WHO DARES GRINS
Suncamper’s Sapphire put a smile on our dial...
by Richard Robertson
Many motorhomes have legal seating for four or more passengers, but in reality few see more than the cab seats occupied with any regularity – if at all. Additionally, many motorhomes (particularly older ones) have sideways-facing passenger seats with lap-belts or passenger seats well out of easy conversation distance from those up front.
Suncamper’s four-berth Sapphire is an interesting attempt to address both those problems, while providing additional seating as comfortable and individually adjustable as those in the cab. The design – along with Suncamper’s sharp pricing – makes the Sapphire particularly attractive to motorhoming families or those who like to travel with friends.
Old and New
The Sapphire tested here was a prototype with an mixed pedigree and while basically complete, some detail aspects are subject to change. These include hopper windows instead of sliding and a table for the extra passenger seats. Other detail changes to the type/size/style of appliances, etc, are also possible, but the basic design, layout and style of the Sapphire is complete.
The test Sapphire rode on a Fiat Ducato cab-chassis that has since been superseded and is thus irrelevant to this review. New Sapphires will ride on the latest generation Fiat Ducato with a 3.0-litre 132 kW/400 Nm turbo-diesel engine and a 6-speed manual transmission, with the option of Fiat’s 6-speed AMT automatic. Suncamper will also offer the Sapphire on a Ford Transit, Iveco Daily, Mercedes Benz Sprinter or Volkswagen Crafter cab-chassis, although the price will vary with each of those.
Like all new-gen Ducatos it will include dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with discs all-round, electronic stability control (ESC), cab airconditioning, remote central locking, electric windows and (heated) side mirrors, cruise control and more, including an integrated TomTom navigation system with Blue & Me bluetooth connectivity. It’s a comprehensive and desirable package with a high level of engineering and driving refinement.
A compact C-Class motorhome measuring just 6.76-metres overall, the Sapphire follows Suncamper’s long-term design cues of flat sides/back finished in all-over white, with blue accents.
The Sapphire also follows Suncamper’s proven construction method of a sturdy welded aluminium frame on a steel floor, with a single-piece roof that helps reduce the possibility of water leaks in the long run. Fully insulated with smooth outer wall panels and interior plywood paneling, all fittings are screwed to the aluminium framework, while cabinetry is vinyl-faced ply of glued-and-screwed (not stapled) construction. It’s a system developed over more than 30 years and Suncampers are well known within the industry for their durability and longevity.
Along with the Sapphire’s compact dimensions and keen pricing come a few compromises, like a single 120 AH house battery and relatively modest fresh and grey water capacities of 90-litres each. External storage, however, is quite reasonable for the vehicle’s size, with a little extra space in both the battery and gas-bottle storage bins, plus a decent-sized through-boot at the rear. You’d want to take care when packing anything else in with the battery and gas bottles that it didn’t/couldn’t interfere with them.
A wind-out Fiama awning, electric entry-step, roof-mounted aircon, LED clearance light, a high-mounted rear brake light are also included, along with Suncamper’s trademark steel rear bumper and protective tail light surrounds. These later items might’t look too pretty, but they work and are far more durable in the real world than the rear ends of many other motorhomes.
What's the Plan?
The Sapphire’s floor plan has an over-cab bed and a near-side kitchen that runs through to a u-shaped rear lounge (which has an electric bed overhead). There’s a mid-mounted off-side bathroom and a pair of free-standing coach-style passenger seats behind the driver, opposite the kitchen and ahead of the bathroom.
From a living point-of-view the design works well, thanks to a centre-positioned entry door that allows the chef to work undisturbed while others access the bathroom, rear lounge or fridge. The wrap-around rear lounge – a New Zealand Back, Malcolm tells me – provides ample seating for four and a large central table, but best of all it places you right smack-bang in the middle of the view. With windows all around its a great position that’s flooded with natural light and provides panoramic views of your surrounds.
The Sapphire feature Suncamper’s new-look, high-gloss cabinetry that provides a smart, modern finish that’s brought new life to its interiors. All cupboard doors and drawers have single push-button knob/handles that self-lock when closed, which is a nice feature, too.
Take a Seat!
Without doubt, the Sapphire’s distinguishing design element is its pair of free-standing coach-style passenger seats immediately behind the cab, on the driver’s side,
The concept is simple: keep your passengers close in proper, comfortable seating. Conversations on-the-move should be a snack, whilst parents could keep a close eye on youngsters to nip he-hit-me-first tantrums in the bud and ‘gently assist’ in the sharing of toys amongst sometimes-unwilling siblings. It also means you could use the Sapphire as an only vehicle, at a pinch, if you regularly needed to carry one or two extra passengers.
Both seats feature built-in lap/sash seat belts and provide a small degree of individual recline; like an airline seat, only with a lot more legroom! In fact with the cab seats swivelled this front area makes a roomy and practical second lounge area, although in the prototype it lacked any sort of table to truly make it versatile. It will be interesting to see what table solution Suncamper’s designers come up with to really make the Sapphire stand out. Maybe a small flip-up wall-mounted unit with a secondary, removable main table (a-la Trakka Trakkaway 700) could be the go?
Seating ‘down the back’ is a u-shaped lounge with cushions that lift to access rear boot storage, as well as the water heater. It’s comfortable and quite spacious, with a generous table that provides decent dining space. Interestingly, Suncamper has opted for concealed LED strip lighting behind panels above the windows – I was going to call them pellets but they don’t conceal the curtain tracks – but there are no overhead cupboards in this lounge area due to the electric roof bed. More on that later...
The kitchen is split in two by the entry door, with the main area between it and the cab and a secondary area between it and the rear lounge.
Bench space in the main area is limited, thanks to a three-burner gas cooktop to the left and a single-bowl sink to the right. There’s a double cupboard beneath the cooktop, a single cupboard beneath the sink and a stack of four drawers in the centre. It’s a compact work space that should work well and is blessed with plenty of natural light from a window behind the cooker, the door window, and an overhead skylight. There’s also a rangehood above the cooker, beneath a set of double overhead cupboards.
Aft of the entry door is a tall unit with a high-set bench-top, beneath which is a three-way 90-litre fridge with a microwave above it and a four basket slide-out panty. The fridge is set closest to the entry door, making it handy for people outside to grab a drink; the chef while creating a masterpiece at the cooker and/or those at the rear lounge – all without disturbing each other.
A flat-screen LCD TV/DVD on a swivel mount is just above the bench-top and sits flushish against the wall when not in use. Between the TV and entry door is the hot water system switch, water tank gauge, a pair of 80s looking light switches and a double powerpoint, plus the TV power supply and aerial point. It’s all a little haphazard and will (hopefully) be tidied up on production vehicles. Finishing off this section is a pair of small cupboards, above the television.
The Sapphire’s mid-mounted bathroom is reasonably spacious and features and white-with-grey-accent moulded bathroom unit that looks very 2001: A Space Odyssey.
A generous hand basin with chrome flick-mixer tap occupies pride of place in one corner, while the hand-shower is wall-mounted, along with it’s own taps (which seem to be mounted very close to the mirror and could prove tricky to turn – another prototype issue, I’m thinking).
There are various moulded plastic panels, cup holders and even a loo-paper cover, plus a moulded medicine cabinet and towel rail above the swivel cassette toilet. And I was pleased to see two drain holes in the moulded floor unit, so you won’t end up ankle deep when showering if you don’t get the vehicle perfectly level. There’s also an extractor fan in the bathroom ceiling hatch.
When the Sandman strikes, Sapphire occupants can choose between the front over-cab bed measuring 1990 mm x 1600 mm and a rear bed measuring 2011 mm x 1300 mm that lowers from the ceiling above the lounge.
Electrically operated from a wall switch, the rear bed is long but a bit narrow, but the good news is you don’t need to stow lounge cushions or even remove the dining table (or fruit bowl!); the bed stops automatically at just the right height.
Like almost all C-Class motorhomes, the front bed requires the use of an aluminium ladder, which stows neatly behind the secondary front seats at other times. Access to the rear bed also requires scaling a bit of height, so maybe a small plastic step would be a good inclusion.
I’ve got to say I was rather impressed by the Suncamper Sapphire, despite the test vehicle’s prototype status and its superseded Fiat Ducato cab-chassis. To be honest, the ‘old’ Fiat with its smaller 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine and manual gearbox still had plenty of get-up-and-go and I’m a real fan of the New Zealand Back lounge/dinette arrangement.
There’s even an option to make the Sapphire a six-berth; with extra seat belts to the rear lounge, which then converts to another double bed (although the roof bed would have to be raised somewhat). Other options include a reversing camera, solar power, a bike rack and an external barbecue and/or shower, for example.
The basic design works well, though, and the Sapphire could fill a niche for families and those who regularly travel as couples. It could also suit ‘normal’ buyers; just add a table to those second seats and you have a motorhome with a versatile floor plan in a compact and economical package.
Suncamper builds good, sound motorhomes and hat’s off to them for giving me a protoype to test that’s already earmarked for change. Thumbs up, Suncamper: Good to see some innovative thinking and a bit of daring. Winners, they say, are grinners...
- Compact dimensions
- Comfortable extra seating
- Six-berth option
- Rear lounge/dinette
- Electric roof bed
- Sound construction
- Rear bed a bit narrow
- Single house battery
- Limited water capacity
Click HERE to visit the Suncamper website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.