Hymer’s Fiat Ducato-based Free camper van was one of the standouts of last year’s Düsseldorf Caravan Salon, a youthful adventure van with flip-away rear bed, vibrant graphics and available sleeping space for two or three singles, a couple or a family of four. This year, Hymer brings that same level of fun and flexibility to a more feature-loaded vehicle, launching a Free floor plan inside a Mercedes Sprinter. The new Free S 600 launches as a comfortable, luxurious camper van ready for whatever action-packed excursion you have in mind.
The Hymer Free grabbed our attention last year with its neon-green graphics, multipurpose load area and concise-yet-descriptive “Free” name. We’ve grown used to the popularity and functionality of the Fiat Ducato base van, but that van’s awkward shape and sad, droopy face were really the only factors bringing down our first impression.
The new Free S 600 fixes all that with the more becoming snout of the 593-cm (233-in) Mercedes Sprinter. In fact, the black-on-black debut van looks about as sleekly styled as a camper van can get, almost like a business van.
Hymer didn’t select the Mercedes Sprinter simply because it looks better and wears a three-pointed star on the grille. The real reasoning is to give its versatile Free floor plan a more upscale base vehicle with which to work, one that includes leading automotive technologies like voice-controlled infotainment, adaptive cruise control and active braking. And, yeah, that star on the grille can’t hurt, either.
The Free S 600 maintains much the same layout as the Fiat Free 600, albeit with some slight reconfiguration and shuffling of equipment around the dimensions of the Sprinter, which runs 6 cm (2.4 in) shorter and 5 cm (2 in) narrower than the Ducato, a reminder why Fiat’s large van is so popular for camper conversions. The central wet bathroom has been changed around, its small corner shower area pressed against the bench toilet and corner sink. There also appears to be less wardrobe space. Those that get claustrophobic standing in a tiny wet cell can always pull the sink/shower head out the window and enjoy a more open, natural shower space.
The Free’s signature rear load area versatility happily remains intact in the S 600. The transverse double bed can fold away during the day, clearing out a straight-shooting center aisle for packing in bikes, surfboards, skis and other long gear that just wouldn’t fit in other campers. In this way, the Sprinter Free maintains appeal for adventurous outdoor sports nuts who want to use their time away for a lot more than just driving and camping.
Beyond that, the Free S 600 is a straightforward camper van with four-seat front dinette, passenger-side kitchen block combining a glass-lid sink/dual-burner gas stove combo, 90L fridge and countertop extension. It comes standard with a 110L fresh water tank and 85L waste water tank with electric drainage, and Hymer offers its off-grid-ready lithium/lead acid Smart Battery System as an option.
The Sprinter itself brings a standard 143-hp diesel base engine to play with, offering well more muscle out of the gate than the base 114-hp Ducato Free 600. The Sprinter also packs in standard equipment like a keyless start, brake assist and crosswind assist. Distronic active distance assist, blind spot assist, 177-hp engine, nine-speed automatic transmission, 10.3-in MBUX infotainment with voice control, and parking package with 360-degree camera are all options, as is a pop-up sleeper roof with magnetic winter insulation.
Hymer seems rather committed to the front-wheel-drive Sprinter, singing the praises of its low floor and the 2-m (6.6-ft) standing height it opens up inside the Free. Its announcement materials make no mention of optional 4×4, though Hymer offers this option on its other Sprinter camper vans. Also, front-wheel drive is the main element distinguishing the Free S 600 from the more expensive Grand Canyon S, which features a similar floor plan but sees it planted atop rear-wheel drive (with listed 192-cm/6.3-ft standing height) or available all-wheel drive Sprinter variants. Still, all-wheel drive seems the perfect complement to the Free’s adventurous, gear-hauling design.
Hymer revealed the Free S 600 as part of the same new-product press conference that produced the all-new Sprinter DuoCar S. The latter was built from the ground up for van-touring couples and singles, but the Free S 600 actually seems better-suited for the average couple or solo adventurer. While the larger bathroom and more open living area of the DuoCar should prove a boon for full-time living and extended road trips, the foldaway rear bed of the Free S 600 seems much more useful for shorter, sportier trips that involve large equipment or loads of smaller gear. The two seem to line up something like #vanlife versus #vanholiday.
The Free S 600 will slide onto the market in the spring of 2020 (Northern Hemisphere) for an estimated base price of €49,990 (approx. US$56,275), a premium of €7,500 over the base 114-hp Fiat Ducato Free 600 and €4,810 over the Ducato Free 600 with more comparable 148-hp engine. Those Ducato prices are for the 2019 model year, though, and may increase for MY2020.
Written by C.C. Weiss for News Atlas, July 11, 2019