Postcard From Rio!
Swift’s diminutive Rio 340 has plenty to write home about…
Words by Richard Robertson. Images by Malcolm Street.
It’s fair to say that given the physical limitations of building a box to live in on the back of a small truck, motorhome designers don’t have too many options. Conventional wisdom dictates the smallest motorhomes to be van conversions, while larger vehicles get purpose-built (coachbuilt) bodies. Occasionally a design comes along that not only challenges such thinking, it set new standards – and Swift’s Rio 340 is one of them.
Swift is a long-established UK manufacturer celebrating its 50th anniversary and builds motorhomes, caravans and caravan park cabins. From what I can see its motorhomes are built entirely on the Fiat Ducato platform, and also under the brand names of Autocruise, Bessacarr and Escape.
The Rio 340 carries and sleeps four. It’s Swift’s latest design and the Company’s UK website sums it up like this: “With the size of a van in the body of a coachbuilt motorhome, the Rio 340 is Swift Group's all-new sporty, compact motorhome with a rear fully opening tailgate. This highly innovative feature is a first for the UK and is ideal for multi-purpose use. A rear parallel lounge allows easy loading of sporting equipment or anything you may choose to take with you.”
The Rio 340 isn’t the first small coachbuilt with a rear tailgate – German manufacturer Burstner has had one for a while called the Brevio – and in terms of dimensions and floor plans the two are almost identical. But the Rio 340 is the first to reach Australia and to be honest, it’s a breath of fresh air.
Swift’s motorhomes, like an increasing number of brands, are imported as complete vehicles. As such they’re still subject to all the relevant Australian Design Rules (ADRs), but because full compliance is a costly thing it’s usually the province of full scale auto manufacturers.
Running parallel with the mainstream system is a low volume scheme for “specialist and enthusiast vehicles” that allows the supply of up to 25 or 100 (depending on category) vehicle per year per vehicle category. To quote the Federal Government’s website, “The Scheme provides a major concession in that it allows alternative forms of evidence to be submitted against some of the ADRs. In the main this applies to ADRs where destructive or expensive testing is required.” Vehicle operating under low volume rules are fitted with a green compliance sticker and the Rio 340 has one of these.
The new generation Fiat Ducato the Rio 340 rides on – the X295 in case you’re wondering – follows the European practice of fitting the least powerful engine and a manual gearbox as standard. In this case it’s the Euro-5 emissions compliant 96 kW/320 Nm version of the 2.3-litre turbo-diesel, mated to a 6-speed manual. This base spec level also comes with a plastic steering wheel, rather than the lovely leather trimmed one we’re used to on locally sourced Ducatos. A 3-litre engine/6-speed auto gearbox option is available, but adds something like $9000ish to the price. If you’re after a self-shifting gearbox, however, it’s your only option.
From our short drive, and given the low weights involved, I’d think this standard drive train is largely up to task unless you spend a lot of time at maximum gross weight in hilly country. While it’s short on power compared to the bigger engine, the manual gearbox shifts easily while the clutch is light and progressive. To put it into perspective, this engine is still 1 kW and 15 Nm more powerful than the 2.2-litre engine in the base model Sprinter Malcolm reviewed last issue!
One retrograde feature of the new Ducato is its Euro-centric speedometer (even on locally supplied vehicles) which has speeds like 50/70/90/110/130 marked. I hope this will change in the not too distant future as the outgoing model had correct markings for Australia. Interestingly, the Rio 340 has cup holders on the lower part of the centre console, which locally sourced new Ducatos still lack (although I’m informed vehicles with these are just staring to arrive in Australia). It also comes with LED day running lights, also notably absent on locally sourced new model Ducatos at present.
From what I learned on my visit to the AL-KO factory I believe the Rio 340 rides on Fiat’s ‘special’ chassis, which is its lower-height, lower-weight alternative to AL-KO’s aftermarket chassis, although I can’t confirm it. Weight-wise the Rio 340 apparently tips the scales empty at 2965 kg and has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of a rather unusual 3650 kg. I say unusual because English-spec models have a 3500 kg GVM to comply with European car licence weight limits. In any case, for Australian purposes the increased GVM provides a highly respectable payload of 685 kg, especially as the tare weight includes 75 kg for a driver and a 90% full fuel tank (according to Swift’s UK website).
The Rio 340’s body is beautifully compact for a coach built. It’s just 37 mm longer and 210 mm wider than a Fiat Ducato extra-long wheelbase (XLWB) van, like the Casuarina from Horizon Motorhomes that’s our current longterm test vehicle. Those extra millimetres of width make a surprising amount of difference, allowing an east-west bed arrangement that works for taller people.
The walls and roof have an external sheet of marine grade aluminium and use polyurethane insulation. The walls are 32 mm sandwich panels while the roof is a 32 mm pressed panel. A 70 mm plywood floor with styrofoam insulation has a fibreglass underside for water protection, while the nose cone and rear end-panel are fibreglass mouldings.
The body is unique in its construction methodology, as far as I’m aware. I had thought frameless composite panel construction would be the go rather than more traditional aluminium frame-and-panel method. It turns out that until recently Swift used wooden frames in its caravans, and I’m presuming motorhomes. Now it uses frames made of – wait for it – polyurethane! Called PURE, it’s a polyurethane whose density Swift’s engineers can vary to suit specific load bearing requirements. Importantly, it’s impervious to water (even when screwed in to) and highly thermally efficient, eliminating interior condensation common with aluminium frames under certain circumstances.
Speaking of insulation, all new Swifts are now rated to the Euro Grade 3 standard for thermal insulation and heating. This involves opening all the windows and then cold soaking the motorhome at -15ºC overnight in a big freezer. The next morning they close everything up, switch on the heating and see how long it takes to warm to 20ºC, while the vehicle remains in the working freezer. Using just the standard installed heating – in this case a Truma Combi electric/LPG unit that also provides hot water – the target temperature must be achieved in less than four hours. That might not sound terribly relevant to Australia, but for those who enjoy winter free camping it’s a godsend. The overall thermal properties would also help airconditioner efficiency during summer, if one was installed. Interestingly, a winterisation kit is included that provides insulated under-floor pipes and heated fresh and grey water tanks. Very nice!
The body’s most obvious body feature is the huge tailgate, which lifts to provide unimpeded access to the rear and comes complete with an electric entry step. Sydney RV is having a large insect screen specifically made, which would provide a spectacular sense of bringing the outdoors inside. View and fresh air aside, the Rio 340’s tailgate is designed to accommodate an ‘active lifestyle’. This means you can load and store things like bikes, a canoe or whatever in the aisle between the rear lounges, and secure them to small tie-down points in the lounge bases. It’s an appealing concept and keeps valuable equipment secure and dry, while with the roll-down bed above you can probably leave them there overnight.
A notable body omission is an awning, which if you’re like me is no great loss, but will be a minus-point to many buyers. No doubt an aftermarket Fiamma unit or similar can be fitted. Another notable omission is a mains water connector. Malcolm tells me this is normal with European motorhomes, but it means you have to use the water tank and water pump, and keep topping it up. Given the relatively small 90 L fresh water capacity that could become a bit tedious. Grey water capacity is 68 L, while gas capacity is 2 x 9 kg. The single house battery is good for just 75 AH, which won’t last long free camping, although it can be upgraded to 100 or 110 AH. A 200 AH option would be a good idea, as would solar…
Double glazed Seitz single-hopper windows are fitted all ‘round, as expected, along with a giant skylight over the cab and a number of roof hatches. A Seitz double-point locking entry door is standard, with a separate non-security concertina flyscreen neatly concealed in the door frame.
Featuring a front lounge/dinette, centre kitchen and bathroom, and a rear lounge/dinette/bed with a roll-down bed above, the Rio 340’s layout makes the most of its compact dimensions.
The current Euro trend of a massive over-cab hatch/skylight is a terrific one, flooding the front of the motorhome with light when desired (it’s screened) and also volumes of fresh air. The cab integrates seamlessly into the front living area through the use of plastic ceiling mouldings and a panel that extends aft of the skylight, above the lounge/dinette.
Swift’s decor choices imbue the little Rio 340 with an upmarket, quality feel, as does the liberal use of small LED down lights and concealed strips. For a motorhome essentially the size of a van conversion it feels much more spacious and ‘substantial’ inside.
Above the entry door a touch operated semi-schematic electrical control panel looks intimidating at first, but is actually quite easy to make sense of with a few moments study. Alongside it is the only other major electrical control – a panel for the Truma Combi heating and hot water system.
The front lounge departs from usual practices by incorporating a sturdy-but-lightweight freestanding table rather than a fixed, flip-up or pole-mounted item. It stores in the wardrobe and can be used between the rear lounge seats as well. The swivelling cab seats mate nicely with the seatbelt-equipped forward facing passenger seats, while the abundance of light and fresh air make it an enjoyable and comfortable space. All seats, including the rear lounge, have the same two-tone great fabric trim with blue piping and it looks very smart. The ability to remove the table totally adds to the sense of space, although small flip-up wall table by the dinette would be a great inclusion for drinks and nibbles.
While the front lounge would probably be the focal point of the vehicle’s social scene, the rear lounge shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a versatile space that can seat two or even three on each side and also makes a good place to sit back with your feet up. That’s if there aren’t a couple of mountain bikes parked in the aisle…
An appealing touch in this motorhome is the use of colourful fabric panels around the windows as design features and also to conceal the privacy blinds and insect screens. Unusually, the privacy blinds pull down and the insect screens up – the reverse of what’s usual and how you want these things to operate. A rethink there is defiantly needed.
Cabinetry is timber laminate with a gloss finish, beige trim accents, sturdy chrome handles and equally sturdy hinges. As mentioned, there are LED reading, down, spot and strip lights throughout, creating some very nice lighting effects, although there are no reading lights over the roll-down bed.
Unusually for a European motorhome, the kitchen is well equipped and surprisingly spacious. Situated on the kerb-side wall between the entry door and bedroom, it includes good bench space, a large sink and a flip-up bench extension by the door. Very unusual is the inclusion of a full cooker with grill and oven. There’s no rangehood, however, just a window, the entry door and an over-kitchen roof hatch, sans fan.
Between the kitchen’s run of overhead cupboards is a centrally mounted microwave, while under the benchtop, towards the rear, is a 110 L 3-way fridge with automatic energy selection (AES). The sink has a substantial and attractive chrome mixer tap, while an acrylic splashback runs the full length of the kitchen wall, with a cutout for the window, and includes LED backlighting. Very neat. Under-bench storage is limited to a floor level drawer under the cooker, a couple of small under-bench drawers and a single cupboard.
The bathroom, mid-mounted on the drivers side opposite the kitchen, is compact as you’d expect, but well designed and finished. It’s an all in one (wet) shower and toilet, with a swivel-head electric-flush cassette toilet to the right as you enter. It does, however, have a shower screen that covers the door, towel hoop and toilet roll holder.
Moulded into the driver’s-side wall is a long, narrow hand basin with a flick mixer tap unit that doubles as a pull-out hand shower, complete with wall attachment bracket. There’s a small coloured splashback behind the handbasin and big wall mirror above it. To the right of the mirror, in the top right-hand corner, is a deep, moulded medicine cabinet with a door that matches the colour of the splashback. A pair of small over-handbasin down lights and a fanless roof hatch complete what is an unusual, but attractive and functional bathroom.
The Rio 340’s main sleeping option is a roll-down rear bed that can be left made-up when raised. Near silent and smooth in operation – although with a fiddly switch that requires a special key – it features an excellent Duvalay Duvalite lightweight memory foam mattress that felt very comfortable. I was also surprised by how long it felt, considering the spec sheet says it’s only 1.83 m (6 ft) and I’m 1.85 m tall. The specified width of 1.2 m (3 ft 11 in) seems too narrow too, and Sydney RV tells me both the roll down and lower convertible bed are standard double bed size: 1.90 m x 1.37 m (6 ft 3 in x 4 ft 6 in), which seems much closer to the mark.
Only after we’d cycled the bed up and down a few times did we notice something grey hanging out one end. It turned out to be part of an elasticised privacy curtain that press-studs into place and encloses both ends and the rear, turning the bed into something approaching a little cocoon. I think the idea is you leave it in place as it has a central elastic strap that gathers it in when you raise the bed, like the ones you see on some pop-top roof gussets. Personally I’d remove it and have the bed open, which I think would increase leg and head room as well as allowing much more airflow.
Bed access is either via a sturdy pull-out step or a ladder, depending on how far it’s lowered. There’s a hatch above the bed, but no reading lights as mentioned earlier. There are concealed LED strips nearby that would provide adequate night lighting, but these aren’t as versatile as reading lights, of course.
The twin lounges at floor level can also be quickly converted to a double bed, simply by pulling out slatted bases from either side and filling in the middle with the backing cushions. Depending on the claustrophobia tolerance level of those sleeping below, the top bed can be lowered quite a way down. I was please to find padded ‘bump strips’ under the rear overhead cupboards, which lower with the main bed, when testing out the sleeping options. It’s a thoughtful touch that shows a designer actually tried it!
There’s storage under the bottom bed/lounges, plus windows on either side and a large window in the tailgate, so bedtime ventilation in warmer weather shouldn’t be an issue.
What I Think?
Swift’s innovative Rio 340 will appeal to many. It caught my eye at the Sydney Supershow as an ideal motorhome for transporting our beloved-but-awkward tandem bike, while its compact dimensions and space efficient interior make it even more appealing.
Finish and decor wise it’s a little slice of Euro-chic that has a real sense of style and quality. Specifications-wise, issues like the ‘small’ engine, manual gearbox and lack of awning and mains water connector are likely to turn some potential buyers away, although they wouldn’t deter me. The interior design flexibility and ‘active lifestyle’ emphasis are highly attractive. As an avid winter traveller the free camping opportunities its thermal efficiency and standard heating system offers are a real bonus.
Swift UK backs all its motorhomes with a 10 year body warranty, while a 5 year/300,000 km warranty on the fully imported Fiat Ducato is also provided. All-in-all the Swift Rio 340 is an innovative and stylish ‘pocket’ motorhome well worth putting on your shopping list. Send me a post card if you buy one!
- Compact dimensions
- 4 Berths
- 4 Seat belts
- 2 Living areas
- Bike carrying ability
- Thermal efficiency
- Kitchen space
- Lower powered engine
- Manual gearbox
- Small capacity house battery
- No awning
- No mains water connector
- No reversing camera
Click HERE to visit the Swift website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
Swift Rio 340 (2488 KB)
Swift Rio 340 (2488 KB)