Thursday, August 19, 2010
VW Eurovan Camper- The drive
Several months ago you might have remembered a post about me trying to sell the families 2002 VW Eurovan Camper. We got as far as finding a buyer, and was about to make the deal. However my entire family fell into a depression when the idea of not having the mini camper was soon to become a reality. So the day before the deal was to happen, I pulled it from the table. Sucks, but my fathers happiness was more important. My dad did take the potential buyer out to lunch to apologize, and they are current still in contact with each other and friends. The potential buyer soon became an owner of a VW Eurovan Camper as well.
I would have titled this post "first drive impressions" but that would not have been accurate since I have driven the camper many many miles already. In fact I lived in it for three months once. Regardless, how a vehicle drives is one of the most important attributes of a review.
Stepping into the Eurovan one immediately gets the feeling they are entering a work van. The built in step, "A" pillar grab bar, upright captain's chair. The swinging motion into the drivers seat is a very big rig like, quite different than the typical ingress to a passenger car. The location of the driver relative to the vehicle is also unique. Though the driver is not perched directly above the front left tire, one is placed just behind. In fact the hump of the wheel well acts as a dead pedal of sorts. This however follows the VW bus lineage, where due to the rear engine configuration placed the driver right in the very front of the van. In fact drivers of older VW buses found them selves seated in front of the front wheels.
The controls are laid out in a very simple utilitarian fashion. The dash board follows the contours of the windshield without extra protrusions for ergo, or that fighter jet cockpit feel. Many of the knobs, buttons, and instrumentation are standard VW parts shared with Jettas and Passats of the same era. There is nothing wrong with this at all. Why make different defrost buttons for each car when one will do. Though basic, if seen from a old school VW buser's eye, the dashboard and instrumentation has a very modern feel. One of the first things to catch my attention is the aftermarket Sony Explode CD stereo, and the blank button pop outs. I hate blank pop outs. It makes you feel like you are missing out on some great factory gizmo. The stereo is basic with no aux in, ipod connection, or MP3 format disk capability, after all this is 2002. The stereo does have good sound, and higher than average output (52 watts x4). The flip down face of the Explode unit however is less than desirable.
Adjusting the mirrors, you might or might not notice that the two rear view mirrors are different sizes and shapes. The driver side is rectangular and wide, the passenger's is taller. It took me a little bit to realize they were different and even longer to understand why. My guess for the asymmetric mirrors are because the blind spot on the driver side is larger. This is due to the fact that sitting on the left side of the vehicle allows for a greater field of view to the right. This blind spot is made worse when the EV is a camper. When the basic EV is configured to be a camper, the rear driver side window is not cutout and thus lacking windows to look through. Once properly situated the three rear views mirrors provide a great rear field of view, giving the driver the feeling that they are commanding a much smaller vehicle than the EV actually is. With the headrest of the rear bench seat removed there are no blind spots even with the entire rear passenger side of the van paneled out.
Starting the EV with the silly key fob is more difficult than it should be. The body of the fob does not provide a good grip to deliver the twisting motion needed. When you finally get the key turned, the engine winds to life with a very "German" wirl. The gear selector and the e-brake are located on the floor to the right. The gear selector requires the driver to hold the brake pedal down and the depress a release button to shift out of drive; this is pretty normal. What is not normal is the need to push the release button to go from R to N and from N to drive. What is even worse is shifting from D to 3. The fact that you must push the button is not bad, it is that you DO NOT need to push the button to go from 3 to 2. Downshifting from D to 3 should be done carefully. It is very easy to overshoot 3 and go to 2, while downshifting. This could cause to engine and transmission to rev at extremely unsafe RPMs.
Starting in 2001 VW EV's were equipped with a 2.8 liter, 201 horse power, 24 valve V6- the VR6. The VR6 is interseting in the fact that the two rows of cylinders are offset by only 15 degrees instead of the typical 45 degree offset. This gives this particular V6 engine a very narrow block like an in-line type motor, easily suited for many front wheel drive applications. The 24 valve VR6 is the most powerful engine every installed in a VW van from the factory, and you can tell. Stomping on the gas from a stop the EV accelerates at a rate one would not expect from a VW van. Even though the van weighs approximately 5000lbs, the low gearing optimizes the 201 hp. The low gearing is noticed as the 4 speed automatic transmission allows the van to humm along at 65mph while spinning the engine at 3000 RPM's.
The car feel of the EV is apparent even when you drive. It maneuvers easily and is narrow enough that you feel comfortable with it's dimensions. The power steering is heavy for a passenger car, but not so much that it a hindrance. The front suspension has plenty of caster built in that you never get the wandering feeling many large vans have. The major complaint of the drive is that the ride is woefully soft. Not only is the suspension soft, but the chassis lacks rigidity. A soft ride is expected since this is a camper van and not a sports car, but the EVC drives like a cooked noodle. Soft shocks and small sway bar gives the van a very sailboat like roll in corners. The large hole cut in the roof for the pop top does not help the overall rigidity, as the van groans and creeks over driveway cutouts. The car like feel of the van is lost when subjected to winding roads or off pavement conditions.
VW did the the EV van right by matching the powerful motor with equally powerful brakes. The 12" disk brakes have never felt inadequate. Fuel efficiency is good for a vehicle of its size. 20mpg can easily be obtained when road tripping, and 16 mpg is returned if you do alot of hotrodding. Not going into camper features, two other functions are good and worth mentioning. The front windows have both one touch up and down features for both driver and passenger side windows. Most of today's cars still don't have the dual one touches on both windows. The rear defrost is also unique. At the base where the windshield wipers sit there are some extra passes of the defrost element. This is to prevent snow and ice build up below the wiper, and to help prevent it from freezing to the rear windshield.
The first time I had interest in VW campers was in the early 80's when my dad and I went to a VW showroom. Many years later my father bought one, and once I am taking possession of to use for a road trip. I have a few days between driving it to my house and departing for a trip. Those few days were busily spent prepping the camper for my adventure with it.