We spend a weekend with the range-topping Independence.
Since it first started building motorhomes only five years ago, Queensland's Paradise Motor Homes has received numerous accolades from both the RV press and motoring public alike. And there's little wonder when you look at the quality of workmanship and the thought that has gone into its premium motorhome: the Independence.
Roomy and fitted out with all of the appliances one could possibly need for self-contained living, at nearly $450,000 it's aimed squarely at the top-end of the RV market. It's for those who want to get away from it all, yet still enjoy all of the comforts of home.
Sitting on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 518 CDI chassis with an overall length (travelling) of nearly seven metres and a turning circle of 15.6 metres, the Independence is relatively easy to manoeuvre. If you're stepping up from a large 4WD and van combo you'll adapt very quickly. It's powered by a grunty 3.0-litre, V6 turbo-diesel with 135kW and 400Nm teamed with a five-speed automatic transmission to provide ample power for highway cruising.
Take a close look at the front section of the Independence and you'll realise Paradise quite cleverly flares the cab section of the Mercedes Sprinter to better integrate it to the girth of the motorhome's body. Although these metal mods are done by Paradise, the vehicle retains a full Mercedes-Benz warranty.
The dual air-bag assisted rear suspension provides a smooth ride and is fully adjustable using dash-mounted controls. The dashboard is also home to an AM/FM radio and CD player with MP3 player compatibility. There's also a touch screen satellite-navigation system. This sat-nav's screen shows the view from the handy rear-mounted camera that can be activated in both reverse and forward gears. That allows it to function as a rear view mirror - essential in something this large - as well as a reversing camera. Also essential.
Once you're ready to make camp for the night a simple flick of the switch will activate the three slide-outs, increasing interior room around 80 per cent.
Popped, it's a gigantic 3.6 metres wide with a ceiling height of more than two metres. The slide-outs' design features a double seal and wiper system to eliminate leaks. The walls are an insulated fibreglass composite.
The Independence sleeps three in comfort. The double bed's mattress - mounted across the vehicle's mid-rear - is made from hi-tech memory foam developed by NASA and a bunk bed with child-safety netting is sited above the cabin.
Plenty of space makes the Independence a nice place to be. There's a two-seater lounge and with the three captain's chairs allowing an easy view of the 80cm LCD wall-mounted flat screen, entertaining (or being entertained) is easy. Standard, the Independence has satellite and digital TV and a DVD player, and the inbuilt surround sound system ensures a complete cinema experience.
There's plenty of storage inside and out. The external pressure-sealed (to keep out dust) storage bins are roomy and lockable, although access is limited when the slide-outs are extended. Inside there's a spacious two-metre long wardrobe with two sliding mirrored doors, two levels of hanging space and plenty of shelves and drawers. If that's not enough, anything else can be neatly tucked away under the bed, which can be raised by a small hydraulic lift operated from the dashboard.
The kitchen is located across the front of the Independence, with its three-plus-one stove (one element is electric) and sink installed in the deepest of the slide-outs on the driver's side. The fridge/freezer (all 230 litres of it) is on the other side of the vehicle in the opposite slide-out. It's next to the entry door making summer drink-grabbing easy.
There's plenty of storage in this kitchen and the overhead cupboards are fitted with anti-slide mats and plate holders. The pantry and drawers - plenty of those, too - slide on runners supported on gas struts, which secure them for travel in a more hi-tech manner than simple push-button latches. The detailing is attractive timber that, with the furniture's overall light pastel colour scheme, enhances the feeling of space.
There's plenty of food preparation space too, with a 2.7-metre hide-away bench easily accessible. As expected, there's a microwave oven and a rangehood and unlike some RV designs, the Independence has a window to gaze from while you're stirring the veges.
Interior comfort is improved by two roof-mounted low profile airconditioners that more evenly distribute cool air than one large unit. Heating is provided by a ducted central-heating unit operated by a wall-mounted thermostat control at the front of the van. Be warned, failure to press the right buttons in the right order, and you might not get the nice warm breeze you expected.
The shower and toilet is situated in another slide-out across the rear. It's almost house-sized; 3.5 metres wide and fitted with a twin shower, two vanities and a vacuum toilet accessible from the back of the vehicle. It's also the home of the washing machine. A useful addition would be a soap tray.
Outside, the Independence looks after sun-seeking inhabitants well. The awning stretches almost the entire length of the vehicle to provide plenty of undercover outdoors living area and an external BBQ is housed behind a hatch for dealing with the day's catch or those juicy steaks bought from the local butcher.
When you're travelling, water and power are two essentials. The Independence features an onboard water treatment/recycling plant, roof-top water catchment unit and aquovator capable of extracting 15 litres of water a day from humidity in the air.
On-board power is looked after by a pair of 225 amp-hour gel cell batteries that are charged from either the Mercedes-Benz or an automatic 240V battery charger. If there's nowhere to plug in, the gen-set takes care of things and earth leakage protection is fitted, too.
The Independence reduces its energy consumption with sensor-operated exterior LED lighting and future models will go one better, boasting this lighting throughout the vehicle, reducing power consumption compared to halogen lighting by a whopping 90 per cent.
The Independence is a very big thing, in a not so big package - that it can be driven on a standard car licence is brilliant. It's well-crafted and engineered with pretty much everything you could want from a motorhome. Space is the name of the game here and Paradise has really come up trumps in this regard.
Apart from adapting to the handling of a vehicle somewhat larger than your average family sedan, the Independence shouldn't present you with too many problems.
In fact the only thing it doesn't do is remind you to write home and let friends and family know you're whereabouts. But then again, if you choose to fit the optional satellite-tracking feature, perhaps you can just let them track you down instead.
Article published in Caravan + RV magazine, Spring 2007.
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