No need to be butch or rob a bank to own this little beauty...
By Malcolm Street
I’ve not long had a brief visit to New Zealand, in particular to visit the Covi Motorhome, Caravan and Outdoor Supershow held at Auckland. Unlike Australia, there were considerably more motorhomes than caravans on display and also unlike Australia, there were a considerable number of overseas manufacturers that do not currently have a presence in Aussie: companies like Dethleffs, Carado, Tribute, Buccaneer, Auto Sleeper, Benimar and Bürstner.
However, there were two – Auto Trail and Swift – both of which are British and have had an assortment of models in NZ for a while, but have more recently arrived in Australia. There are reasons for that, mostly to do with compliance and warranty matters, which I’ll get to later. For this review I was able to spend a bit of time looking over one of the two Swift models available in Australia, the Sundance 636L C-class.
The Fiat Ducato is the base vehicle for the Sundance, but in this case it’s the 130 Multijet model. Most of us in Australia are used to the more powerful 180 Multijet, but the British and Europeans seem to favour the smaller engines. Also a little surprising was the six speed manual gearbox. I don’t mind, that but most motorhomers seem to prefer the Ducato’s six-speed automated manual transmission (AMT).
The body is built with one piece composite walls that have a marine grade aluminium exterior and the front, rear and roof are made from moulded Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) – that’s moulded fibreglass to you and I. Like the walls, the floor too is a composite sandwich structure with 40 mm of plywood and Styrofoam insulation. Being a motorhome of European origin, all the windows are double glazed Polyplastic acrylics and the door is a typical Euro style with top half window and moulded inside garbage bin below. It beats the plastic bag hanging on a door handle, that’s for sure!
Apart from the gas cylinder bin and Thetford cassette bin, there’s only one external storage bin at the rear nearside. It’s actually a storage area under the bed rather than a sealed bin. An interesting addition is the folding ladder on the back that gives access not only to the roof storage area but also for cleaning roof hatches and solar panels (if fitted).
In the weight department, the Sundance has a tare weight of 3365 kg and a GVM of 4250 kg, which does give a respectable load capacity of 885 kg but it’s even better than that because the tare is measured as a wet weight – 75kg for the driver plus 90% for fuel, water and gas.
On the Road
This is the first time I have had the opportunity to drive the 96 kW / 320 Nm 130 Multijet. For the most part I have driven the 130 kW / 400Nm 3.0-litre Multijet and on a few occasions the mid-sized 109 kW / 350 Nm 150 Multijet, so I did wonder how the lowest powered of the Ducato diesels might perform on a C-class coach-built motorhome.
The short answer is okay, especially with a manual gearbox, but I’m fairly sure that for long hauls and/or hilly country the larger engines are going to make for a more relaxed drive. The AMT gearbox can be a bit dithery at low engine revs, which might make the manual gearbox the better way to go with this small engine. In this case the motorhome has the potential to carry six people and their gear, so it might not be lightly loaded. I know that the Euros fit the smaller engines for fuel economy reasons, but I often think that a smaller motor working hard is going to use more diesel than a larger motor idling along. It would be interesting to get three of the same height/weight motorhomes together one each having a different size/powered Ducato engine and do a few tests.
For the passengers there are the two cab seats, of course, but the rest are going to be sitting at the dinette behind the driver’s seat: two facing forward and two facing the rear.
A little surprisingly this is a six berth motorhome; well maybe four and two halves. In many ways it’s more a rental motorhome layout than a private one, but the appointment level and general fit out is certainly not the usual rental decor that Aussies and Kiwis are used to.
Layout wise, in the rear there are two sideways facing lounges/single beds. Forward of that is a bathroom/wardrobe area that nicely separates the rear area from the kitchen and dinette. Right up front, the over-cab bed can be lifted out of the way if not needed, which opens up the cab area very nicely.
Mali Acacia is the name of the woodgrain finish on all the cabinet work. It does dominate somewhat, but the windows and multiple roof hatches offset that by providing a good level of interior light. A look inside the overhead lockers reveals not only that they are fitted with a second shelf but also a slightly different method of construction to that I am familiar with – moulded plastic frames that support both the locker and the shelf. All the windows have curtains, except the kitchen, but all have integrated blinds in the window frames as well.
In terms of relaxing in the Sundance there are two choices. The rear lounges, if not made up into an east-west double bed, are quite comfortable for kicking back on, with the added bonus of a central waist-high cabinet. There is also the dinette, if things get a bit more formal. It’s very roomy for two and okay for four, but if there are six people then two are going to have to dine down the rear using the clever slide-out table that’s fitted to the centre cabinet.
Like the dinette, the rear area has lockers above the seats and under-cushion storage. Offering a considerable amount of storage area is the cabinet that sits between the entry door and the nearside bed: the top half being all hanging space and the lower section being a generously sized cupboard area.
Time to Eat
It’s very typically British/European in size, but it seems to me that the kitchen might be on the small size for family catering. It’s certainly okay for two and does come with all the expected features, including a four burner cooktop/grill/oven, moulded sink with detachable drainer and a below-bench 110-litre Dometic fridge. Additionally, the microwave oven is mounted in the overhead locker space, leaving space for two drawers, a small wire basket pantry and one overhead locker. That means the overhead lockers above the dinette are certainly going to be useful for extra kitchen storage. It depends very much on how much you like to cook and in any motorhome I’d suggest going through all the cooking/cleaning-up motions to ensure you are happy with it.
Whilst this motorhome layout does not have a fixed island bed, it has just about everything else and the choices are almost endless. In the rear it’s either two north-south singles 1.8 m x 0.63 m (6 ft 2 in x 2 ft 1 in) or an east-west double 2.04 m x 1.39 m (6 ft 8 in x 4 ft 7 in). Above the cab, the Luton bed measures 1.9 m x 1.24 m (6 ft 3 in x 4 ft 1 in). As usual, this bed requires a ladder to get to it and in many motorhome designs I have seen the ladder is just tossed up on to the bed, meaning a ladder is frequently needed to get to the ladder! However in this case, the ladder is fitted into a moulding that is on top of the front of the driver’s cab, but under the bed and accessible by simply lifting the bed. What a simple but effective idea not seen on too many (any - Ed?) locally produced motorhomes!
The third bed (the dinette) is sort of the last choice, mainly because it’s the mostly fiddly to put together. Unlike the rear bed, putting the cushions together is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. It’s also the narrowest of the double beds, measuring 1.9 m x 1.24 m (6 ft 3 in x 3 ft).
Although all the bathroom features are within the one moulded cubicle, the Thetford cassette toilet, fold-down wash basin and shaving cabinet can all be closed off from the flexible hose shower by a simple but effective folding screen. It’s a neat little arrangement that gives a reasonably sized shower cubicle without everything else either in the way or wet. A large hatch above the shower supplies ventilation.
What I Think
Although this layout is designed for six people it shouldn’t be discounted for two who like a bit of flexibility with the way they live in a motorhome. For example, on work trips when I am staying put for a few days it’s a layout that works quite well: The front dinette is my office and the rear acts as a lounge/dining area, leaving the over-cab bed able to be left made up. That’s not the way everyone lives, but there are several variations that can be utilised and it’s certainly a great layout for a family of four.
This Sundance is one of the first British motorhomes to arrive via Swift-approved distributors in Australia (they have been available in New Zealand for some years) and certainly the first to appear in iMotorhome. It is certainly built differently (particularly on the inside) compared to Antipodean products, but certain familiar features do suggest the local manufacturers might have been to the famed Dusseldorf RV show more than once!
It will be interesting to see how the Swift Sundance fares in Australia, given it is very newly available. Certainly anyone interested in the British/Euro built units will be having a good look. As far as imported motorhomes go, one of the assets is that the entry door is on the correct side. Although there have been a few European motorhomes filter into Australia and certainly more so in New Zealand, the entry door has frequently been on the ‘wrong side.’
- Flexible bed layout
- Reasonably sized bathroom
- Passenger seats near the driver’s cab
- Available for rent in New Zealand
- Good level of internal storage
- Extra shelves in overhead lockers
- Uses least powerful Ducato engine
- Smallish kitchen
- Dinette bed fiddly to make up quickly
- Small water capacity
Compliance and Warranty in Australia
With imported Recreational Vehicles of any sort, ADR compliance with the relevant Federal regulations is always going to be a consideration. Motorhomes have an extra complication because of the cab-chassis component. Normally the cab-chassis is required to have the necessary ADR approval in order to be registered, but when the motorhome bit is added, then what is known as Second Stage Compliance is required. However, with fully imported motorhomes, the Second Stage Compliance is not needed and either Full or Low Volume compliance applies. In this case the Certification Unit ID is ???? and that can be found listed on Road Vehicle Certification System (RVCS) website.
Australian warranty is another issue, not so much on the motorhome body but on the cab-chassis. It is not covered by Fiwat Australia, but I understand the two year warranty will be covered by Fiat (UK) via the Swift Group. The motorhome body is different, being covered by a Swift 10 year warranty. As with any new RV, I'd be suggesting that the practical implications of a warranty are clearly understood before purchase.
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