Updated: Feb 28
Suncamper’s 4x4 Conqueror takes the Sherwood E-Series to new heights and possibly beyond…
By Richard Robertson
This review is from the Dec/Jan 2020 /21 issue of iMotorhome Magazine
Not many motorhome manufacturers have iconic models that define them. Sydney-based Suncamper, however, does and it’s the Sherwood, which first rolled out of the factory when Adam got his licence and took Eve travelling (you know, after the ‘apple’ incident).
Sherwoods are ‘baby’ C-class motorhomes, meaning they’re small and have a purpose-built body with an over-cab bed that rides on a separate cab-chassis. In the Sherwood’s case that has almost always been Toyota’s HiLux, in two or four-wheel drive. Despite producing a wide range of models, the Sherwood is still Suncamper’s number-one best seller and that proves it’s a sound design.
Ideal for solo travellers and well-organised couples, the original Sherwood – now called the E-Series – has an east-west bed over the cab, a rear dinette for two to take advantage of the wrap-around windows, a mid-positioned kitchen and a (basic) bathroom. Fully self-contained yet legally able to park in a single car space, the Sherwood must have the longest continuous production history of any motorhome in Australia. It also has a hugely loyal following and has been proven time and again in the toughest conditions across the country.
There are now five Sherwood series – E, L, R, S and T – offering various combinations of queen or single beds, wet or dry bathrooms, dinette layouts, seating and sleeping capacities, but the E-Series ..”is still the most popular. Perhaps like Smith’s Chips, the original really is best?
Building on that popularity, Suncamper has upped the visual and capability ante with the tough-looking Conqueror: A rugged bells-and-whistles Sherwood with attitude, ability and appeal…
Oh What a Feeling!
As mentioned, Sherwoods have almost always ridden on Toyotas and the Conqueror is the first to ride on the latest generation of the SR 4x4 HiLux.
Toyota has needed to play catch up with the 2020 model HiLux due to increasingly stiff competition from the likes of the Ford Ranger and new Mazda BT-50. For starters, it has increased the gross vehicle mass (GVM) to 3050 kg. Suncamper increases this on its ‘standard’ 4x4 Sherwoods to 3500 kg, but the Conqueror raises it to 3620 kg. Fully engineer-certified, all GVM increases are accomplished through substantial suspension upgrades by specialist company, Pedders.
Even with all its bells and whistles the Conqueror has a ‘wet’ tare weight of 3140 kg, leaving a payload of 480 kg on the current 3620 kg GVM. The HiLux has a 5850 kg gross combination mass (GCM), meaning it can tow 2230 kg at the Conqueror’s upgraded GVM. However, Suncamper has fitted a 1500 kg-rated towbar, which should be more than enough for most users and provides an increased margin of safety. Suspension improvements aside, the Conqueror rolls on great looking 17-inch alloys shod with chunky Maxis Razar 265/70R 17 mud terrain tyres.
To keep ahead of the game, Toyota has upped the output of its 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel to 150 kW and 500 Nm. However, it still ‘only’ drives through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Ford’s Ranger has a 10-speed option, so 6 is beginning to look a little passé. Apart from the GVM upgrade, Suncamper has also replaced the standard 80-litre fuel tank with a 140-litre long-ranger.
The latest Hilux also benefits from Toyotas Safety Sense system, which builds on its recently attained five-star ANCAP safety rating. Safety Sense includes high-speed active (adaptive) cruise control, a pre-collision safety system with pedestrian and daylight cyclist detection, lane departure alert and road sign assist, plus the usual traction control, anti-lock braking, electronic stability control, etc. Add to that seven airbags and it's as far removed from an early HiLux as you can imaging. Thank goodness…
Inside, Toyota has added a new sound system, a touchscreen infotainment system with eight-inch display, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Many features can be operated from the multi-function steering wheel, although it's disappointing to see it isn’t leather trimmed. To all that, Suncamper has added a tyre pressure monitoring system with a separate dash-top digital display, a GME UHF CB radio, reversing camera and a Hema GPS HX1 navigation system with on and off-road maps.
Oh What a Features List!
More than simply a styling exercise, the Conqueror adds a wide range of features, many of which aren’t obvious, to enhance usability, utility and liveability (and possibly other words ending in ‘ity’).
Externally, the Conqueror gets a good looking Rival alloy front bumper. Not only ADR compliant for the airbags, it incorporates an underbody bash plate, two rated recovery points, is winch compatible and lighter than the original. Other upgrade and enhancement items comprise a 30-inch LED light bar on the bumper, a snorkel, bonnet scoop with protective Raptor-brand paint, a Toyota TRD grill, headlight surrounds, wide-angle and extendable towing mirrors, and front wheel-arch flares.
The bodywork also picks up roof-mounted brush bars, which at the front carry a 60-inch LED (flood) light bar plus 4 LED spotlights, switched in pairs, that have a 1.8 km range. No Conqueror driver is ever going to be afraid of the dark! There are also roof racks suitable for surfboards and/or kayaks. Another notable feature is protection from the scrub thanks to that hard wearing Raptor paint and also some aluminium protection plate. Meanwhile, an Anderson plug is provided that’s suitable for charging a tow vehicle, external accessories or for plugging-in a solar blanket, etc. Speaking of solar, up on the roof are 405-watts of solar panels, although the optional air-conditioner reduces that to 270 W via the removal of one of the panels. On the topic of power, the Conqueror come standard with a 120 amp-hour lithium house battery and 2000-watt sinewave inverter, plus dual USB charging points and a 12 V power outlet.
At the rear it's difficult to miss the Conqueror’s two massive spare wheels (locked on), which provide extra safety in remote areas, plus there's a neat roof ladder with four small, fold-up steps. That pretty much takes care of the obvious external extras, but here are some you mightn't or won't have noticed…
The Conqueror gets larger panoramic windows – specifically on the passenger side – than the standard E-Series. It also gets a large storage locker in the kerb-side rear corner with access under the lounge/dinette that’s suitable for a barbecue and longer items like fishing rods, while next to is a gas bayonet. Two electric entry steps and a black, three-metre wind-out awning are fitted, ditto the latest style security screen door which, unfortunately, doesn’t match the body colour. Speaking of the awning, there are LED lights on both sides and the rear for convenience and nighttime security, plus an illuminated entry grab-handle.
Because the Conqueror is intended for more extreme adventures it lacks a couple of features you might expect as standard: living area air conditioning and a microwave. However, careful thought has been given to its mission profile and the water system reflects this: The main tank carries 95-litres and solely serves the shower and sink, while a 43-litre tank delivers filtered drinking water to the kitchen. The cassette toilet has its own 15-litre tank, which means you're not flushing drinking water down the loo. While a little inconvenient at fill-up time, it makes the most of available water resources and the system is sure to be appreciated on extended remote trips. Both main water tanks have lockable individual fillers, plus there's a mains-pressure water connector for the shower and sink when in a caravan park. By the time you take into account the 20-litre capacity of the hot water system, 43-litres for the grey water tank and 19-litres for the toilet cassette, the Conqueror can carry up to 235-litres (235 kg) of water. Add to that about 116 kg for 140-litres of diesel and the 2 x 4 kg LPG cylinders, it means the Conqueror’s traditional ‘dry’ tare weight measurement (with 10-litres of fuel) is around 2857 kg, Suncamper advises.
Body ‘n Soul
Proven and durable, the Sherwood features a traditional steel frame base and fully-welded aluminium framework for the walls, rear and nose, plus a single-piece roof. Underneath, a rustproofing and sound deadening agent is applied to protect from noise and road damage The walls and roof are fully insulated with fire retardant foam and then pressed together. Because the framework is extensive, every fitting is screwed into a solid spot and the walls are more than 30 mm thick while the roof exceeds 45 mm. Inside, all cabinetry is plywood that has been glued and screwed together, not stapled. General Manager Cameron Harrison is a cabinetmaker by trade and takes great pride in the design and quality of Suncamper’s interiors.
While the floor plan of the Conqueror is pure Sherwood E-Series, it has been significantly upgraded. The cabinetry has been re-designed to give a modern, seamless look, with concealed but easily-operated latches on the overhead cupboards and a new style latch that's simple and robust, elsewhere. Leather upholstery is now the go, while the U-shaped dinette with removable table converts to a second bed if/when required. There’s good internal storage for the size of vehicle including a hanging wardrobe between the bathroom and sink unit and large overhead cupboards.
Other things to note include the relocation of the electrical control panel, etc, plus light switches to the wall between the kitchen bench and overhead cupboards, just inside the door. Stone benchtops are used throughout; there’s a new Thetford two-burner ceramic glass gas cook-top and a large, wooden bench extension that easily lifts into place over the stairwell. Above the cooker is a flush-mount rangehood, neatly hidden beneath the overhead cupboards, while touch-operated-and-dimmed LED strip lighting is also concealed there. As expected, the other interior lighting is LED and has a couple of switching options to reduce electrical load and/or suit ‘the mood’.
A new Thetford compressor fridge sits beneath the cooker and it eliminates external venting, significantly reducing the chance of dust ingress. It circulates air internally, drawing-in cooler air underneath and venting warm air out the top, between it and the cabinet. It will be interesting to see how effective this is in more extreme conditions and if it noticeably raises the Conqueror’s internal temperature. Across the aisle in its own cabinet is the new enamelled black sink with black glass lid and matching tap. It includes a removable drain board, cutting board, wash bowl and draining rack; all of which fit neatly together and sit in the sink, under the lid, whilst travelling. As mentioned, there is a separate filtered drinking water supply, and tap, that has a cartridge-type filter under the sink.
Two excellent inclusions for remote adventures year-round are a ducted Webasto diesel heater with digital controller and 12-volt Sirocco fan; the latter positioned above the stairwell so it can be swivelled to cool the living area or bed. Also on a swing-out arm is the digital TV, above the sink, which can also be viewed from the dinette or bed. Speaking of the bed, it’s an east-west queen-size and the Conqueror has a revised step and additional grab handle for easier access. There are also blue LED reading lights above the bed head (kerbside), while a large over-bed hatch, with white LEDs in the surrounds, and windows at both ends should provide plenty of ventilation.
The only part of the Conqueror I can see that remains untouched from the standard Sherwood E-Series is the bathroom. Directly opposite the entry door, between the bed and wardrobe, it's a basic all-in-one wet design. Features comprise an opaque door, Thetford bench-style cassette toilet, small, corner hand basin, flick mixer tap with an extendable hose that doubles as the shower, a fold-out clothes line, mirror, LED light and a fan roof hatch. There is no storage space nor room for swinging cats, but in this size vehicle it’s what you'd expect.
I only had half a day in the Conqueror and it had been awhile since I'd driven any Sherwood. However, it didn't take long for the familiarity to return. Being a 4x4 with revised suspension and larger tyres, you sit quite high and the elevated ride-height felt more akin to a van than even a bread-and-butter 4x4 Sherwood.
Obviously there’s no walk-through cab and due to Toyota’s increased safety provisions in the roof structure, only a small hatch is now available to access the cab from the living area or vv. Actually, you’d probably only do it from the living area, feet first, and then only if you absolutely had to. Otherwise, it’s get out and walk around. That, perhaps, is the biggest limitation of this style of vehicle and not something exclusive to the Sherwood. On the plus side, the cab’s compact size, along with the front and side body overhang, means the cab is well shaded and the air conditioning should have little trouble proving effective in tough conditions.
The new HiLux is a comfortable and high-tech office that will take a bit of time to get to know in full detail. On the test vehicle, the positioning of the large reversing camera display plus the GPS essentially obscured the view through the centre of the windscreen, but this will be addressed in production. Side visibility was excellent thanks to the large towing mirrors, split almost 50/50 between the upper, electrically-adjustable flat glass section and the lower, convex wide-angle mirrors.
Performance was surprisingly brisk, with the gearbox proving a slick shifter. Engine noise was reasonably subdued except under heavier acceleration or if it dropped back a gear on a bigger hill to maintain cruise-control speed. Ride comfort was also good, partially due to Toyota’s seats but also to the well-sorted suspension. Despite the GVM upgrade, the ride was well damped and although there was noticeable thumping from the rear suspension over gaps in the dreaded Pennant Hills Rd and other surface irregularities, they were heard as much as felt. The increased ride height gives the Conqueror a higher centre of gravity and it was noticeable, although well controlled: After an initial pitch turning into a corner, the vehicle sat f