Esprit de Cor Blimey!
Dethleffs' ‘baby’ A-class is something to ogle at...
By Malcolm Street
A style of motorhome not built much in either Australia or New Zealand is best described as a small A-class. Sure there are quite a few 9 m (30 ft) and above A-class/coach conversions on the road, but the smaller units are not readily available. Indeed there's probably only a handful in Australia and only in more recent times, a larger number in New Zealand.
In Europe, however, it's a different matter and a number of manufacturers build 7-8 m (23-26 ft) A-class motorhomes. They are usually built on a cut down chassis (no cab), typically either Mercedes Benz Sprinter or Fiat Ducato.
In recent times a number of these from various German manufacturers have been imported into New Zealand. One company doing the importing is Auckland-based Acacia Motorhomes of which proprietor Jonas Ng reckons that Dethleffs – pronounced Detleffs – is a brand to be aspired too; and in particular its Esprit model.
The Esprit I borrowed was based on a Fiat Ducato Multijet 180 bolted to a specialised Al-Ko motorhome chassis, although there are no clues as to the make or model on the outside and only a few on the inside. The Esprit body is built from moulded fibreglass/fibreglass composite sandwich panels and I have to say the end result is a slightly boofy looking motorhome, albeit one with a touch of class. Certainly the black/silver/white external colour scheme is a standout.
Like many a German import, this one has its house entry door, and consequently awning, on the offside. The driver doesn't get a ‘cab’ door but the passenger does and it isn't too much of a fiddle getting in and out if the normal entry door is in the traffic. The entry door itself is one of those tricky moulded items that comes with a rack, pocket and moulded garbage bin. It also has a separate sliding insect screen, but not the security style, unfortunately.
Windows are the top-hinged Seitz variety except for the slider behind the entry door. Dashed clever those Germans as this means you can have the window and the door open at the same time! Curious how some manufacturers can’t seem to catch on to that idea.
One of the assets of the Esprit is a very large tunnel boot in the rear that can hold all kinds of goodies, including bikes and golf clubs. Very handy, too, are tie-down rings fitted to a rail, which can be slid to wherever they might be required. Two other items of interest in the boot are the space heater duct and mains circuit breaker panel.
On The Road
In many ways driving the Esprit is just like driving any other Ducato/Al-Ko-based vehicle. I would note that this one, unlike a number of other Ducato powered vehicles that come out of Britain/Europe, comes with the largest and most powerful of the Ducato engines – the 3.0-litre/132 kW unit.
One thing that is slightly odd for those not used to it is the Ducato dashboard, which has a slightly longer extension in front of it. It's not an increase in vehicle length, just that the windscreen is further forward. On that same subject, the windscreen might well be further away but the view through it is certainly panoramic. A little surprisingly, the driver does not get a door and either has to enter through the house or passenger doors. I suspect this is a hangover from the left-hand drive conversion and it might be an irritation for some. What the driver does get, apart from anything else, is a very good side bin with a hinged lid. As a final on-the-road comment, although the Esprit might look to be a large vehicle, it really isn't any longer than many B/C class designs and isn't a drama to drive. In fact I quite liked it!
One of the major assets of this particular A-class layout, compared to a similar length C-class motorhome with a Luton peak, is that as a four berth motorhome those sleeping up front don’t need to climb a long, skinny ladder to get to bed. Instead, the front bed is simply lowered down – by a clever leverage system with no clunky power drive – and is made up and ready to go. Even better is the fact the curtains around the bed are attached to the bed and come down with it. The only drawback is a short ladder is really required to get into the bed, while both cab seat-backs have to be tilted forward before the bed can be lowered.
That leaves the rest of the motorhome for a dining/lounge area directly behind the driver's cab and, moving aft, the kitchen, a split bathroom and an island bed in the rear. It all fits together very neatly and there are no surprises in the décor department. It has Europe stamped all over it.
With the front bed retracted into its normal position and both cab seats swivelled around there's plenty of room to relax, either on the offside corner lounge or the nearside inwards facing lounge. The centrally mounted table isn't oversized, but can be used quite easily from all the seats. When not required it can be pushed to the side so as not to impede access. Overhead lockers are fitted to both sides and there are the usual under-seat areas as well.
Above this area a big marine-style hatch allows plenty of natural light and ventilation. By night there are, of course, LED ceiling and reading lights. In the case of the latter they’re fitted to a track under the overhead lockers and can not only be moved to the most convenient position but also taken down for maintenance or whatever.
Time to Eat
Europeans do seem to love small kitchens and this one is no exception! On the nearside, an L-shaped bench offers a combo three-burner hob and stainless steel sink. Both have hinged glass lids but there's no drainer for the sink. Bench top area is minimal but the L-shape does add a nominal amount. Taking up the under bench space are a grill/oven, large drawer, small cupboard and slide-out wire basket pantry. Directly under the bench top and well worth noting are all the gas shut off valves: Often these are hidden in a cupboard somewhere and awkward to get at. Above the kitchen bench a good sized set of cupboards offers a shelved storage area.
Opposite the kitchen bench and facing the entry door is quite a large cabinet. It not only contains a 190-litre 3-way fridge with lockers above and below, but also a multiple use area with a wine glass cabinet, flat screen TV mounting point and a couple of hinged shoe lockers. It’s very neatly done.
I've already mentioned the front bed, but in the rear the island bed measures 2 m x 1.5 m (6 ft 7 in x 5 ft), which curiously enough is the same as the front bed. The rear bed does sit a fair height off the floor, but that’s mainly to accommodate the rear tunnel boot. For that same reason the bed base cannot be lifted, but at the foot of the bed a roller shutter can be opened to reveal both a large drawer and a small storage area. There is of course the usual bed head area, with side wardrobes, overhead lockers and bedside cabinets. Incidentally, should you ever need to, the tops of the bedside cabinets can be lifted to get to the storage area underneath.
One of the more practical features about both the nearside toilet and offside shower cubicles is they are not just square boxes; indeed they have curved roller shutter doors to maximise space. Both features give reasonable walk-around room on the outside and don't require space inside for a hinged door. Neither cubicle is oversize in terms of internal space, but there is still room inside the toilet cubicle for a swivelling cassette toilet, wash basin and a small vanity cabinet. If more privacy is required both the bedroom and bathroom can be closed off by means of sliding door.
What I Think
I don't reckon it's too hard to see the attraction of a Dethleffs Esprit motorhome. Certainly it’s well put together and it rides on the very familiar and popular Fiat Ducato chassis. I have to say that having an A-class motorhome under 8 m (25 ft) is quite appealing, not only from the fact it looks good but also due to the practicalities of the swing down bed front bed and other space efficiencies.
Not having a nearside entry door might be a bit of an issue for some, but having driven a few of these around New Zealand I've found it doesn’t take too much getting used to. Also attractive is the price – being well under NZ $180,000 is a bit hard to argue with!
Sorry to our interested Australian readers at present, you might have to wait a bit longer and it might just be a bit more expensive when/if it arrives on our shores.
- Spacious interior
- Panoramic view from driver's cab
- Swing down from bed
- Comfy lounge/dining area
- Well sized exterior storage
- Good looks
- Offside entry door
- Lack of driver's door
- Small kitchen
- Microwave optional
16 Drake Street,
Howick, Auckland. NZ. 2014
(Phone for appointment)
T: 0800 112 828
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
Dethleffs Esprit (1430 KB)