What are you driving?
Well, both driving and living in. This is a Renault Master van, a vast, tall, long-wheelbase load-lugger, with a 170hp twin-turbo diesel engine up front, doing the hard work. It could, if you like, be for rushing courier deliveries or plumbing supplies up and down the country, but this one's a bit special. Renault has seen the success enjoyed by Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz with their van-based California and Marco Polo camper vans, and fancies a bit of the action itself. For the Irish market, it's teamed up with Cosy Campers, based in Rathcoole, Co. Kildare, to fit vans out with beds, bathrooms, cookers, couches, and anything else you might fancy. Although not factory-built as are the VW and Mercedes camper conversions, this is the next best thing, and the potential for customisation is all but endless.
Our test camper had basically been given the works, with a conversion worth an additional €32,000 over and above the cost of the Master van itself. Needless to say, smaller vans (such as the Trafic) and cheaper conversions are available.
The fit-out list is too long to go into here, but it included a two-ring gas hob, a gas-fired grill and oven, a sink (fed water from an underbody fresh-water tank), a big high-set double-bed at the back, a smaller double bed that you make out of the two 'back' seats and some extra sections, a digital TV and (the biggest advantage over a California or Marco Polo) a built-in toilet and wet-room shower.
Name its best bits
The best bit is that you really can live in it. Unlike the toilet-less Volkswagen California (which can easily cost as much as this much bigger Master), once you've filled up the fresh water tank and plumbed-in a fresh gas canister, you can keep on rolling for as long as you like, and you're not beholden to the layout of a campsite, or the need to park as near as possible to the toilet block. While it might sound a tad disgusting to be hauling your own loo around with you, the chemical system and the pop-out cartridge tank that slides in under the vehicle actually make it much easier than you might expect.
The big double bed at the back of the camper is very comfy, and those who slept on it reported it as perfectly fine for a good night's sleep. The entire interior is filled with drawers, cupboards and airline-style overhead lockers, so you can easily (and safely - they all lock shut) pack away whatever it is you're carrying with you. There is a barbecue that plugs into an external gas socket, feeding off the same system as the hob and oven, and a pop-out awning, but of course it lashed rain during our time with the camper, so we didn't get to make the most of either. The construction of the interior, though, is such that you can happily sleep away while outside the weather howls and drenches.
Aside from the living quarters, the Master is easy to drive. There's excellent forward visibility from a high-set driving position, and a rear-facing reversing camera made parking and swinging through tight spots all the easier. On the move, refinement isn't too bad, and fuel economy works out at around 30mpg - also not bad.
Anything that bugs you?
It's not quick - even with 380Nm of torque, the Master is carrying a lot of camping weight, so be patient when you're looking for acceleration. The long wheelbase also makes manoeuvring in town a trifle awkward at times. The second bed, the one made from the seats and some pop-in sections, is not as comfy as the main bed at the back, while some of the cabin fixtures don't feel as high-quality as that which you get in the Volkswagen or Mercedes.
And why have you given it this rating?
Camper vans are just inherently cool, and it's kind of hard not to have fun with one. Whether you're bringing the kids for a day/night at the beach, or just pretending to be Lone Star from Spaceballs, you're going to enjoy your time in the Master. It's not quite as slickly executed, nor as smooth to drive, as its German rivals, but it is very good value for money, compared to them, enormous inside and has its own loo. Camping win.
What do the rest of the team think?
What struck me most about the Master conversion is that it provides comfortable, spacious accommodation for a couple on a long tour or useful facilities for a family for much shorter periods of time. Either way, it's a great demonstration of what a local company such as Cosy Campers can do with a big van as a starting base.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor