- Compact and easy to attach or remove
- Remote control for hydraulic jacks
- Surprisingly airy for such a small unit
- Well built and a nice nod to classic “backpack” style campers of the past
- Feels nimble on the road
Meet the Cute Campa, an American-made slide-on unit that's small and light enough to attach to a standard one-tonne pick-up. It's a product that has prompted a fair bit of nostalgia for the Stag campers of years gone by, says Mal Brady, sales director of Tauranga-based On The Way RV, but there's more to it than that: he reckons an attractive price and the fact that the Cute Campa can be attached or removed in minutes makes it a winning proposition.
"We've sold a couple of these types of product on behalf of customers in the past," says Brady. "We've always thought there's a really good potential market for these things in New Zealand."
Design and attachment
The Cute Campa is being offered in two configurations: the price-leader is the 690 for $29,950, which is suitable for a standard light commercial. It sleeps three (one double, one single) and boasts a kitchen area, plenty of cupboard/closet space and even a small removable table for dining. Naturally, it would also be possible to sleep additional people in the ute itself: there's a small opening window at the base of the double bed that could easily allow communication with the cabin of the pick-up.
What the 690 doesn't have is any bathroom facilities. As Brady says: "You're talking a chemical toilet situation here".
That'll be an acceptable compromise for many, but for those who insist on a toilet/bathroom there's the larger 790 at $37,850. You'll need the likes of a Toyota Land Cruiser 70-series flat-deck or large American pick-up to haul it.
Getting the Cute Campa on and off the ute is a fast process once you've had a bit of practice, says Brady. You have to get the angle right backing in – but once you've done that it's easily lowered into the tray. There's a handy remote control provided for the powered jacks that can raise or lower all four together or each one individually. Being able to walk around the vehicle is a boon, although there's also the facility to plug the remote into a power point should you get caught with a flat battery.
On The Way RV is still experimenting with attachment options, but version one on the vehicle shown here worked just fine, with four small aluminium stays and links on each corner. The tie-downs are included in the purchase price, although fitment to the vehicle is extra as each ute will be slightly different.
On the road the whole set-up feels remarkably nimble. The centre of gravity remains relatively low and the 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine of the Ford Ranger provided strong performance despite the extra 500kg. The only real minus is the sight of the Campa's rear jacks dangling in your rearview mirror. They're not low enough to be an issue in terms of clearance, but they are a bit distracting and certainly look odd when you're driving along.
It's a simple and well-established idea: a camper that attaches to the back of a ute. Brady isn't claiming the Cute Campa is a radical departure from anything that has come before, but he does believe the combination of a very competitive price and ease-of-use means the Cute Campa will find a niche in the market very quickly.
"Obviously there's ute-based stuff around like the Explorer Compass. That's a really good product, beautifully made, but the camper is permanently fixed to the vehicle. We're not trying to compete with that. This thing's a lot cheaper and it can come on and off."
And there is a lot of potential for the 690. When we spoke with Mal he was preparing the Campa for the National Agricultural Fieldays show: "Under $30k is a very do-able price and farmers have all got these utes anyway, so we're hoping it'll just go bang-bang-bang.
"The feedback so far has been brilliant and these campers just suit Kiwis: you don't need a Warrant of Fitness, you just whack it on the back and go. And you can still tow your boat if you want."
What's in a name?
You're probably wondering why you haven't heard of the Cute Campa brand before. That's easy: On The Way RV has just made it up. These slide-on campers are actually produced by Travel Lite in the States and that's the name they usually wear. However, after the first units surfaced in New Zealand there were legal protestations from a local motorhome manufacturer.
There’s a lot to like about the Cute Campa, not least the price and the ease of use. The 690 model featured here slots into the tray of a standard light commercial, it's quick to remove and it's useful as a spare sleeping space in the back yard, even when you're not on holiday. The larger 790 is somewhat limited by the need for a larger base vehicle – but if you can live without the bathroom facilities, the smaller 690 actually has a more airy, less cluttered feel inside.
The 790 is 200mm longer and 130mm wider than the 690, although it's hard to pick from the outside. The bathroom unit is located right beside the back door where you'd find the kitchen in the smaller Campa, and you also get the benefit of a booth-style seating area around the dining table. The double bed is slightly larger: 2030mm long compared with 1950mm in the 690, although the width is same in either model.
The main drawback is the extra weight: 790kg compared with the 690's 500kg. That, and the extra exterior dimension, means that the 790 requires a much larger base vehicle.
Cute Campa 690
2000mm (excluding jacks)
Double (1950x1400mm plus dinette/single)