AROUND IN APPLAUSE
A few days on the road in A’van’s compact Appluase...
by Malcolm Street
Most major motorhome rental operators are located in capital or at least coastal cities, so Albury Wodonga RV World is a bit of a surprise, being located on the NSW/Vic border. However, the business is primarily a dealership that sells new and used caravans and motorhome, with the rental business as a complementary operation.
Another surprise is that AWRV World don’t rent out motorhomes purpose built for the rental market, but instead have on their fleet a range of regular production A’van, Talvor and Sunliner rigs that range from two to six berths. Apart from the fact that there are some subtle differences between motorhomes built for the rental and private markets, the advantage from a prospective buyer’s point of view is that they can try a motorhome that might be on their shopping list before they buy.
In my case I was travelling in convoy with the rest of the iMotorhome team for a few days, so I opted for a little A’van Applause van conversion motorhome to try out.
A’van has used the front-wheel drive Fiat Ducato Multijet 160 LWB for its Applause conversion. That means it comes with Fiat’s 3.0-litre turbo diesel motor that delivers 115.5 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque. I should point out that the 160 Multijet motor has just been superseded by the 132 kW 180 Multijet turbo-diesel, but from a few brief tests I have conducted there isn’t a significant difference in vehicle performance: the 400 Nm max torque figure remains the same. As is usual with most Ducato motorhomes these days, the gearbox is a six-speed automated manual (AMT) shifter.
The Fiat Ducato comes with all the usual features expected in a light commercial vehicle and that includes ABS ventilated disc brakes front and rear, plus driver and passenger air bags. The Ducato comes with the benefit of factory fitted swivelling seats, which have been used effectively in this conversion. Although the Applause can seat four for driving, it only sleeps two. This might sound odd, but at just under 6-metres in length it’s a good around-town driver.
In terms of motorhome fittings, Dutch-made Polyplastic double glazed windows have been fitted along both sides, including the sliding door, but the rear doors have retained the standard Fiat windows. Whilst it is good to have an opening window in the nearside rear panel it is vulnerable to damage from a hastily opened sliding door. Other usual fittings include the side mounted Prostor awning and the roof mounted air conditioner and wind-up TV antenna. Offside fittings consist of the Thetford toilet cassette hatch and the Truma water heater. Apparently missing is the gas cylinder bin, but that is only because it is actually located inside the rear doors, beneath the bed.
Welcome to one of the anomalies in the interpretation of Australian Standard 5601. In most States this location of the gas cylinder bin would not be signed off as legal, but in Victoria it is. It’s all to do with access to the gas cylinder valve in the event of an emergency. Outside Victoria most manufacturers put the gas bin door on the outside of a vehicle, thus maintaining easy access at all times, but when the gas bin is behind a van’s doors which can be locked, that to me is one door too many.
Not surprisingly, as in most van conversions there isn’t any external bin storage. Instead, by opening the rear doors you get access to large drawer, as well as a locker that is suitable for items like hoses, a small broom and wheel ramps. In many ways it is a better arrangement than just an open area under the bed, but some sort of drip tray in the locker might prevent hoses leaking onto the floor. From a renters’ point of view there really isn’t anywhere to store hard-shell suit cases, so soft collapsible bags are always the recommendation.
On the Road
In the motorhome world, this van-based Ducato is about as close to a sports car as you are going to get. The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel delivers plenty of torquey grunt, marred only by a slight hesitation from time to time with the AMT gearbox. Being a van, the handling is relatively good for a light commercial vehicle and certainly there isn’t any of the sideways rock n’ roll that comes with the larger motorhomes.
Behind the wheel, the only confusion for newcomers is the position of the indicator and wiper stalks. Both are on the left-hand side of the steering column, so sometimes the wrong stalk is grabbed in haste. I do like the Ducato’s external mirrors: they give a good view of what is going on behind, as does the A’van-fitted reversing camera with built-in GPS. Disappointing is the bog standard radio/CD player with no method of plugging in an iPod or equivalent. I understand later Fiat models have corrected this little problem.
Using the long wheelbase (LWB) Ducato instead of the extra-long wheelbase (XLWB) does mean a slightly compressed layout inside the Applause. That said, it is certainly still liveable, with an east west bed in the rear, nearside kitchen bench, mid-offside bathroom and a rear two-person seat and table behind the driver’s seat. One of the more interesting features is the amount of overhead locker space that has been squeezed in.
Being a rental motorhome it came fully equipped and ready for travel, including cooking items, plates, cups and cutlery. Also available was bedding and towels for the interstate visitor like this forgetful traveller.
One of the A’van options fitted to this Applause was a Webasto diesel fired heater. I found it very useful in the Victorian Alpine country, although given the air inlet location (under the bed), care had to be taken not to let a bed sheet drop down too far. I left it running on very low during the night and at one point it turned itself off because of the lack of air flow. The Webasto complemented the Air Command roof air conditioner, which whilst a bit feeble in the heating department was a very effective cooler.
In a van conversion this size, lounging space is going to be at a premium, The Ducato’s swivelling seats, however, work well with the offside table and two person seat in the rear, to form a small-but-useful dining/lounge area. Eating at the table, though, is really only going to be comfortable for two people. In the storage space above the driver’s cab is a flat screen TV mounted on a slide-out, swing-down and turn-around bracket. Quite clever really and designed be seen from the swivelled cab seats. However, for multi-focal wearers (I’m one) your head has to be at a funny angle for good focus and I would ponder that the wall space above the rear seat might be a better location. Certainly not as neat looking, nor cleverly stored, but perhaps more relaxing viewing and cheaper to install, while freeing up valuable cupboard space. Just a thought...
Time to Eat
Given the Applause is quite a small motorhome, the kitchen bench area is relatively large. Standard are a two-burner cooktop sans grill and a stainless steel sink, sans drainer. Given this rig is designed for reasonably light weight travel and therefore (at least to me) simple cooking is mostly going to happen, not having a grill is something of an omission. There is of course an under-bench microwave as well as an under-bench Vitrifrigo 90-litre fridge. There are several cupboards and one with internal drawers fitted for items like cutlery. I did like the shelved area at the end of the bench that could be accessed from both inside and outside.
Across the rear, the innerspring mattress measures 1.85 m x 1.22 m. I’m 1.72m tall which would make this bed adequate in length for me but the interior window frames are a problem. They have a width of 35mm which, given the mattress height, effectively means the mattress has lost 70 mm of usable length. Not such a problem if you’re on your own and sleeping diagonally, I should note. If the mattress was lower, the window frames would not take up pillow and foot space. An odd omission for the bed are any reading lights: something slightly annoying because the overhead light switch, centrally located as it is, does require getting out of bed to operate.
A’van has been quite clever with the under-bed storage area, but the extra storage gained is the compromise for the bed length. Lifting the bed reveals an across-the-van compartment at the front for items like camp chairs, broom and awning handle. Further back is a shallow storage area that is nicely compartmented. At the rear, the aforementioned gas cylinder bin is on the nearside, there’s a large drawer in the middle and good sized storage on the offside: the latter being good for hoses, wheel chocks, bucket and toilet chemicals. As already mentioned, with motorhome rental it is always a good idea to travel with soft bags that way they can be folded into small spaces, and the large drawer is good for two such bags.
The Applause’s off-side bathroom has an unusual circular-shaped shower door and enough room to shower as long as you’re not overly large. It also has a Thetford cassette toilet and a narrow washbasin along the outside wall. There’s a small shelf above the wash basin and a wall mirror but no towel rails or rings. Also nowhere to stash the toilet roll, which being damp could be a real crisis situation, you understand.
To use the bathroom space effectively, A’van has used a shower cubicle which is square on one side so it fits into the corner and has a circular door on the other so it takes up a bit less space but is still functional to get clean.
What we Think
For someone who likes relatively light weight travel this little Applause is a winner. As long as you are not too tall, then despite being compact it does have a very liveable layout that for the most part is highly functional. The Fiat Ducato is a spirited performer whilst still offering good diesel economy and for me it’s a fun driving machine. To top it all off, Albury Wodonga RV World is a very short step from the wine growing and alpine areas of southern NSW and northern Victoria, which are great places to spend a relaxing week or two.
- Compact motorhome but well equipped
- Front lounge/dining area quite comfortable
- Good internal storage
- Great motorhome for singles
- Awning supplied (not always with rentals)
- Bed length and window frame
- Gas cylinder location
- No bedside lighting
- No griller
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