SIX OF THE BEST
KEA’s six-berth flagship is surprisingly capable...
by Malcolm Street
For those who cannot afford a motorhome or just don’t have anywhere to park one, the rental option is definitely a good alternative. It’s one I exploit frequently for all kinds of travel – a recent occasion being a trip to the snow country around Wanaka and Queenstown on the south Island of New Zealand.
My choice of travel was a Kea motorhome. Kea has a good range of rental motorhomes and up until quite recently that range was common to both New Zealand and Australia. There are some differences now, though, since the changes to Kea’s Australian operation. Available in both countries are two-berth, four-berth and six-berth motorhomes, all based on Ford’s Transit chassis, with the two-berth being a van conversion. Additionally, in NZ there is a VW T5 flip-top campervan and a (very) new three-berth motorhome (see iMotorhome Issue 7 NEWS), just slightly shorter at 6.2-metre than its larger siblings at 6.8-metres. For my travels I’d actually asked for something that didn’t require the bed to be made up every night (interesting specification I know, but I’m a lazy traveller) and what Kea supplied me with was one of its six-berth motorhome (known as a Kea Six): nothing like slumming it!
Kea’s six-berth motorhome, at 6.8 m long by 2.2 m wide, happens to be the same external size as the company’s four-berth motorhome and for the uninitiated, both look almost identical: the clue being the lack of a window on the mid-offside for the four-berth.
Built from fibreglass composite and mouldings, the Kea Six, as mentioned above, is built on the venerable Ford Transit cab chassis, which comes with a GVM of 4990 kg. That, given the tare weight of 3372 kg, results in a very good load carrying capacity, albeit one most fly/drive travellers aren’t going to get close to.
A point of note is the Kea-designed security door, which can be remotely locked by the same control that locks the Transit’s cab doors as well: What a joy that is! Windows are the standard tinted-glass NZ style, with the lower section opening (except for the kitchen slider). The windows are actually one of the noted differences between Aussie and Kiwi motorhomes, with the former usually being hopper-style and fully openable. Kea’s new three-berth, I’m interested to note, actually has those: The Seitz variety, with integrated blind and insect screen.
External storage is often an issue on rental motorhomes but this one isn’t badly equipped. Featuring a bin-door on the nearside at the rear that gives easy access to the under-seat areas, it also has a rod/pole/ski-holder across the rear and a hose/power-cord compartment on the mid-nearside. On the opposite side at the rear is the gas locker, with two 4.5 kg cylinders, and like many rental motorhomes, the Kea Six does not have an awning.
On the Road
Powered by a 103 kW 2.4-litre turbo-diesel, the Ford Transit certainly handled the stunning Highway 8 through the middle of the South Island without difficulty. Some of the more scenic sights included Lake Tekapo, Lake Pukaki and Lindis Pass. Whilst off the main drag, a detour through Wanaka and along the Cardrona Valley Road was not to be missed.
Ford Transits only come with a six speed manual gearbox. The gear changing is very smooth, which is especially useful in mountain terrain. Fuel consumption came in about 14.5 L/100 km, but cruising at a sedate 80 km/h would produce a much better result.
Being a six-berth motorhome, all the passengers travel in the dinette behind the driver’s seat. The forward facing ones have the advantage of forward travel but all can communicate without shouting to those in the front cab.
Rental motorhome layouts are often slightly different to those built for the private market, particularly those built for four and six-berth layouts. The Kea Six layout is still very user friendly and in my case having a rear lounge/bed, a front dinette/bed and the Luton over-cab bed offered considerable flexibility in use. Being on my own I used the Luton bed and therefore had one table for eating and the other as a mobile office. Filling the rest of the interior is the kitchen bench along the nearside and the bathroom located mid-offside.
Beige and brown are the principal colours for the interior – not going to win any contemporary décor awards – but certainly winners in the rental motorhome practicality department. Kea motorhomes are also available for the private market but those come with different colour schemes inside and out. The Roman Blinds are a different touch to many motorhome interiors and seem to work well without being fiddly.
Electrics are quite simple but functional, with a neat little 12V control panel (including a 12V socket) behind the driver’s seat and both fluorescent and halogen lights throughout. A second radio/CD unit is fitted in the rear, which might seem extravagant to some but it’s certainly handy, and better than the standard Ford radio as it comes is a 3.5 mm socket for MP3 players. Both a roof-mounted air conditioner and a gas-fired heater (which worked exceptionally well in the alpine areas) are standard inclusions.
One of the advantages of a six-berth motorhome is that there are two places to sit around: The more formal front dinette up front and the club lounge – aka the “New Zealand back” – in the rear. The rear lounge is good for stretching out and the table can easily be moved in-and-out as required.
Overhead lockers and under-seat areas provide good storage and the nearside area, as mentioned earlier, can be accessed from both inside and out. Mounting a TV in a layout like this is going to be tricky from a viewing point, but the end of kitchen bench location is okay for the rear area and partly okay for the front dinette. The various remotes and the satellite TV receiver are mounted under the overhead lockers, above the offside seat.
The front table only seats four, so with six on board the rear lounge area is going to have to be utilised. Above the dinette are a couple of small lockers and compartments, which are a little hard to reach but great for stashing small items. They also have both the hot water and the all-important heater controls mounted nearby.
Time to Eat
Rental motorhome kitchens tend to be built for resilience and practicality rather than good looks, but this one wins on most counts. It’s of good size, with a generous amount of bench area and storage. With plenty of working space – always a good idea in a multi-berth motorhome – the bench moulding includes both the sink (tank and drinking water supplied) and drainer.
Fitted neatly in is a Smev four-burner cooktop/grill, while below is the Vitrifrigo 133-litre fridge. Being 12V compressor-driven means independent camping time is a bit limited, but two 34-watt solar panels help a bit in keeping the 100-ah battery up to speed. Set below overhead locker level, the Sharp microwave is at a user friendly height. Overhead lockers, cupboards and drawers are all generously supplied. Plates, cups and glasses are all stashed in the lower drawer, which has custom-made slots and holes to ensure minimal breakages. That does take a little bit of space, but for fast and secure packing it’s just great! An advantage of supplying all the essentials (kettles, toasters, et al) is that the cupboards can be designed exactly to fit everything in neatly.
In a six-berth motorhome the bathroom isn’t going to be oversized, but it’s certainly good for general use. It comes with a moulded-in Thetford cassette toilet and a fold-out wash basin and shaving cabinet. The shower faucet can either be used at the basin or as a conventional shower. Handy for travellers on the move is the fold-out drying rack and the mirror on the outside wall.
It’s mostly not a major issue, but ladders in motorhomes are often very basic and foot-unfriendly. Well, the Kea one is a bit of a winner! It’s not only light weight but folds out with nice wide steps – a gold star for that!
Luton beds with adequate ceiling height are always a bit of a challenge for motorhome designers, but this one works quite well. For a start it’s a good size at 2.1 m x 1.8 m, with a ceiling height of 660 mm. To achieve a full-width bed, a fill-in where the cab walk-through is has to be slid into position. Being on my own, I didn’t use it and retained the convenience of the driver’s cab access. Two moulded-in bedside shelves, two gooseneck reading lights and two storage nets on the front wall add greatly to the Luton bed area’s appeal and practicality, as it’s often just a mattress and little else.
In the rear, the club lounge bed (2.1 m x 1.5 m) can be made-up by removing the table-pole mount, using the table as bed base and filling in the space with seat cushions. Similarly, the front dinette makes up a bed measuring 1.9 m x 1.3 m. Despite the variety of beds, anyone looking for an island bed is going to be disappointed. If just four people are travelling, the rear bed can be left made-up, saving on bed-making duties each night.
What we Think
Although rental motorhomes can take a few hard knocks, there didn’t seem to be many on this Kea Six. I don’t have any major issues with the Ford Transit – it’s an easy-driving light commercial vehicle – except for its lack of automatic transmission, which won’t suit some buyers. Certainly the Kea was well equipped for anything needed on a motorhome trip, right down to a coffee plunger and wine glasses. Although it does have six berths, four people who like a bit of space are going to find it very usable, too.
As rental motorhomes go the Kea Six can hold its head high. It doesn’t do too badly compared with motorhomes in the private market, either!
- All-door central locking
- Layout flexibility
- Spacious kitchen
- Good storage
- Plenty of power
- Luton ladder
- Rear table needs rethinking
- Needs more opening windows
Click HERE to visit KEA's website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications and contact details.
iMotorhome Roadtest - KEA 6 - 2012 (2036 KB)