Our Assessment of the ER

NOTE: this assessment was written about 6 months after buying the ER - late 2011. We finally sold the ER in 2018.

The thing we noticed, and like, first about the ER compared to our trusty Tiger was the bed. The bed is simply wonderful. We sleep along the axis of the vehicle so that either of us can get down out of the bed without disturbing the other. In addition there is sufficient space above the bed to allow us to sit up enough to read, and finally the bed side storage is sufficient for most of our clothing.

More generally the ER has a range of amenities that set it apart from the Tiger.

But then again you would expect it too as one can just about buy 3 Tigers for the price of 1 ER.

Ford Transmission

I cannot help thinking that some one made a big booboo when it came to the Ford transmission. Why would anyone build a 5-speed transmission and make only 4 of those gears (5,3,2,1) selectable. What happened to gear 4. I would dearly love to be able to manually select that gear, as well as any of the others. Compared to the 6-speed Allison with its manual select mode the Ford tranny simply misses the boat. Note that both vehicles I am talking about are 2008 model year vehicles.

From a driving perspective our Tiger/Chevy Duramax/Allison combination was a much more pleasant highway vehicle than the ER. The lighter Chevy had sufficient power to cruise like a (powerful) car and the soft suspension gave a nice ride even on rough black top or high quality gravel roads.

By contrast the ER is a truck (literally). The suspension is stiff, the ride harsh with a significant amount of pitching (rocking for and aft) on rough highways. Also the much heavier ER does not have the feeling of effortless power that the Chevy had. Hills actual require downshifts.

I am told by ER folks that I can fix the harshness of the ER ride by installing air bag suspension for a mere $20,000. For another $10,000 I can enhance the performance even farther by changing to Continental 335/80R20 tires.

When you get the vehicles off highway the story changes a lot. The higher ground clearance, bigger tires (295/60R22.5) and stiff suspension of the ER makes for a very stable vehicle. It does not display any (or at least no where near as much) body sway as our Tiger did. It will go over rocks that would have stopped our Tiger, or at least stopped us for fear of damaging that waste plumbing hanging off the tail of the Tiger.

I have also found that the manual locking hubs on our ER an unexpected bonus. Being able to run in low-range with the hubs unlocked provides a nice set of very low gears. Without the hubs locked the vehicle is in 2 wheel drive and without power to the front wheels steers easily.

But the ER is not running stock wheels and tires (or maybe not even stock suspension) I hear you say. Correct. A suspension lift, 37" tires and stiffer springs on a Tiger and it would (in all likelihood) be on an even footing with an ER in terms of where it could go. Particularly if that rear plumbing vulnerability was fixed. And those modes would cost a lot less than the $170,000 price difference between the two vehicles.

So if I make the suspension mods just mentioned will my Tiger be (as good as) an ER?

IMHO sadly no, and the reason has little to do with all those amenities such as:

  • the 90 gallons (over 700lbs) of fresh water,

  • the diesel stove (which I dont like),

  • the huge house battery pack,

  • the domestic AC unit that runs from the house batteries

  • the diesel air heater,

  • the hot water system heated by the engine (which I do like), nor

  • the lack of a generator (which I am still undecided about)

IMHO, the real difference (between and ER and a Tiger) is in the construction and mounting of the camper shell.

At the ER factory you can see complete, but unmounted, camper shells standing waiting for their internal fit-out. The strength and quality of these shells is unmistakable. They are made as a single self supporting unit using composite materials (fiber glass skins with a core of balsa or foam) and do not rely on the truck chassis or cab for any of their structural strength.

These camper shells are mounted using a 3 point mounting system that claims to isolates and protect the camper shell from any twisting in the truck frame. I was surprised how well this seems to work - see below.

The junction between the the camper shell and the truck cab deserves a mention. The rear window opening is enlarge only a little for the passageway between camper and cab and the roof of the cab is left completely intact. By making such a minor cut into the cab much of the cabs original rigidity seems to be retained. In addition the B-pillars in the crew cab version of the ER also contribute to cab rigidity according to Bill Swails.

By comparison our Tiger showed a degree of flex in the cab (evidenced through door shake, wear to the weather striping and a loose windshield). We attributed this to the large openings that were cut into the rear wall of the cab (completely removed), the roof where a large opening was cut, and the lack of b-pillars in our extended cab.

One final benefit arising from the camper shell construction that we have not yet really tested is insulation.

We were surprised how much of our travels in the Tiger were undertaken in cold weather - with temperatures below freezing, and in some cases well below freezing. We survived those trips, often with layers of ice visible on the inside of the camper, often with frozen water pipes, a few times with frozen and ruined water pumps, but always with the edges of the camper getting as cold as the outside regardless of our efforts to heat the vehicle. The reason for this was obvious to us, the Tiger has only a modest (some would say token) level of insulation in the walls and none in the floor and roof.

From examining ER campers during the construction process it appears that the entire camper shell is insulated as an integral part of the construction with balsa and foam ranging in thickness from 1.5" to 3.0". We hope this makes for a more comfortable winter house.

Observations from the road

I have only spent 2 weeks subjecting my ER to 4x4 trails and 1 week observing other ERs on those trails. But in that time what I have observed that the truck frame does indeed twist and the 3 point mounting can be seen working on rocky trails. The movement of the camper shell relative to the frame is amazing - up to 6" at the corner of the camper. Without the flexing mounted all that movement would be translated into stress being absorbed by, and distorting, the camper shell. The effect of frame twist can be demonstrated simply by parking an ER on uneven ground with the front axle tilted one way and the rear axle the other. What you will observe is that the rear bumper no longer lies parallel to the rear of the camper. See photos.

The ideal expedition vehicle

From the above discussion you would not be surprised to know that I think a strong camper shell (almost certainly composite construction), mounted using a 3 point mounting system, onto a 1-ton pickup, with an all up weight of 11,000-12,000 lbs would be a nearly ideal expedition vehicle. Unfortunately no body (including Provan, ER or GXV) is making one. Business opportunity anyone?

ER Weight and Fuel Usage

Back to our ER. A recent trip to a scale revealed that at the rear it weighs 10,600lbs ( equivalent to the total of my Tiger) and 6400 lbs at the from. With all of this weight to tote around you won't be surprised to hear that it's a bit of a guzzler. The best I have achieved on an interstate is 11 mpg (at 55mph). On forest roads it gets 6 mpg and on 4x4 trails 4.5 mpg. That is why it has 90 gallon fuel capacity and at current prices folks that $360 a fill.