A’van uses its Knaus
Local and European manufacturers team-up to offer more choice…
by Malcolm Street
Undoubtedly one of the surprises of the recent the Sydney Supershow was the launch of a very European looking range of motorhomes and caravans being built here in Australia. There's a very good reason for the European look: German manufacture Knaus (the K isn’t silent!) has teamed up with Australian manufacturer A'van to build recreational vehicles in Australia. That gets around a number of problems, mostly compliance and warranty matters, whilst giving Australian RV buyers a Euro looking rig that many desire.
I had hoped to bring you an early review on either the Sun Ti or Sky Wave B-class models, but when I turned up to the A'van dealership for a review, the only thing I saw was the rear of the motorhomes on a delivery truck as they disappeared around a corner. Still, that meant I could concentrate my attention on the unusually named Baveria Vanverto (BV). In a knutshell, this Fiat Ducato van conversion has several clever features that one might expect to find in a German designed van, but also one oddity. Read on.
For the BV, Knaus A'van has used the Fiat Ducato Multijet 150 LWB Mid Roof van. It comes with a 2.3-litre 109 kW/350 Nm turbo-diesel and, with Australian drivers in mind, Fiat’s 6-speed automated manual transmission (AMT). Externally it has all the visual clues to being a motorhome rather than a delivery van, like windows, Prostor awning, electric step, roof mounted air conditioner and a cassette toilet door.
What it does not have is a gas cylinder bin door, because the gas bin is behind the rear doors, under the bed. Rear doors don't often come in for comment, but these have been neatly fitted with opening windows and panelling to match the rest of the van. I couldn't help wondering though if a couple of small built-in pockets could have made better use of the door's air space.
On The Road
Being only 6 metres (19 ft 8in) long makes this a very easy vehicle to drive. Having the mid-range engine means the BV gets along nicely in most road conditions and driver aids like the standard TomTom Satnav and rear view camera are much appreciated. A feature of all Ducatos are the relatively thick windscreen pillars that are only an occasional problem on places like roundabouts, but I often wonder why they are not used for something useful like grab handles – very handy for those less able.
As I looked around the very compact interior, with its east-west rear bed, front lounge/dining area and mid-section kitchen and bathroom I did wonder why Knaus A'van hadn’t opted to use the longer XLWB Ducato van. The size difference – 300 mm/12 in – might not sound much, but it makes a heck of a difference in a motorhome this size. Although there isn't a great deal of free space in this design the natural light level is quite good, at least in the front area. A feature of the XXX-brand windows is that in addition to being double glazed they are easy to open, thanks to a very clever single lever operation.
Most of the lighting is subtly integrated beneath overhead locker strip fittings, but that does create a problem when trying to look into the overhead lockers at night. I did like the electrical controls handily located on the panel above the passenger seat, and especially the gooseneck LED light that can easily be switched on when stepping into a dark van.
One of the problems of a van conversion is keeping the bugs out when the doors are open – a highly desirable feature in warmer weather. In this instance the BV comes with an insect screen for the sliding door, which is good, but I'd have to say I have seen alternatives done in a neater fashion.
Undoubtedly the stand out feature in the BV is the bathroom. In many a small motorhome the bathroom takes up a big chunk of space, which it does here also, but what those clever Germans have done is to put the shower cubicle in the middle of the walkway. By using rotating circular screens, a fixed shower head and a removable floor, the shower cubicle has a dual purpose. It just means the person not in the shower can't get to and from the bed, however!
Fitted in behind the shower screens is a swivelling Thetford cassette toilet, small wash basin and overhead locker. All up, I reckon it's a very clever space saving idea and quite simple to use.
Time to eat
Like most van conversion kitchens this one comes under the classification of compact, although it’s smaller than some I have seen. A two burner cooktop (no grill) sits adjacent to a round stainless steel sink, sans drainer. That leaves space under the bench top for an amazing five good-sized drawers. Above the bench are two lockers and adjacent to the bench top is a full height cabinet; the top half of which contains a 90 litre Waeco fridge, whilst the area below is nicely shelved for pantry or clothing use. I did like the fridge height, which is easily accessible without bending over.
Like any good design the BV's lounge/dinette makes full use of the Ducato's factory-standard swivel seats. The driver seat swivels to face the table, which actually has a little swivel of its own: A second table under the top one swivels out to extend the table area for easy use by someone sitting in the swivelled passenger seat.
Two more can sit at the forward-facing dinette seat, but instead of the usual right-angled (read uncomfortable) seat cushions, the seat backs are set up to make them comfortable for both travelling and when parked up.
In addition to the time honoured overhead lockers, there is a hinged door to get to the under-seat area beneath the dinette (mostly occupied by the water/space heater) and a neat little drawer under the slightly raised dinette floor.
In the rear the east-west bed is restricted by the width of the van, in this case having a length of 1.8 m (5 ft 11 in) and a width of 1.37 m (4 ft 6 in). Taller people, unless sleeping on their own diagonally, are going to have a bit of a problem. The bed height of 0.8 m (2 ft 7 in) is notable mostly because shorter people might find it awkward to reach without a small step, but it does provide excellent storage underneath that’s accessible from inside and out. Extra storage is offered by all-round overhead lockers and a small bedside cabinet for the inboard sleeper.
A real oddity in the bedroom is a lack of windows on either side. It makes the bed feel more cramped and although there are opening windows in both rear doors, I think the lack of ventilation on a warm night would be an issue for many.
What I think
In many ways the Knaus/A'van tie up is a smart move. In Australia and despite efforts by some, a selection of British/European-built motorhomes has either arrived or is on the way. In New Zealand things are a little different, with a considerable range of imported motorhomes readily available.
So Australian manufacturers have several choices. One is to build a matching product while a second is as Traillite in New Zealand has done, which is to import a range of motorhomes to complement its existing designs. A third is as A'van has now done with Knaus – and there’s much to be said for this approach.
The Bavaria Vanverto is certainly easy living for one and a little more compact for two. There's no doubt the circular shower cubicle is a very effective space saver, whilst still offering full bathroom services. There's also no doubt that just about all the interior space has been used effectively in one way or another, although I couldn't help wondering what might have been if the longer XLWB Ducato van had been used. That said, if European designed van conversions are your thing then here's a good opportunity to try one out!
- Circular shower cubicle design
- Front lounge/dining area layout
- Swivelling table extension
- ??? windows
- Subtle lighting
- Relatively comfortable rear seat
- Easy driving van
- No side windows in bedroom area
- Bed length for some
- Lack of light in overhead lockers at night
- Rear door needs to be unlocked if gas cylinders being used