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RV Review: Ursa Minor ECamper

June 18, 2008
Filed under RV & Trailer Reviews

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Squint from a dozen yards away and you might think you’re looking at a memory from your distant past – a two-person camper van with just the right amount of room, an economical engine, and the size and maneuverability to go almost anywhere. Up close, it’s obvious what you’re looking at is a modern-day organic blending of a Honda Element all-wheel drive vehicle and an exquisitely built pop-top with a lofty, well-screened and protected sleeping platform for two. Ursa Minor (an outdoor equipment company that specializes in composite material products) adds its product to the existing roof of the Honda Element, creating the ECAMPER. Using super lightweight and strong composite carbon-fiber material, Ursa Minor creates a camper top that adds a mere 130 pounds to the vehicle and when latched down for travel only adds 4.5 inches to the vehicle’s overall height.

Look Inside The Ursa Minor ECamper

When unlatched (two latches are inside the Honda, two more are on the exterior leading edge of the camper) and pushed up with the help of gas support struts, a 7-foot by 4-foot sleeping compartment is revealed. The sides and the ends of the pop-top are made from Sunbrella fabric, a marine-grade product that is warranted for five years against loss of color or strength. Breathable zippered panels let moisture out, but can be closed for protection and for warmth. There are also zippered, screened panels for venting. For those occasions when no insects are out and about, both layers of panels can be unzipped to create a completely open sleeping platform.

The factory sunroof can be used as the pathway between the interior of the Element and the sleeping quarters above. If standing through the open sunroof, the open pop-top creates 6 feet, 5 inches of standing room from the Element’s floor. Two lightweight composite panels remain stowed out of the way until needed, but cover the sunroof to complete the deck for sleeping or relaxing up top.

The floor of the pop-top sleeping area is reinforced with structural composite members, with a 1-inch-thick piece of high-density foam added to provide a comfortable sleeping pad. Two 20-inch, adjustable goose-neck-style LED reading lamps, and an LED center domelight, provide illumination inside the pop-top. A master kill switch in the driver’s area shuts off the lights in the pop-top so they will not drain the Honda’s engine battery. You don’t have to raise the roof again to check-you simply throw the kill switch and you’re good to go.

Ursa Minor offers some options that can be added prior to customer delivery. These include Thule or Yakima roof rack mounts and carrier systems to allow for the cartage of kayaks, surfboards, bicycles, and even storage pods.

Ursa Minor ECamper Platform

The 3491-pound Ursa Minor ECAMPER vehicle has a maximum GVWR of 4450 pounds, so careful cargo planning is wise, considering there’s just 959 pounds of cargo capacity. Two people out for an adventure means about 300-350 pounds of cargo. You must also take into account the bikes or boats strapped on top. The two rear seats can be easily removed from the Element, giving you back 43 pounds (for each rear seat) of cargo carrying capacity.

How does the Ursa Minor vehicle do on gas mileage? Even though the base vehicle’s roofline is barely 5 inches higher, the composite top is designed to mimic the aerodynamic contours of the windshield and the top of the Honda. The vehicle runs anywhere from 18 to 24 mpg, depending on conditions and load.

An exceptionally versatile vehicle, the Ursa Minor ECAMPER can be used to bivouac at a favorite fishing spot, as a base camp for bicycle adventures, a weekend of surfing at Pismo, or for kayak and canoe trips. And when you must return home, the ECAMPER, with its overall (road-ready) height of 75 inches can be parked anywhere, including a typical residential carport or garage.

The way Ursa Minor works is simple. Clients bring their Honda Elements to its factory, where it takes about four working days to complete the modification/installation. So, you can either purchase a new Element and deliver it to Ursa Minor, or bring the company an older Element (2003-and-newer) to have the pop-top added. The ECAMPER makes it affordable to have a barebones (no built-in stove, fridge or toilet), but high-utility two-person (you could have a couple kids sleep inside the Element while the two of you snooze up top) camping vehicle that is compact and maneuverable enough to get into just about any campsite you choose.

Ursa Minor ECamper Specs

Base MSRP: $4300 (pop-top only)

Price as Tested: $5200 (pop-top only)

Overall Length: 14′ 2″

Overall Width: 6′

Travel Height: 75″

Unloaded Vehicle Weight (Element converted w/o options): 3491 lbs.

GVWR (Honda Element): 4450 lbs.

Sleeping Capacity: 2 persons

Optional Equipment (as tested): body-match paint, Thule roof rack systems, Hunter brush bar and rear light protectors, PIAA driving lights, Magna hood protector.

MANUFACTURER

Ursa Minor Vehicles

2244 Main St. #6

Chula Vista, CA 91911

619/424-9030

/ursaminorvehicles.com/

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