ON THE AUTO TRAIL
We finally gets our hands on the latest Euro import…
by Malcolm Street
Imported motorhomes, particularly those from Britain and Europe, were rare in Australia until recently. That’s in contrast to New Zealand, where companies like Barrons imported a considerable variety. Aussies visiting NZ and desiring a Euro-built motorhome were often heard to ask a few hard questions regarding that!
There were a number of reasons for the disparity, but it was mostly due to compliance and warranty matters requiring a considerable amount of work, time and paperwork in Australia. The last few years has seen a slow increase in the availability of imported Euro motorhomes and one of the latest is the British-built Auto Trail Delaware. The model has been in Australia for some months now, but Sydney RV dealer Jeremy Pearce (from whence our review motorhome came) was keen to ensure all compliance and warranty matters were signed off before making the motorhomes available.
There's nothing unusual about the base vehicle used for the Delaware conversion: It’s the very familiar Fiat Ducato cab-chassis, to which Auto Trail has fitted the largest and most powerful of the Fiat turbo diesels – the 3.0 litre, 132 kW unit (in Australia, at least). My review Delaware came fitted with what Auto Trail calls its Hi-Line body; that is it has a Luton peak high enough to accommodate an over-cab bed. All the body work is made from Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) – that’s fibreglass to you and me. Items like the Luton, side skirts and rear panel are moulded.
Some RV manufacturers are a bit coy about how their motorhomes are put together. I was wondering about the Auto Trail body structure and so asked a few questions. I have to say I received quite a detailed reply, as follows:
"The motorhome floor is a sandwich composite panel that is made up of a timber frame around the outside of the floor. This has 3 mm vinyl covered exterior plywood surface that faces the exterior of the panel (i.e. the ground), 35 mm of Styrofoam for the insulation, and a 5 mm plywood sheet on the top surface (i.e. the inside). This is bonded together to give a floor thickness of 43 mm.”
“The sides are a sandwich composite made up in a similar way i.e. a timber frame around the outside of the panel with a 3mm decorative covered plywood covering on the inside surface. A 35 mm of polystyrene sheet for the insulation and a 1.7 mm GRP outer surface (i.e. the surface you see on the outside of the vehicle) completes the panel. This gives a side wall thickness of almost 40 mm.”
“The rear panel is similar to the side walls except the panel is bonded with an aluminium sheet on the outside as this is covered by the moulded GRP back panel.”
“The roof is also a similar construction to the sidewalls but the outer sheet is another sheet of 3mm plywood (so 3mm ply, 35mm polystyrene, 3mm plywood) as this is covered by the moulded GRP roof panel”. How’s that for open and honest?
Moving on, all windows except for the front Skyview hatch are Polyplastic acrylic items and are top hinged, except for a slider that is partly behind the opened entry door. Now there's a novel idea: A sliding window that doesn't hit the opened door – not sure why a few other local manufacturers can't seem to catch on to that. On the subject of the entry door, it's a standard Euro-style moulded item with a non-opening window, moulded garbage bin, storage tray and umbrella holder – complete with umbrella! Having not long returned from a somewhat damp trip to Britain and France, I can understand the latter item’s inclusion! There is a separate concertina style insect screen, but it's not a security item.
Many a European motorhome suffers from a lack of external storage space, but that's not really an issue here. A large tunnel boot across the rear, complete with light and power point, will cope with most things you could think of. In case it’s not enough there’s a small storage bin mid-offside, as well as several storage trays in the lower waist area.
One of the features this motorhome has is a moulded spare wheel cover at the rear. However, it cannot legally be used to hold the spare wheel in Australia.The reason? In Britain the legal length of the rear overhang (measured from the centre of the rear wheel) cannot exceed 65 per cent of the length between the centres of the front and rear axles. In Australia it's only 60 per cent and with the spare wheel in place, the overhang is over-length. Sydney RV suggests the spare wheel be stashed in the boot and the moulded cover used for hoses and the like.
Behind the passenger door, the gas cylinder bin will hold two 9.0 kg cylinders. A slight issue there is the way it's opened. Obviously designed to prevent cylinder theft, there's a lever inside the motorhome behind the passenger seat. My thought on this, given what I understand to be current gas legislation in both Australia and New Zealand (we use the same standard) , is if a gas cylinder is in use (turned on) then leave the bin door wedged open slightly somehow or other.
Although not fully recessed, the awning is partially set back into the body, which does gives the impression of being part of the original design rather than an add-on.
On The Road
Being a 132 kW diesel Fiat Ducato driving through the six-speed AMT gearbox and riding on a lower-and-wider-tracked Fiat chassis (compared to the normal Fiat commercial item), what more can I say? It handles like most other Ducato-based motorhomes rolling around Australia. One item of note is that on my test run through the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, there were the usual motorhome noises but the Auto Trail did seem quieter than usual. Behind the wheel, all the expected items were close to hand and the dashboard-fitted multi-media unit includes a GPS Sat Nav, plus Bluetooth for connecting phones, iPods and the like.
I have to say there is something a little familiar about the internal layout. Obviously in a 7.9 m motorhome sans slide-out there are a limited number of layouts that can be used, but from experience this one works well.
With the entry door more or less mid motorhome, it allows for a front lounge/dining area that incorporates swivelling cab seats. Taking up most of the mid section is the catering department, leaving space for a split bathroom ahead of a rear bedroom.
Decor is very much the faux timber look (over lightweight Euro ply), which is saved nicely by the lighter shades of the ceiling and walls, not to mention large roof hatches and Skyview above the driver's cab. Taking the edge off things, quite literally, are curved edges on all the overhead lockers. There are several well placed mirrors; one by the entry door and the other above one of the foot-of-bed cabinets.
Up front, the two swivelled cab seats mesh in nicely with the sideways facing lounges. Behind the passenger seat there's a small round table that can be swung into action, but when more table space is required a freestanding table is readily available. I should point out that the bed above the cab can easily be lifted up out of the way when not needed. Windows on both sides, as well as the normal driver's cab, give a good view of the outside world and the Skyview hatch provides light, ventilation (even when driving along) and a good view of the stars. In the D'oh category, I did spend a bit of time sitting on the lounge wondering where the TV was before finally noticing the fold down TV/DVD unit mounted on the cab roof, between the seats. My point? It's readily seen from both the sideways facing seats but not obtrusive at all. Overhead lockers on both sides provide a generous amount of shelved storage space, too.
Time to Eat
Looking a bit familiar is the L-shaped kitchen bench arrangement. Butted up against the wall is a four burner cooktop/grill/oven, which leaves room for a moderate amount of bench area between it and the stainless steel sink avec drainer ‘around the corner.’ The acrylic splash back that prevents water getting onto the nearby lounge is a good idea, but did seem a bit vulnerable to clumsy handling.
That other essential in the cooking department – a microwave – is located above the cooktop at eye height in the overhead locker area. That still leaves storage space in the adjoining locker, along with that under the island cabinet, which consists of both wire baskets and a shelved area. On the opposite side from the kitchen bench, the two door 190-litre fridge has a largish cupboard above, neatly closed off with roller shutter style doors.
In the rear the main bedroom looks a fairly standard arrangement, with a 1.9 m x 1.42 m (6 ft 3 in x 4 ft 8 in) bed centre stage. On either side wardrobes (fitted with lights) and bedside cabinets supply the required hanging and bedside shelf space. At the foot of the bed, one of the two cabinets acts as a dirty laundry bin rather than a cupboard. Under the bed, even with the space heater being there, storage area is available.
In front of the bedroom the split bathroom has all the desirable features. Instead of the more usual single door, the shower cubicle has a split door. Although not overly big there should be room from most users to turn around without banging their elbows.
On the opposite side it's possible to use the vanity sink and cupboard area without falling over the Thetford cassette toilet. Instead of shelves the shaving cabinet comes fitted with wire baskets.
What I Think
Having seen a few British motorhomes in NZ and Britain, the Auto Trail Delaware is very much a representative product. Inside, the general layout is mostly well proportioned, with each area not oversized at the expense of another.
Anyone desiring a motorhome from the Old Dart (and I know there are a few who are) won't need to look much further. The Delaware, generally speaking, ticks all the boxes and comes with a few of those nice little touches that the Euro motorhomes are renowned for.
- Smooth looking body
- Fiat Ducato 180 multijet used as base vehicle
- Good external storage
- Well designed interior
- Comfortable front lounge/dining
- Front Skyview hatch
- Lack of security screen door
- Flimsy splash back panel in kitchen
- Gas bin door lock
Sydney RV Group
13-15 Lemko Pl
Penrith NSW 2750 http://goo.gl/maps/xrCu8
T: (02) 4722 3444