Auto-Sleeper’s Malvern is an English motorhome that’s a fine holiday destination in its own right…
By Malcolm Street
Undoubtedly one of the challenges for New Zealand motorhome manufacturers is that of imported motorhomes. Mostly from Britain, continental Europe and to a lesser degree the USA, the sheer weight of numbers of what are in many cases quite attractive motorhomes threatens to be overwhelming.
Well known NZ manufacturer Traillite has taken an interesting approach to dealing with the matter, summed up by the phrase, "If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Well almost. What the company has done is add a range of Auto-Sleeper motorhomes from Britain to its existing line up. The idea being that the Auto-Sleepers will complement the company's locally manufactured motorhomes and result in a substantial range of product with something for every taste and budget.
Auto-Sleeper is a well known manufacturer in Britain and has been around in New Zealand for quite a few years. Unusually, Auto-Sleeper is a private company, not part of a much larger group as quite a few well known Euro names are.
The Malvern rides on a Mercedes Benz Sprinter 516 CDI chassis, with a 120 kW/360 Nm 2.2 litre turbo-diesel driving through Benz's super-smooth seven speed auto gearbox. Unusually, this Sprinter chassis is rated with a GVM of 3880 kg rather than the usual 4490 kg, but a tare weight of 3362 kg leaves a load capacity of just over 500 kg.
Many Euro motorhomes have a distinctive look and the GRP (fibreglass) mouldings and composite walls of the Malvern are no exception. Undoubtedly one of the features that catches the eye is the big SkyView hatch above the driver's cab. Another that is far less obtrusive is the low profile Thule Omnistor awning mounted on the roof rather than the wall.
For storage, given the somewhat low profile of the body, apart from the offside gas bin there is one bin low down, behind the passenger door, and another at the rear nearside that gives access to the under bed area.
On the Road
To give the Malvern a test run I opted for a drive beside the Waikato River, which gives a good selection of road conditions, and being a Mercedes Benz there weren't any surprises. Certainly, given the low tare weight the 120 kW engine moves the Malvern along very nicely. Most of the necessary Benz fitted driver comforts and safety features are readily available, including the rather basic standard radio. An additional feature is the internal mirror fitted with a reversing camera display. On the road, interior squeaks and rattles were minimal and normal conversation could be maintained without trouble.
With the Malvern, Auto-Sleeper has made good use of the front cab area with its swivelling seats and they spin easily to mesh well with the sideways facing lounges. That leaves the entire mid area around the entry door for the kitchen area and the rear for an offside bathroom and nearside bed.
Décor is very much in the faux timber style, with nicely curved cabinets. On the construction front, all the doors are fitted with piano hinges, the drawers have metal runners and the handles are easy to use, even with arthritic fingers. There's no problem with natural light, thanks to a generous window area and three roof hatches, including the front SkyView. Given the number of ceiling, under locker, concealed strip and reading fittings, the electric light level provides plenty of illumination at all levels.
Some manufacturers seem to have some odd ideas on switch location, mostly to do with fitting convenience rather than the end user, but Auto-Sleeper is not in that category. Most essential switches (and battery control panel) are located above and around the doorway, which is convenient when entering or leaving. Additionally, the TV is fitted on the side of the fridge cabinet, so it’s not in the way when stowed and easily seen from the front seats when swung out.
One often-overlooked benefit of a swivel seat/sideways lounge setup is it’s comfortable and spacious, and looks good when stepping into the motorhome. Interesting to those who study such things is the angled back style of the overhead lockers, which reduces the crowding-in effect whilst offering good storage.
When dining time comes around the Malvern’s free standing table is hidden under the rear bed and has to be lifted out and set up each time. Although a swivelling table is more convenient (especially when using a proper mount not just a single pole), the downside is it can be in the way. In the end it comes down to preference, but if the front bed is used on a regular basis a swivel or pole mounted table is more fiddly than a free standing one. The two lounges convert to a bed simply by pulling out the timber slatted bed bases and rearranging the seat backs.
Under the lounges the nearside area is quite empty except for a small security safe, whilst the offside is mostly taken up by the gas cylinder bin and 230 V circuit breaker/12 V fuse box. Adjoining the latter are a 230 V power point and 5 V USB charger outlet. I'll give Auto-Sleeper 5 of 5 for fitting them, but 3 out of 5 for location. However, I did like the fact the extended seat partition also acts as a barrier to prevent plugs accidentally being knocked out.
Time to Eat
Fitted out mostly as you would expect, the kitchen comes with a smoked glass lidded stainless steel sink (without drainer) and a four-burner hob with grill and separate oven. Across the walkway are a 2-door 190-litre fridge and Daewoo microwave. Bench top area is minimal, but can be extended by a handy hinged flap. There are only two drawers, one being for cutlery, but also a couple of good sized cupboards. Above the kitchen bench are two lockers, one fitted with wine glass and bottle holders -– glasses included – although the wine bottles are not!
Adjoining the kitchen bench towards the rear is a large cabinet, more orientated to clothing than food, with a substantial hanging area above and a shelved area below.
Although the front seats can be made up into a bed, the main bed is at the rear. Measuring 1.98 m x 1.37 m (6 ft 5 in x 4 ft 6 in), it's decent sized even if it is tucked in the corner. On the subject of beds, it's curious that far too many RV manufacturers on both sides of the Tasman don't seem to appreciate that a bed length of more than 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in ) is almost mandatory these days.
Fitted above the bed head are two lockers and although bedside shelves are a bit tricky with this sort of bed design, the simple but effective magazine/reading glasses holders on both sides of this design are a welcome inclusion.
One of the problems with fitting shelving around a bed is associated with a fully hinged bed base. In this case it’s solved by splitting the bed base and hinging it at the rear, making it lighter to lift and giving better access. Under the bed there's not a great deal of storage as the Truma Combi heater takes up most of the front, leaving just the rear, which is also externally accessible.
Fitted into the rear corner and surprisingly more spacious than it appears is the bathroom. It comes with a separate shower cubicle, swivelling Thetford cassette toilet and vanity cabinet with a contemporary pedestal wash basin. I did like the space saving roller shutter door used on the vanity cupboard, too. Another interesting feature were the two wall mirrors – a simple but effective aid to space perception, but practical at the same time. Ventilation is courtesy of the large (frosted) window as there isn't a vent hatch. In many ways this is a good sized bathroom which, despite being compact, doesn’t suck space from the living area.
What I Think
Like many of its British/European contemporaries the Auto-Sleeper Malvern is a pleasantly deceptive motorhome and the layout is surprisingly liveable. Sure there are some who are not going to like the corner bed, but it's well sized, as is the rest of the motorhome.
I say it's a bit deceptive because there are a multitude of features that are small but add greatly to overall comfort. Items like wine glass holders with glasses; plate rack in an overhead locker; portable cooler with plates and cups; paper towel holder in kitchen cupboard; towel rail in the bathroom and the bedside pouches all make a difference. In short the Malvern, like the Cotswolds area of Britain it takes its name from, is going to make for a happy and memorable travel experience!
- Well proportioned layout
- Great day and night lighting levels
- Good size bathroom
- Good length main bed
- Nice looking motorhome
- Comfortable lounge/dining area
- No fixed dining table
- No insect/security screen on entry door
- Limited external storage
- No fixed dining table
- No bathroom vent hatch