Horizon’s Acacia 4X4 offers more than just off-road ability...
by Richard Robertson
Unless you’re heading into the complete unknown, ticking the 4WD option box (if available) for a campervan or motorhome is more about all-weather and all-road security than ultimate off-road ability. Hardcore adventure vehicles, like the EarthCruiser for example, are specialist machines designed to trek across continents and tackle anything in their path. Tall, relatively slow and often more basically equipped than many people would like, they are built for extremes – and look like it.
Enter the Horizon Acacia: A Mercedes Sprinter van conversion available with the option of 4WD and that doesn’t sacrifice creature comforts or look like it should be lining up for the next Outback Monster Truck Challenge!
Mercedes Benz’ Sprinter is the gold-standard in light commercial vehicles used for camper and motorhome conversions. Blessed with the German giant’s unrivalled engineering input and manufacturing prowess, it’s also the most expensive base vehicle available. To illustrate this, Horizon Motorhomes tell me the Fiat Ducato outsells the Sprinter by about 3:1 and although the Fiat is good, I’m certain Horizon would sell many more if the price point was the same.
The test Acacia was a converted Mercedes 519 long-wheelbase (LWB) Sprinter van with dual rear wheels plus the optional 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine and selectable four-wheel drive. It’s a highly desirable package, but ticking all the boxes certainly pushes up the price. For example, the entry-level 2WD Acacia/Sprinter is $118,500 drive away, while the top-of-the-wazza 4WD version is out-the-door for $154,000. The Acacia motorhome conversion is identical, so it’s the engine, running gear and 4WD system that accounts for the difference.
The 4WD Sprinter sits higher, as expected, but doesn’t tower above you. Still, at about 7-metres long, 2-metres wide and 3-metres high it’s an imposing vehicle that certainly stands out in the crowd.
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel puts out 140 kW and 440 Nm, making it the most powerful engine available in this class of vehicle (entry level is 120 kW/360 Nm). Drive is via a conventional five-speed automatic transmission plus an electrically-operated two-speed (Hi/Lo) transfer case that sends drive to the front wheels when selected. Normal drive is through the rear wheels.
It’s worth noting here that while dual rear wheels provide increased on-road stability they are less than ideal in soft conditions. I’m told that dual rear wheels force mud/sand/snow up between them, increasing drive effort and making bogging easier. You’ll notice serious off-road vehicles, like expedition trucks and military vehicles, use large-diameter single wheels with fatter tyres.
The 4WD Sprinter rides on independent front suspension and a live axle with leaf springs at the rear. Ground clearance is around 200 mm and the extra height means you’ll probably need to use the electric entry step for easy motorhome access. The 4.325-metre wheel base limits the ramp-over angle (the height of a mound or obstacle you can drive over without beaching the vehicle), while the rear overhang similarly limits entry/exit angles for getting in or out of things like creeks. Coupled with an almost 4.5-tonne gross weight, these factors combine to make the 4WD Sprinter ideal for open-country back-road touring rather than mountain tracks or places requiring repeated water crossings.
Not previously having driven a 4WD Sprinter I was impressed by its smooth ride and ‘normal’ handling. There was no hint of ride roughness as I had expected from the raised and up-rated suspension and no noticeable increase in body roll to adversely affect handling.
All Sprinters are a pleasure to drive and the Horizon Acacia 4WD was no exception. Precise steering, confident cornering, strong brakes, excellent visibility (enhanced by the raised ride height) and the sheer grunt of the big V6 turbo-diesel are guaranteed to make you smile. Coupled with the smooth-shifting auto transmission and Mercedes’ plethora of passive and active safety features, including electronic stability control, traction control and dual airbags, motorhome driving doesn’t get any better than this: Especially when you’re not lugging around a big bolted-on body.
Importantly for many people, the Acacia 4WD still only requires a standard car licence because of its 4490 kg gross vehicle mass (GVM). However, the added weight of the 4WD system and engine upgrade do increase its tare (empty) weight to 3440 kg, leaving a respectable 1050 kg for occupants, goods and chattels.
I like van conversions because they retain the shell of the host vehicle and add just a few extra holes, for things like windows and roof hatches, which can ever become a future source of water leaks. Horizon Motorhomes’ buy what are known as ‘blind’ Sprinter vans (without windows) so they can position and cut their own windows in, although all Sprinters come with fixed glass in the rear doors. Horizon uses Dometic Seitz windows, which are double glazed acrylic units with in-built blinds and flyscreens. Providing good insulation, great natural light and loads of fresh air when open, the integrated blind/flyscreen system does require a more delicate touch to operate than many blokes would be accustomed to providing...
The big, sliding side door is also retained as the main entry/exit door to the motorhome area, although a proper motorhome-style door is available in its place – as a $6900 option. As pricy as this might sound, if this is a long-term vehicle for you it’s well worth considering. Not only is it much easier and quieter to operate than a big sliding ‘whizz-bang’, it frees up valuable internal space and would probably be quite sort after when you do sell it on.
As expected, the Acacia comes with mains power and water connections, a filler for the 100-litre fresh water tank, an external hot/cold shower and external 12 and 240-volt power outlets. It also has 2 x 4 kg gas bottles, a 95-litre grey water tank and holds 19-litres of unmentionable-coloured water in the removable toilet cassette.
What’s the Plan?
There was a time when Horizon built solid but unremarkable motorhomes that did the job, but without any pizzas. That time has passed. Interior style, fit and finish are now well above class standards while the level of attention to detail and design innovation – often in unseen areas – speaks of a product that is the result of a carefully though-out and evolutionary design process.
Strictly for two, the Acacia features a front dinette with swivelling cab seats, mid-mounted kitchen and bathroom and an east-west double bed at the rear. Let me walk you through...
The cab seats swivel to form the primary after-hours relaxation area. From there you can watch TV, read a book or just stretch out, but when it’s time to eat someone has to move to the single forward-facing seat on the other side of the small adjustable dining table, opposite the driver’s seat. There’s good viewing from the dinette, with a good-sized side window (matching one in the sliding side-door) as well as the windscreen, plus a roof hatch. There is also a double power point and a 12-volt outlet on the wall beneath the table, for keeping your electrical devices charged and happy.
Thought for Food
The kerb-side mounted kitchen has limited bench space, but into it Horizon fits a glass-lidded Dometic three-burner gas cooktop plus a matching glass-lidded single-bowl sink and drainer, with flick-mixer tap. The bench tapers forwards towards the entry door, which costs work space but provides a more open and spacious feel. Because of the taper there is no room for a flip-up bench extension, but the double cupboard doors below the tapered worktop open wide and are easily accessed. There are also plenty of cutlery and pot drawers beneath the cooktop and sink, although no overhead cupboards, and if ordered the optional gas oven and grill would reduce the drawer/cupboard count considerably.
A 136-litre Waeco 12-volt compressor fridge is mounted above a small cupboard, about a foot above floor level and across from the kitchen, between the bathroom and bedside wardrobe. Above it sits a Sharp carousel microwave and above that is a deep double-door cupboard.
Above the kitchen bench is the Acacia’s electronic nerve centre, with all electrical switches, battery indicators, tank gauges and hot water controls arranged neatly in a line at eye level. Interestingly, the swivel TV is right above the sink, so you can watch from bed or the dinette, but if you’re washing up it’s literally in your face!
Speaking of electrics, lighting is LED inside and out and like all Horizon’s the Acacia has a single 200-amp AGM house battery, charged by an Australian-made Redarc system. The advantage of this is that most car alternators aren’t designed to fully charge house batteries and aren’t really designed for extra batteries at all. The Redarc system takes care of this, however, and is also designed to get the most from solar panels, too, even if they’re fitted later.
Compact but practical, the bathroom, which has a full-length mirror door that does much to prevent the Acacia feeling tunnel-like, is a combined shower and toilet unit that is standard fare for this class of vehicle. It has a corner hand basin with flick-mixer tap, a separate tap for the hand shower, a wall-mounted mirror (but no medicine cabinet) and a fan/hatch overhead. The toilet is a swivel-head Dometic toilet with SOG fan extraction system to remove toilet cassette smells. Hot water comes from a fast-reheating 14-litre Truma gas system.
Across the rear of the Acacia, the east-west double bed (1800 mm x 1420 mm) is good for shorter people but not quite long enough for taller folk by the time you factor in pillows and foot room. That’s one of the drawbacks of the Sprinter, which at 1993 mm is relatively narrow when compared to Fiat’s Duacto’s 2050 mm, for example.
Length aside, the bed is well positioned and has opening windows at both ends plus a roof hatch for added ventilation. There are LED reading lights in the corners and good overhead cupboard space, plus a large under-bed storage area that can be accessed both from inside and outside the vehicle.
Combining the engineering benefits and ownership pleasure of Mercedes Benz with the contemporary, high quality standards of Horizon’s latest motorhome conversions, the Acacia 4WD is a formidable vehicle.
Not an ultimate off-roader but more an all-road-and-bush-track machine, the Acacia 4WD can take you to places no ordinary motorhome could go. Which is fitting, because it is no ordinary motorhome.
So if you’re ready for adventure but don’t want to rough it, put this vehicle on your shopping list. It’s just the machine to open up whole new horizons...
- Sprinter quality with 4WD ability
- Supremely driveable
- Comfort and convenience
- Quality conversion
- Thoughtful design
- Lacks ultimate 4WD ability
- Bed short for taller buyers