Camping should be about embracing an outdoor lifestyle and soaking in the serenity with relaxing hours by the campfire (beer in hand optional).
But for many, the joys of being in the bush can be tempered by the time it takes between arriving at camp and finally stretching your legs in front of a fire. Setting up some campers can test your temper — and your relationships.
Around eight years back, the development team at Mars Campers took these time and frustration issues on board. They reckoned there should be a quicker, near-effortless solution to setting up a camper. Initially, they experimented with a soft floor model in which the steel poles were replaced with blow up supports. However, the prototypes proved inefficient, and the project was shelved for several years while remaining in the back of their minds. Now, with the introduction of their roomy dual fold Space X, the idea of a self-erecting camper was brought to reality, and the Space X Air has been landed.
Mars Campers have been a popular choice for over 16 years and stand as a premium and tested importer with thousands of examples on the road here in Australia. Its facilities in Melbourne and Brisbane assemble an extensive number of campers and hybrids from imported and locally sourced components to ensure the quality and durability of the products. A five-year structural warranty applies across the range.
Built on a 70x 50x 4mm shield-coated and hot-dipped galvanised chassis, the Camper rides on Mars trailing arm suspension with coil springs and twin shock absorbers on each side. Underneath are two 100L water tanks and a compartment for the twin 100Ah batteries, which, in an intelligent move, are accessed through the floor.
Up front, Mars uses a 3500kg McHitch Uniguide connection for its ease of hitching up and its wide articulation over uneven ground. The 10” ARC jockey wheel is heavy-duty construction, and its swing-away action makes hitching easy and saves on finding a place to store it. Heavy-duty stone guards on the extended 120x 60 x4mm A-frame protect 20L jerry cans and sit aside a checkerplate box for the two nine kg gas bottles. I like this arrangement as it keeps the bottles safe from damage and theft.
Further back along the kerb side, we find a compartment for a large 90x 540x 530mm fridge slide, then a generous slide-out pantry. Then further along is the access door and a hatch for the external electrical panel with switches and fuses for the various circuits and gauges for power and water. There’s also a set of waterproof speakers here and a mount for the 24” television that comes as standard.
The stainless steel slide-out kitchen is a ripper with a three burner Dometic cooktop, sink and light. There’s a fantastic amount of room on the double fold benchtop and functional storage, including a sizeable cutlery drawer.
Across the back is a sturdy swing-away bar with two stylish weatherproof storage bins on either side of the spare wheel.
In appearance, the new version shares the low lines and sporty style of the standard Space X model. It’s a low-profile camper with a travel height of just 1.56m, so it will ride neatly behind your tow vehicle and, with the wheels set well back, it tows smoothly.
The sheet metal body is finished in glossy dark grey, which was soon covered in dust on our drive into the Bunyip Forest east of Melbourne. Tare weight is 1960kg, and the 650kg payload takes the maximum weight to 2600kg, so a medium-sized tow vehicle will be needed. The Mars Hilux was ideal, but plenty of the wagon-style 4WDs will be perfect too.
The Camper handled the corrugations beautifully and found the going easy through the winding forest tracks. It was in its element in this sort of country because, while it might not have the ground clearance of an extreme offroader, it will handle long distances of corrugations and miles of rough roads. Helping in more uneven terrain are a 19-degree departure angle for some deeper creek crossings and a two-stage alloy step that can be quickly removed and stored out of the way.
When it came time to set up the Space X Air, we found a relatively flat clearing to allow the automatic steady legs room to operate efficiently. The next task is to open the eight latches holding the lids in place. Then, with the rear tyre carrier moved to the side, the front and rear floor sections open out on rams to form the beds. Once the ends are in place, a switch in a panel on the offside of the camper operates the pump to inflate the tent’s tubes.
Raising the roof takes around 30 seconds, and the whole process takes approximately three minutes. It’s a hassle-free process, and there’s no need to go in the tent to struggle with adjusting and setting steel rods like you would on most campers. We used the controls on the camper, but if you want to sit back and watch things unfold, there’s a remote control as well, which would be even easier.
Room to Move
With the camper erected, the interior of the Space X air is immense. East-west double beds in the front and rear have good separation for the sleeping spaces, and dividing curtains offer a good level of privacy.
The U-shaped lounge in the main body of the camper will seat half a dozen adults, and there are infills to make a third double bed if needed. A handy switch for the lights, a 20L drinks fridge and an excellent sound system and DVD player will keep you entertained if the weather is crook. Oh, and there’s a 6mx 2.5m blow up annex as standard for more undercover shelter if you are settled in for a few days.
The Bottom Line
The Mars solves the age-old dilemma of setting up camp quickly so you can settle back and enjoy the outdoors. Automatic steady legs and lid opening on an electric actuator, as well as the fast blow-up tent opening at the flick of a switch, are all revolutionary.
The Space X Air is set to take off as a popular choice in the mid-range camper market, and it should change a lot of negative perceptions about camping.
FIT FOR INTENDED PURPOSE 7.5/10
“The family will love the size and ease of use”
“You must give credit for such an improvement in the setup”
“Optional solar, two 100ah batteries and 100L water”
QUALITY OF FINISH 7.5/10
“Overall impressive with some rough edges”
BUILD QUALITY 7/10
“Seems strong and its’ been around for long enough to trust”
OFF-ROAD ABILITY: 7/10
“Decent suspension but marginal ground clearance”
“Roomy with great beds and seating”
EASE OF USE 8/10
“Auto everything from a control panel. East-west beds can be a worry”
VALUE FOR MONEY 8/10
“Good buying at $39,990”
“Wow the campsite with your speedy setup”
CAMPER TRAILER SPECS
Mars space X Air
Ball weight 180kg
Suspension Mars independent trailing arm with twin shock absorbers
Brakes 12” drum
Chassis 70x50x4mm; 120x60x4mm A-frame mm hot-dip galvanised
Wheels 16” Alloy rims
Tyres 265x75 MT
Style dual fold with auto erect tent
Body size 5900mm (L) x 2430mm (W) x 1560mmtravel 2100mm (H)erected
Towed length 5900mm
Awning size 4.5 x 2.5m
Gas cylinders 2 x 9kg
Water 2x 90L
Hot water service
Cooktop Dometic three-burner (external)
Kitchen Slide-out sink, cooker and bench space
Battery 2 x 100Ah AGM