Last summer we told you VW was crazy to not bring its new California Camper van to the U.S. Their logic has been it would just be too expensive to sell to American buyers, because VW makes its vans in Europe, and exporting them here would probably mean getting dinged with the infamous “chicken tax,” a U.S. tariff that makes it nearly impossible for Americans to buy imported trucks (or anything the government says is a truck), so they’d fear not being able to sell them for less than about $70,000.
Behold, then, the American-made Mercedes-Benz Metris Weekender that’s a fat finger in the eye of Volkswagen. It’s set to go on sale later this spring and it will run roughly, well, $70,000. If you think that price is steep, since the extant passenger version of the Metris starts in the mid-$30k price range, well it is, and it’ll be interesting to see how many Weekenders sell. But Mercedes clearly studied the market, since they’re partnering with the same outfit, Seattle’s Peace Vans, which already makes a Weekender conversion for $25,000.
What you get by buying it through Mercedes is dealer delivery and warranty protection.
Either way, like the Peace Van edition, there’s sleeping for four. Two people can crash in the pop-top, where there’s a memory foam mattress and three-windows with integrated bug netting, and added USB ports for lights, charging, et cetera.
Below, the rear bench converts to a fold-out bed as well, and slides fore-aft on rails, for extra cargo capacity behind it. The front seats swivel as captains chairs, to face inward, and there’s an integrated table, too. The package includes extra USB power ports, a second battery for campsite power, and privacy curtains throughout, including for the windshield.
You can bake more into the pie if you’d like, too.
Options include integrated roof solar panels, an awning, bug screens that tuck into the sliding door/rear hatch, and a tent that tethers off the rear liftgate. Also, Mercedes touts an optional kitchen that slides out of the hatch. We presume this is a stove unit and shelving on rails, though we haven’t seen this setup.
In the plus corner, we will say the Metris is the only model in the astonishingly mediocre van space that’s actually enjoyable to drive. Partly this is because it’s exceedingly sedanlike, tackling curves if not quite with sporty verve, at least capably and confidently.
And this is in part because Mercedes makes standard a feature called Crosswind Assist, which uses the stability control system to counter the forces of an oncoming or passing truck, not to mention straight-up Mother Nature-created Siroccos and Chinooks. The experience is like a subtle hand helping keep you in your lane, which is exceedingly helpful and very much contrary to the usual sailing-a-three-masted-schooner sensation of piloting other brick-like rigs across six lanes of Interstate.
The other big deal: The Metris is quiet! Shockingly quiet for a boxy vehicle, and so it’s a very good basis for what you might think of as a home-away-from-home, and is much more refined than something like the Ford Transit, which is really targeted at commercial customers.
But, even though the Metris is reasonably peppy, with 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque from its four-cylinder, 2.0-liter gas engine, we do wonder if the extra payload and wind resistance of the pop-top won’t make climbing a long uphill grade—like ascending into the Rockies—a sloglike challenge. Also, it’s only offered with rear-wheel drive, and ground clearance is a strictly carlike 3.8 inches. (Mind you, that’s for the lowest parts of the undercarriage and the rest is closer to 6 inches, but the Metris is still built for pavement or, at most, the gentlest of fire roads.)
Peace Vans does offer a 1.5-inch lift kit, but that’s not being sold through Mercedes-Benz, unfortunately. Then again, image-wise, Mercedes is offering to let you wrap yours in up to 200 different 3M configurations. We’re hoping these are cool and tasteful rather than garish, because: Mercedes.
It’s easy to scream that the price of admission for the Weekender is far too expensive; just how many weekend rentals of other people’s vans could you pack into your summer before you’d get close to the ding of annual payments on a Metris Weekender? But there’s not a lot of downside for Mercedes. They already sell the Metris here, and if they sell some more as Weekenders maybe that also means other brands will up their camper conversation innovation game. And that would definitely be a good thing now wouldn’t it.