Saturday, 2 June 2012

Day One of a Camper Holiday! - First Drive

Day One - continued: Driving the camper from Apollo Campers back to Canberra

I must say that I am impressed with this vehicle. It's a late-model Volkswagen Crafter cab-chassis with a motor-home body, configured with walk-through access from the cab into the body. From the outside it looks like this:
This is one of the Tomatos taking a photo of two more Tomatos next to the camper a day later.

During my drive from Mascot to Canberra I noticed quite a few things:

The gear shift lever. I have never encountered such a beast before.
  • The badge says Volkswagen, but as far as I can tell, it's a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter - the instrumentation on the dash, seating position, seating adjustments, toolbox location, and pretty much everything else matches that of a Sprinter. Given that the dash layout and speed governor* setup also matches Grandpa Tomato's M-B C-class, I am convinced that the M-B Sprinters I have driven are not rebadged VWs.*what passes for cruise control in these things.
  • Despite the extra weight, the vehicle has plenty of power - It was able to hold its speed (but not accelerate) up the various steep hills near Mittagong.
  • Acceleration from stop is very, very, very slow. When turning in to a stream of traffic it is best to wait patiently for a sizable gap.
  • I enjoyed a surprisingly stable ride - I maintained a speed of 110 kilometres per hour on roads so marked, and despite the weight and size, driving was more comfortable than most vans that I have driven.
  • Due to the construction of the camper body, there is a lot of road noise which can be heard inside. This is aggravated by the rattling crockery and squeaking cupboards.
  • The brakes are responsive and work very well, if a bit squealy.
  • The gear selector is nothing like what I have seen before.
A bit more on the gearbox: It's not automatic, but has no clutch, and no requirement to shift gears. The six speed manual gearbox has a mechanism which deals with the clutch and gear selection for you. When accelerating hard  it leaves me feeling that I have gone through a series of quick gear changes - for each changes there is a momentary loss of power while the next gear is selected, as well as the reduction in engine revs. Initially it's quite unnerving - there's a certain disconnect between what I am doing and what the vehicle is doing. I can easily imagine a Homunculus operating the clutch, accelerator, and gear shift on my behalf.
With a little bit of experimentation, I found that I can operate the gear selector to shift up or down by momentarily moving the lever up or down, and doing so invokes manual gear change mode. Automatic gear selection can then be re-selected by momentarily moving the lever to the left. Neutral is selected by moving right, and reverse sits below neutral. There is no "park" position.

The whole automatically-controlled-manual-gearbox arrangement works well, and provides a positive driving experience.  But it's not as smooth as a slush-box, and is positively agricultural when compared to the Hybrid Synergy Drive I am used to.

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