THE NEXT BIG SMALL THING
Suncamper’s entry-level Sherwood is small in size, not appeal...
by Richard Robertson
From its earliest days the motorhome industry as a whole has sought to produce bigger, fancier and more expensive vehicles crammed with all the comforts of home, and then some. Indeed, there are new motorhomes that seem to have more interior space than flats I lived in as a (much!) younger man and more high-tech gadgets than my house has today.
The ongoing uncertainties on both domestic and global financial markets, however, coupled with lacklustre or diminishing returns through superannuation in recent years have forced many new motor home buyers to seriously reconsider their priorities. Some have deferred purchase plans, hoping for an improvement in their finances, but age and circumstances wait for no one and there comes a time when the buyer has to do what a buyer has to do. So it should come as no surprise that manufacturers like Suncamper, who have always produced more compact (read: affordable) motorhomes are seeing a resurgence of interest, particularly in their entry-level machines.
Enter the Sherwood
Small it might be, but Suncamper's Sherwood is deceptively spacious, capable and well worth considering – especially as an alternative to a van conversion. If there's one problem common to most van conversion motorhomes its tunnel vision: the view you get sitting down the back looking up the front (or vice versa).
Step inside the Sherwood, however, and it feels like a real motorhome – even though it's shorter than many van conversions. This is because the Sherwood is a 'proper' C-class motorhome; meaning it has a separate, purpose-built motorhome body mounted on an independent cab-chassis, which in this case is Toyota's venerable HiLux one-tonner.
When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden they probably threw their swags and a crate of apples into the back of an old HiLux. Suncamper has been building Sherwood's on HiLux cab-chassis for about the same length of time and while it's basically a sound unit perhaps a change would make for an even better holiday.
The HiLux's attraction lies in its relative simplicity, proven strength and Toyota-quality engineering. The Sherwood we tested rode on a HiLux Work Mate single-cab cab-chassis powered by a 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine driving through a four-speed automatic. Transmission aside, it's the entry-level model of the HiLux range – and it shows.
Work Mate is Toyota-speak for poverty pack, but if that sounds a little harsh think of it as an inconvenience pack. It's inconvenient because the Work Mate lacks central locking (key or remote operated), adjustable side mirrors (manual or electric) or even fabric upholstery. It goes without saying, then, it also lacks electric windows, cruise control or steering wheel-mounted audio or cruise controls. It also lacks air-conditioning, although thankfully Suncamper adds this to the mix.
Given this is essentially a basic Tradies’ truck it's interesting to see what Toyota does include as standard. Apparently Tradies’ want Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity plus (thankfully) dual airbags, anti-lock brakes and power steering.
The good news is Suncamper will build you a Sherwood on any model HiLux and a turbo-diesel powered SR 4x4 would be the one to choose. Of course this would add substantially to the purchase price, but you'd reap considerable fuel consumption and pleasure-of-ownership benefits, plus find it easier to sell when it's time to move up/on. Better still would be if Suncamper offered the Sherwood on Ford’s excellent new Ranger, or similar new-generation light commercial cab-chassis.
The driving experience
What the HiLux Work Mate lacks in equipment and convenience it makes up for in driving refinement and it’s actually quite enjoyable. The ‘little’ 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine acquitted itself surprisingly well and the test vehicle had no trouble keeping up with the cut-and-thrust of suburban traffic or whisking us up to freeway speed limit.
Producing 116 kW at 5200 rpm, its main attraction is a substantial 240 Nm of torque at a relatively low 3800 rpm, which matches very nicely to the smooth shifting four-speed automatic transmission. We didn't cover enough distance to have the opportunity to check fuel consumption, but if anything was going to be this drivetrain’s Achilles heel, this would be it. The official combined fuel figure for the five-speed manual cab-chassis is 11L/100km, so I'd estimate mid-teens to mid-twenties for a loaded Sherwood in general running.
As stated, the HiLux is surprisingly refined and enjoyable to drive and although it's capable of quite respectable point-to-point speeds, with the Sherwood motorhome body on its back you want to take it quite easy. The reason? Body roll. The test Sherwood had air-bag ‘helper’ springs on the rear suspension but I’m thinking these weren’t inflated, given the degree of body roll in non-freeway driving.
Where the HiLux/Sherwood combination really shines is exploring towns and cities, where you can basically park in a single car spot, do a u-turn anywhere and not worry about length and/or weight restrictions. Just watch the height. It would shine more brightly, however, with side-mirror extensions to clear the motorhome body and convex spot mirrors to clear the usual side blind spots. A reversing camera and rear parking sensors would be an invaluable addition – as they are to any motorhome – and it would be good to see these included in the standard spec list.
Body and soul
There are some motorhome manufacturers that won't tell you how they construct their vehicles or allow you to see the manufacturing process. Fortunately, Suncamper isn't one of them. The company uses a simple, rugged and straightforward construction method that has been proven over decades. To quote from the Company's website:
“All motorhome models boast a steel frame base and aluminium, fully welded framework for the walls, rear, nose and single-piece roof. Walls and roof are fully insulated with fire-retardant foam and pressed. Framework is extensive so every fitting is screwed into a solid spot, not into insulation. The walls are more than 30-mm thick and the roof is more than 45-mm. This is more than double (and in some cases triple) other manufacturers. A rust-proofing and sound deadening agent is applied under the floor to protect from noise and road damage.”
Step inside the Sherwood and the advantages of a full-size motorhome body are immediately obvious. What it lacks in outright space it makes up for in space efficiency and for one or two people the Sherwood is surprisingly liveable. Stepping inside the Sherwood is something you'll only be doing through the side entry door, however, unless you're a particularly agile contortionist and can clamber between cab and motorhome over the centre console and between the front seats.
Suncamper interiors have always been functional if not particularly stylish. So it's good to see the company has made considerable efforts to lift the interior appeal of all its vehicles and the Sherwood benefits from the latest high-gloss timber veneers and contemporary leather/fabric upholstery combinations. This gives it a bright, modern and airy feel inside, whilst the rear lounge-come-dinette has you ‘sitting in the view’, thanks to a large (non-opening) rear window and equally large opening side windows. It’s also good to know that cabinetry is solid plywood that’s ‘glued-and-screwed’ together, not just stapled like some.
Throw in touch-operated white/blue LED saloon lighting, LED reading lights on flexible wands, a small flat screen TV/DVD that can be watched from the lounge or bed, ceiling-mounted air-conditioning/heating, glass-topped flush-mounted cooker and sink units and a slimline rangehood, plus a lift-up-and-out dining table that leaves a handy small shelf when stowed away and you have an attractive, practical and highly liveable, compact motorhome.
Cooking, washing, sleeping and all that stuff
As you'd expect, the Sherwood's kitchen is compact but comprehensively equipped. It includes a three burner gas cooker, microwave, 93-litre LPG/12v/240v under-bench fridge, single-bowl sink and just enough bench space and cupboard space to get by with.
The Sherwood carries 72-litres of fresh water, has a 45-litre grey water tank and a single 9-kg gas bottle to keep you cooking and power the 14-litre Truma hot water system.
The bathroom is suitably compact if basic, but has almost everything you need to keep clean, warm and happy. This includes a Thetford cassette toilet, corner hand-basin with mixer-tap and flexible shower hose with a wall-mount, foldout drying rack and roof hatch with extractor fan. The almost it doesn't have is any sort of medicine cabinet for toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo and the like. Bugger.
The defining feature of a C-class motorhome is its over-can bed and on some vehicles this can require prior experience as a mountain climber/goat to reach. This can be particularly perilous in the dead of night when nature calls, but the good news with the Sherwood is that the relatively small distance from the floor to the bed means that by using the single built-in step by the bathroom door you avoid the need for a ladder (or abseiling equipment).
The ‘bedroom’ area is unexpectedly spacious, with good head-height and it lacks the sense of claustrophobia you often find in this sort of arrangement. The bed itself is comfortable and at just a whisker under two-metres long will easily accommodate most people. There’s good cross ventilation, too, courtesy of large opening windows at the bed head and foot, whilst LED reading lights on flexible wands make catching up on a good book easy without disturbing your partner too much.
The bottom line
Suncamper's Sherwood surprises in many ways and is a 'serious' and capable motorhome despite its modest dimensions. It’s well built, well finished, looks good (in a girl-next-door kind of way) and provides one or two people with enough features and living space for even extended touring. It's affordable, reasonably economical, easy to drive and park and allows you to explore out-of-the-way places or bustling towns and cities with comparative ease.
Toyota's HiLux is an acceptable host vehicle and although the Work Mate model disappoints, better equipped and more capable/economical versions are available to order. It would be good, however, to see Suncamper experimenting with different cab-chassis manufacturers and give buyers a wider choice of comfort, power and safety options.
The bottom line is I would jump in a Suncamper Sherwood tomorrow and head off around Australia, confident it would make the trip with a minimum of fuss and bother. So if you’re in the market for a fully-featured motorhome you can drive on a standard car licence, take a serious look at the Suncamper Sherwood. It could just be the Next Big Thing in small things...
- Requires only standard car license
- Compact size a bonus for parking, camping and exploring
- Quality fit and finish
- Good-sized bed
- Good equipment levels in motorhome
- Toyota HiLux Work Mate cab-chassis disappoints with equipment levels
- Petrol engine thirsty when pushed
- Body roll on non-freeway roads
- Bathroom lacks knickknack storage
- Limited storage space
Click HERE to visit the Suncamper website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.