Auto Trail EKS

Published 15 November 2014 |

On the Auto Trail

Here’s a compact British coachbuilt with an unusually spacious floor plan…

by Malcolm Street


British company AutoTrail manufacturers a wide range of motorhomes; everything from large van conversions to 8.73 m (28 ft 7 in) coachbuilts. All use Fiat Ducato motive power, with the longer motorhomes using a tandem axle AL-KO chassis. One of the benefits of being a large manufacturer is the ability to offer a wide range of layouts. Unfortunately for those of us living in Australia, layout availability is much more limited. That's mostly due to the lengthy compliance process and associated costs, which invariably get passed on to the buyers. Kiwi buyers don't have that limiting factor quite so much and so have a much greater choice. One of my current favourites is the very snappy looking V-Line conversion: definitely a trend setter in large van conversions but sadly not available in Australia.


What is available is an EKS built on a Fiat Ducato Multijet 150 cab chassis.  At 6.4 m (21 ft) long it's a little different to the usual Australian layout, but has features that will certainly interest a number of readers. Like any AutoTrail motorhome the EKS is mostly built using laminated construction for the walls (40 mm), floor (45 mm) and part of the roof (40 mm). All the moulded panels are of course fibreglass. 


Profiling

Auto-Trail has three different front body profiles. There's the Super Lo-Line, which speaks for itself and has a very streamlined B-class motorhome front. Also available is the Lo-line, which is the same height as the Super but extends forward over the cab to give more storage space inside. Lastly there is the Hi-Line version which is large enough to contain a double bed in the over-cab Luton peak. All versions are available on the EKS but I reckon given the internal layout, the Hi-Line version – the subject of this review – offers the most potential.  


Given the fairly low height of the AL-KO chassis it's no surprise that external bin space is limited. Apart from the gas cylinder bin aft of the entry door there's an adjacent bin door that gives access to the under-seat area and a third bin at the driver’s side rear. This last one is a little awkward to get at, being low, but I figure is most suited to water and drainage hoses and the like. A neat moulding on the rear wall takes care of the spare wheel. Another feature at the rear is the lockable folding ladder for roof access. It's not an essential item that readily springs to mind but it does give access for easy regular cleaning of hatches and solar panels – something many forget, especially the latter. 


Two other points of note are the entry door and awning. The door is typically European, with a moulded-in garbage bin and umbrella holder, complete with umbrella. Whilst it does have a sliding insect screen, it is not a security feature in any way. The awning, although not recessed, does have streamlined moulded ends that take away the ‘protruding’ look very effectively. What the awning didn't come with was any side wall mountings, which made pegging the legs down on a windy day a little interesting since I didn't have any pegs. Taking a ‘selfie’ with the camera on a tripod meant a fair bit of running between wind gusts!


Inside

Inside, the EKS has a fairly open style layout. Immediately behind the driver's cab are two inwards facing lounges, while the bed over the cab has a very large Skyview hatch above. That leaves the rear area for a driver’s-side corner bathroom, rear wall kitchen with a second bench along the kerb side and a good sized wardrobe between the bathroom and lounge seat. As might be expected the interior design and decor is typically British, with curved cabinetry in all the right places. I did like the easy-grab door handles and subtle but effective lighting. All windows have integrated blinds and insect screens, whilst both side windows have curtains as well. Around the cab concertina blinds are fitted to all three windows.  


Although the EKS comes with a roof mounted air conditioner, it also comes with a space heater:  A Truma Combi LPG fired unit that not only heats the motorhome but the hot water as well. On the subject of electrics, a well appointed control panel with both 240 V and 12 V controls is fitted in the overhead locker behind the driver's door. There were no labels on the 12 V fuses ( a common problem), but I did note with interest the handbook contained those essential details. I reckon a photocopy of said labels stuck inside the locker somewhere might be good! One of the items that is switched on from the control panel is the cab’s touch screen radio/satnav unit. On the road I'd wondered why I couldn't get the radio to work, but finally remembered that little switch. It might sound a fiddle but does mean the cab multi-media unit can be used when parked-up. Still on electrics, there's a second smaller electrical panel above the entry door with just the major 12 V items – all very easily accessible I thought. 


Kitchen & Bathroom

Given the trend in many a Euro-sourced RV for small kitchens, this one is a surprise. The rear bench contains the necessary four burner cooktop (hob for NZ readers), with grill and oven alongside a stainless steel sink with drainer. That leaves room for two cupboards, two overhead lockers and three drawers. There isn't any bench top working space but that problem is neatly taken care of by a side bench, which comes with a 108 litre 3-way fridge below and a microwave oven in the locker above. Storage areas are located on both sides of the fridge; the front one fitted with shelves, the rear one being the compartment for the freestanding table. Both rear and side bench have corner-fitted mains power points, the side one also having a TV antenna connection. As noted this is a reasonably sized kitchen and the trade off for getting some decent bench space is the under-bench fridge rather than a larger two door unit.


Also in the trade-off area is the bathroom cubicle, which is slightly smaller than some I have seen but covers all the essentials. There's enough room for a separate moulded shower cubicle, cassette toilet and a small vanity cabinet complete with wash basin and good sized wall mirror. There isn't quite enough room to swing a cat, but turning around is easy. 


Dining & Sleeping

The forward area of the EKS is very multi-purpose and is used for dining, relaxing and sleeping. Both inwards-facing lounges can of course be used as seats, for dining  and for just kicking back. Instead of a fixed or swivelling table a free-standing table is supplied; the advantage being it isn't in the way when not being used. The disadvantage of course is that the table has to be lifted in and out to be used. Not really a problem, I think, except maybe for drinks and nibblies when just a small table would be handy. I've seen a few layouts where a small swivel table is fitted behind the passenger seat. Not sure of the practicalities but I'd be thinking about it..


At first sight, there doesn't seem to be a TV but it's actually a clever little folding unit fitted to the roof of the cab between the seats. Out of the way when not being used, it can be folded down and viewed easily from either of the lounges. Both lounges have under seat storage and they of course require the usual fiddle with seat cushions to get at. However both the slatted timber bases are hinged, making the job easier. As noted previously, the kerb-side seat storage area also has access from the outside. Also, the driver’s-side seat area contains the house battery, but it’s mounted below floor level so it’s not really in the way. Like many a British/Euro RV, the seat backs have anti-condensation panels fitted to the wall: a thin piece of ply that allows air flow behind the cushion. Designed for cold climates they’re also useful I reckon in tropical areas as well. 


A downside from many a traveller's point of view is that the EKS does not have a fixed floor-level bed. It does have the Luton bed, but that's not a favourite with the less nimble. Don't stop reading, though, because there are several sleeping options depending on how you travel. Up the steps the Luton bed measures approximately 2.0 m x 1.3 m (6 ft 6 in x 4 ft 3 in). It is actually a bit wider than that but given the ceiling angle, I reckon that’s the practical width. Reading lights are fitted to the kerb side and although there aren't any side windows, the big roof hatch offers alternative ventilation. I didn’t have the weather for doing hot night tests but it's possible regular users might find something like a 12 V Sirocco fan to be a good investment. I should point out that the bed base is not fixed and has split mattress, so the bed base can be folded back to give easy access to the cab.


Down at floor level both the sideways lounges can be used as either single beds or made up quite easily into a double. Unfortunately the lounges at 1.68 m (5 ft 6 in) are not really long enough for single beds, but I have seen a few designs where a bit of creativity with the swivelled cab seats and a couple of pillows does extend the bed length. As you can see there are several sleeping options.

 

Driving Thoughts

One of the features of the EKS is the ease of getting to and from the cab and certainly the cab seats can be swivelled without any difficulty. On the road the low-sitting Ducato gets along without too many problems. I did wonder how the 2.3 litre 109 kW turbo-diesel with 6-speed automated manual transmission (AMT) would cope, so I headed for my favourite bit of test road: the steep, winding Old Bathurst Road between Emu Plains and Blaxland, west of Sydney. It's a bit of an unfair test because the AMT cannot decided which gear it needs to be in around the curved bends and it feels like the 2.3 litre engine (when compared to the more powerful 3.0 litre unit) can't cope. However, if driven manually things improve and for most situations, the 150 Multijet is going to be okay if your driving style doesn't demand a more instant response. On the driver/passenger relaxation level, it was good to see the standard Ducato radio/CD player has been replaced by the much more versatile multi media/Sat Nav unit. 


What do I think?

I'd have to say that for a 6.4 m (21 ft) motorhome the Auto Trail EKS offers plenty of space and comfort. The lack of a fixed floor-level bed is not going to interest everybody, but for those who travel on their own, or for two people who don't wish to share a bed there’s plenty of flexibility in how this motorhome can be used. If there’s anything British/Euro RV designers tend to be better at it’s attractive design and effective use of space. And it seems to me that the EKS is a good example of that!

 

Pros

Cons

Brochures and Information

An interesting feature (at least for me) is the very comprehensive and thick brochure available from AutoTrail. It contains details of all the models available, as well as the myriad of layouts, interior fit-out, (very) detailed specifications and options. I mention that because far too many manufacturers like to hide their light under a bushel and getting information takes time (and is often difficult - Ed), so it's good to have something readily to hand. Of course the same information is available on the internet but for those who still like their information on paper it's a very useful read. 


Supplied by:

Sydney RV Centre

13 - 22 Lemko Place

Penrith NSW 2750 https://goo.gl/maps/KBaje

T: (02) 4722 3444

E: info@sydneyrv.com.au 

W: www.sydneyrvgroup.com.au 


New Zealand Price

Since this motorhome is also available in NZ, it would be remiss of me not to note to the NZ price which Freedom RV's Neil Whithear supplied. There may be some minor differences to the Australian version and I suggest you check that out with the AutoTrail dealers. Price (based on Ducato Multijet 150) NZ$145,000.00.


Freedom RV

449 Ferry Road

Christchurch 8023

New Zealand

(03) 389 5346

Web: www.freedomrv.co.nz 


Auckland Motorhomes

61 Creek Street

Drury , Auckland

New Zealand

Ph: (09) 294 6500

Web: www.aucklandmotorhomes.co.nz

Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications and photos.

Aout Trail EKS Aout Trail EKS (1909 KB)

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