The minivan is an underappreciated vehicle in the marketplace. You can use them to haul around an entire family, you can use them for work, and when you’re on the road, you can use them as a home on wheels, too. I’m sort of surprised that I don’t see more minivans turned into campers. Calèche Customs, a Las Vegas-based camper van builder, wants more Americans to sleep in a minivan on their next trip. For $16,000, the company will sell you the Unicamp Univan RT CL, a slim rooftop tent that you access through the van’s sunroof.
Back at the end of March, I wrote about the Jeep Grand Wagoneer Overland Concept. This concept, which made its debut at the 57th annual Easter Jeep Safari, was more than a pairing of a Grand Wagoneer and a roof tent. Instead, the Grand Wagoneer had a hard-sided camper on its roof and it was integrated with the Jeep so that you could pass through the roof of the Jeep and into the camper without going outside. That’s great for when the weather is particularly crummy and you just want to get some sleep. These types of roof tent arrangements do exist outside of concepts. The Ursa Minor Jeep camper and the Ferretti Roof Top Tent both have trap doors that allow access from the vehicle. Now, the Kia Carnival gets its own.
First spotted by New Atlas, this roof tent’s arrival in America has a lot to do with the small van apocalypse. Calèche Customs is a shop that normally specializes in upfitting Mercedes-Benz vans with a pop-top tent roof, skylights, and custom upholstery. The company focused on doing this work in Sprinter and Metris models. However, Mercedes, much like Ford, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Ram, has decided to end sales of the Metris in America. Current owners can still have their Metris vans given the Calèche Customs treatment, but Calèche Customs has found a new small van to work with.
A Great Platform To Work With
The van chosen by Calèche Customs is the Kia Carnival, a minivan with a 203-inch length that matches the outgoing Metris. Kia’s van used to be called the Sedona in America. Back in 2021, the fourth generation made its American debut, and with it came the new Carnival name. Well, the name was new for us, anyway, because it had already been in use in other markets since the first vans entered production in 1998.
The Carnival’s interior gives off private jet vibes with its rear seat infotainment systems and second-row lounge seating. With a push of a button, the second row of seats turns into comfortable recliners with heating and ventilation. The seats can also fold into tables for the third-row occupants. In some markets (which does not include the United States), the second-row seats swivel around to face the third row.
What I’m getting at here is that the Carnival seems like it would make a decent camper. To make that happen, Calèche Customs looked at the Carnival’s home market of South Korea. Out there is an outfit called Unicamp, which has built over 4,000 campers out of Kia and Hyundai vans since its founding in 2011. Unicamps makes a unit it calls the Univan RT CL, and it’s more than just a roof tent anchored to a rack, check it out:
The Unicamp Univan RT CL
Yep, this roof tent sits flush with the van’s roof. When the Univan RT CL is closed, it resembles a slim roof cargo box. When it’s open, you get a tent with a 40 x 85-inch bed for two. What I really like about this is because it sits flush with the roof, you get an integrated pass-through like that Jeep Grand Wagoneer Overland Concept has. No getting wet or dirty on the way into the tent!
Here’s a video of the Unicamp Univan RT CL in action. You can see how the roof tent basically replaces the whole roof panel:
Unicamp is bringing some nice technology to the table, too. The roof tent is opened and closed electrically in just 5 seconds. The tent is tied to the vehicle’s systems and can be opened with the van’s Smart Key or with a button in the interior. There’s more, as the tent also has an automatic locking system and when you’re not sleeping, the bed can be moved out of the way to give the van more headroom.
The pop-top tent is built out of reinforced thermosetting plastic and Unicamp says that the tent maintains the van’s original roof strength. Unicamp’s site shows the tent undergoing a roof crush test in South Korea. Further, Unicamp says that the tent complies with FMVSS No. 216 Roof Crush Resistance standards. Those requirements are:
S5.1 When the test device described in S6 is used to apply a force to a vehicle’s roof in accordance with S7, first to one side of the roof and then to the other side of the roof:
(a) The lower surface of the test device must not move more than 127 millimeters, and
(b) No load greater than 222 Newtons (50 pounds) may be applied to the head form specified in S5.2 of 49 CFR 571.201 located at the head position of a 50th percentile adult male in accordance with S7.2 of this section.
Overall, I love what I’m seeing here. Sure, the Carnival isn’t a crossover or SUV with four-wheel-drive, but you do get a 3.5-liter V6 making 290 HP. It reminds me of the old Volkswagen EuroVan MV Weekender, but without the glass transmission that the VW was known for.
Awesome, But Pricey
If I have any bad news, it’s that the Unicamp Univan RT CL costs $16,000, and that’s currently the introductory rate. The full retail price is $18,000, though it’s not stated when the introductory price ends. That said, it’s clear that this is more than just a tent to slap onto a roof rack. This is integrated with the van as if it was meant to be there.
If the tent alone isn’t enough for you, for $4,000, Unicamp will also sell you what it calls the “Modular Kitchen and Bed,” which is really a Ququq camping box imported from Germany. I wrote about the Ququq camping box before, but it’s a 110-pound box with a camp kitchen, a water jug, and a sink in it. You also get a 55-pound folding mattress to add even more sleeping space to your van. These are already on sale in America and Unicamp says that the first conversion has already been done.
Together with the roof tent, that’s $20,000 to $22,000 to convert a Kia Carnival into a camper. That’s a ton of money. And if you don’t already have a Kia Carnival, a 2023 van will set you back at least another $33,100 before destination charges or any options. Of course, there are more cost-effective ways to go camping in a van, including just buying a used camper van with a pop-top roof like this. But I do think it’s awesome that these exist for people who want a new camper van in that minivan form factor.
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Back in the early 2000s when I had an old Aerostar, I just took out the back seat and moved the middle to to the rear. Could fit four longboards inside and had room to sleep underneath them.
This seems cool, but I don’t expect to see many of these out in the wild at that price. The camper/bed on the roof is going to change the handling in a negative way and I’m betting this will no longer fit through a standard garage door. I would be shocked if it doesn’t introduce wind noise to the whole situation.
It also provides sleeping space for 2 people. One person in a couple is going to be driving around a minivan with a high roof and half a dozen empty seats all the time.
As an owner of a 2003 Weekender, I am waiting for the day the transmission shatters. I have already made friends with a local VW guru and entered discussions about the inevitable manual swap.
Edit to add: this is the most fun and useful vehicle I have ever owned.
A slightly odd vehicle to choose for such a tent,but hey,at least it’s usable for all other family duties.Maybe not such a dumb choice after all
Seems in line with the current inflated prices in the camper world.
Warning: At least in my area getting your hands on a Carnival is damn near impossible, and if you do, it’s certainly not going to cost 33k. Those low trim vans at MSRP from a KIA DEALER is, not shockingly, fantasy. I couldn’t even find one to test, and the sales people at the dealers I talked to immediately started licking their chops like the Tex Avery wolf.
Somehow it’s easier to get your hands on a Telluride, but I assume Kia is building those 10:1 over the Carnival right now.
They are getting written off easily too as parts are hard to get it seems insurance companies have a time limit on repairs
Uhgg. I hate hearing this. I really like the Carnival, and when/if I can get my wife to agree, I would love to get one.
My wife and I were really interested in getting one, but we couldn’t even find one to test drive, let alone purchase for a price resembling the sticker. We moved on to something else.
Turn your carnival into an amusement park
I actually don’t think that is a terribly bad price. That said, when Roadtrek took a Nissan NV van and made the N6 out of it about 10 years ago, I thought that was the way to go, but it only lasted a few years. IMO, a minivan is too small for this kind of conversion–unless you want a “weekender” as VW used to call it. But $55K for a weekender is a bit steep for some people. The N6 was perfect b/c it was possible to use as a daily driver yet slept four comfortably and had a fridge, microwave, water supply, etc. Of course, it was not great unless you had a couple of kids, otherwise it was too much vehicle for a daily driver.
But that’s the thing–for me, if I wanted a pop-top van, I would want something like that–it would be a potential daily driver that would sleep four. Nearly all van conversions and pop-top conversions don’t do that. You could camp with it–sure. You could also take it to the kids sports games and use it to change clothes, clean up. serve a meal, etc. If I want an actual RV that is not a daily driver, then I’m getting an actual class-c or something as it has way, way more room than a van, and honestly, they are not that much more in price these days.
Seems like there are a lot of Volkswagen Alltracks with all wheel drive and very leaky panoramic sunroofs that would be perfect for a conversion like this.
What is up with VW on that anyway? A friend of mine had a Jetta Sportwagen TDI (sold back during Dieselgate) and that sunroof was a leaky nightmare. He claims that buyback was one of the best days of his life (lol). VW was apparently cool with continuing to not address that for… 8 years? Pretty bad.
That’s pretty cool-I like it a lot. We can only hope that the concept trickles down and spurs manufacturing of more affordable products like it. I mean, $55k for a camper you can’t deal with bodily waste in is way steep to me.
Huh… maybe a hitch-mounted pop up with a cassette toilet?