel may be up to taking on roads that you might decide aren't worth the risk.
Right to the edge of the stream. Definitely a fun assignment for Don Cohen.
We spent a couple of weeks putting the Revel through its paces taking it up to 13,000' feet in the Colorado Rockies and up sandy draws in the desert southwest. The collective opinion of seasoned four-wheelers was that it's truly up to the task. At 19 1/2' in length and a short wheelbase, it was highly maneuverable. Unlike Jeeps and 4WD pickups, the high viewing position for both driver and passenger coupled with the very short hood-line offered exceptional road visibility for picking the best path through tough tracks.
But there's also the good manners of the Sprinter on paved roads for those long drives until pavement turns to dirt. It hums smoothly along at Interstate speeds and feels nimble in the city, too. And at the heart of it is Mercedes' tight and true steering qualities. Depending on your driving style and terrain you should expect 14-18 MPG.
The real "special sauce" is what Winnebago's experience brings to the "home" experience. Tables fold out of the way, yet pop up easily for camping use. Secure storage doors lock contents in place and use almost every square inch of space. A compact wet (shower) bathroom can be quickly turned into a closet by the owner for one trip and turned back into a bath for the next trip.
It's worth noting that Winnebago has gone with a European style cassette toilet system that makes waste dumping a lot easier than you might think. It can be removed and discharged without breaking down a campsite. It's also part of the Revel's all-weather plumbing design that keeps all water piping inside the coach so, as long as you maintain reasonable heat in the van, the pipes won't freeze.
In talking with potential buyers, Winnebago learned that owners wanted power and heat without the noise and smoke of a generator. They also wanted a single source of fuel. That's why you won't find a generator or LP appliance in the Revel. Heat and hot water are run by an exceptionally quiet diesel system. Both the refrigerator and induction cooktop are electric and are driven by three high capacity AGM sealed batteries along with 110v and several USB convenience outlets. Batteries are charged by the engine's alternator when driving and by the 200 watt solar panels when camped. There's also a shore power connection and heavy duty cord for use on friends' driveways and at campgrounds.
What you get in a highly engineered and manufactured design is a much higher degree of space utilization. The compact shower is a great example where you have a seamless, easy to clean mono-piece enclosure with custom molded shelf mounts.
And it's with the bed that Winnebago's expertise really shows up. The sleep grade foam mattress sits on a euro-style slat system. All of this is encased in an electrically mounted frame that, with the push of a button, raises to the ceiling to provide secure interior storage for a couple of bikes or other large items in what we call the Gear Garage. When lowered, you sleep crossways in the bed. Because of the narrow width of the Sprinter, Winnebago added two asymmetric bump outs, so a six-footer can comfortably stretch out. Another nice touch is the operable window near the head of the bed for ventilation on cool nights, and double insulated protection on cold ones.
A rooftop air conditioner is optional and some owners may choose to forego having one with the benefit of picking up more roof storage options for more cargo carriers, kayaks, or racktop tents for the kids.
Finally, one of the biggest pluses with the Revel has nothing to do with features. It's all about affordability. The cost of a Revel (depending on options) is just a little north of $100,000. For DIYers you have the cost of the van itself and the cost of modifications. If you use a custom up-fitting company, the modification costs can easily climb well above the "ready to go" cost of the Revel. And that two-part cost of buying the van and then fixing it up can be a challenge to finance. Revels are much more financeable because they are considered to be a manufactured RV. That means you can get good rates, long amortization, and can even deduct interest as a second home expense. This makes monthly payments perhaps more affordable than many people realize.
For over thirty years Winnebago has been the leader in making compact, fuel efficient motorhomes and the company has made more Sprinter-based vans and motorhomes than all other manufacturers combined. That's a lot of experience that shows up in the thoughtful details of this entirely new class of adventure RV products. With it's ability to go just about anywhere, great interior flexibility, and decidedly high level of recreational comfort, the Revel is going to convert a lot of "I'd never own an RV" folks into believers.